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Designing or redesigning your nonprofit's website? Before you get started, check out these 10 tips for creating engaging nonprofit websites from Firespring CEO, Jay Wilkinson.
Wilkinson shared his web design wisdom in a recent TechSoup webinar. These were my top 10 takeaways.
Many nonprofits suffer from what Wilkinson calls the "do it cheap" syndrome, also known as the "ED's nephew can build our website for free" syndrome.
In an effort to save money, nonprofits tend to rely on volunteer labor and free tools for creating and maintaining websites.
However, the cheapest possible tools might not actually meet your nonprofit's needs, resulting in a website that's hugely less effective than it could be.
And volunteers (whether it's your ED's clever 14-year-old nephew or even a skilled volunteer web designer) get busy. Their lives change, they move away, or they get a second job or decide to support another cause. Volunteers shouldn't be who you rely on to create and maintain your web presence.
Your website is a communications channel, and therefore it's also a critical part of your organization's overall plan to achieve its mission.
Unfortunately, website planning and development is often handed off to people who have the technical skills to develop a website, but might not understand how the website fits into an organization's strategic and communications plans.
To make sure your mission, communications, and website strategies are aligned, Wilkinson recommends that the organization's leadership team be deeply involved throughout the website planning and development process.
According to Wilkinson, a nonprofit's website should "live, eat, and breathe your mission."
This means the images, text, and layout should all tell a clear and consistent story: what your organization does, why it matters, and how people can engage more deeply with your organization.
For example, the text and images on Groundwater's website all speak to the organization's mission: supporting sustainable, clean groundwater. Visitors can instantly see what the organization is all about and how they can support that mission.
Your website has many audiences: constituents, potential donors and funders, your board of directors, media representatives, staff and volunteers, and many others.
To build a website that engages your audience, you need to understand what your audience wants your website to do. Obviously, the best way to understand what they want is to actually ask them. This could be done via a survey, a focus group, or a series of conversations.
If you don't have the time or resources to do this research, you should at least understand some basic best practices for nonprofit web design. See Tip 10 below for help getting started.
Users must be able to find information or complete tasks quickly and easily on your website.
To make sure they can do so, your site needs to be well organized. It should also offer multiple ways to access key features and information.
For example, the Colorado Children's Campaign website includes clear navigation tabs along the top, a prominent search box in the top right corner, and a more in-depth navigation list at the bottom of the page.
You should also make sure users can perform vital actions in as few clicks as possible. If someone wants to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or sign up for your newsletter, they should be able to do it in no more than three clicks.
Just because you build a website, doesn't mean people will automatically flock to it. You have to get the word out.
Wilkinson's suggestions for promoting your website included:
*Note: this is an organization I made up, but one I would totally join.
Social media can be a very effective outreach channel for nonprofits, but Wilkinson believes you shouldn't focus all your attention there. Social media is like "leased land," according to Wilkinson, whereas your website is land you own and have control over.
Social media sites have — and will continue to — change the rules on you. Your website, in contrast, is completely under your control.
Fresh, updated content gives people a reason to return to your site. Having a blog and prominently displaying fresh content on your home page is one of the most effective ways to do this.
For example, the National Council of Nonprofits prominently displays their recent blog content on their homepage:
However, Wilkinson acknowledged that blogging is time-consuming and resource-intensive (I'm the content manager at TechSoup — he's not wrong about this).
But don't despair. If you don't have the resources to blog regularly, there are other easy ways to feature fresh content on your site:
You absolutely shouldn't have to ask an IT person or someone with special skills to make changes to your website.
Choosing the right content management system (CMS) means it will be relatively easy to keep your site updated, even if you aren't super tech-savvy. A good CMS has a simple point-and-click interface that allows even non-technical people or people who don't know HTML to update images and content.
Want more web design goodies?
by Ariel Gilbert-Knight, Director, Content, TechSoup
Absolutely great points! Organizations really need to budget for "technology" overall. Many are so focused on fundraising, it's hard to see the elephant in the room. Technology and the use of the tools out there, are great fundraising avenues. However, in some cases, it takes the right kind of know how to get it down and TIME. You have to budget for things like: web design or redesign, if you don't have staff, think about maintenance costs and social media management is huge. I can't even begin to cover the wealth of fundraising potential social media plays. So budget for those items each year.