Websites are where most people go to learn about an organization and should be the center of your brand. Everything your organization does and believes in, should be reflected in the content of your website.
Nonprofit websites are used to gain new supporters and keep current supporters up to date on current events, milestones and the mission. Nonprofit websites don’t sell a product or service, but they still need to convince people to support their cause. Your mission and/or impact should come across clearly on every page, so that visitors can gain a strong understanding of who you are and what you do.
The simple answer is, to broaden the reach of your organization. The greater the reach, the increase in opportunity for more donations and in fulfilling the organization’s mission. A strong online presence is a cost-effective and efficient way to create that awareness.
Unfortunately, sometimes an organization does not understand what can and cannot be done with their websites. This may result in state and federal regulators, learning of a nonprofit organization’s mistakes and misdeeds. Learn how to avoid this later in this article.
Just about every nonprofit has a website, and it is a crucial component of their communication and fundraising activities. Here are a few reasons why a nonprofit needs a website:
Having a presence on the Web in terms of a dedicated site can help a charitable organization when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. However, there are a number of 501(c)(3) groups that just don’t have the financial resources to support having a site that is updated frequently so they reach out to social good organizations like Ocean Ring Technologies who built the FlexibleSites platform to assist nonprofits with technology.
A well-designed website is one of the most important assets any organization can have and communicates everything someone should know about your organization. A nonprofit website should include the following characteristics:
1. Easy-to-Read Layout: Popular websites like Children International, ASPCA, or International Rescue Committee seem to use similar layouts and this isn’t a coincidence. These layouts have three significant advantages:
2. Responsive and intuitive design: Responsive (flexible) design allows your website to adjust to fit any screen size, which allows for comfortable viewing on any device. Why is responsive design important?
3. Powerful storytelling: Stories can support an explanation of your nonprofit organization’s work. They articulate the impact of the nonprofit’s work in a way that your audience can empathize with. Storytelling is a tactic that helps nonprofits reach their larger goal. What are those goals?
4. Evident Call to Action: A call-to-action, or CTA, is a marketing term referring to a piece of content, such as an image, a button or a line of text, intended to prompt users to perform a specific action. Your call to action (CTA) is the chance to motivate your audience to take real steps toward becoming a supporter of your nonprofit organization. Here’s a checklist to determine how effective is your call to action:
Your website provides visitors the ability to have direct access to who your organization is and what impact it has in the world. It also provides a way for visitors to interact with your organization. The better constructed the nonprofit website, the less frustration for visitors of the site and an increased chance of engagement with your organization.
There are 5 main purposes to a nonprofit website:
A great nonprofit website does a super effective job of clearly meeting these purposes through the design and content. Site visitors are generally impatient, so nonprofit websites need to deliver a clear and engaging message immediately. Otherwise, they run the risk of losing potential supporters before the site has had a chance to make its case.
How to clearly communicate the mission and values
Show your website to someone not familiar with the site or your organization. Ask them to find the mission of your nonprofit organization or any other relevant information about the organization’s values. See if they can easily navigate the site and make notes of anything they can’t find or that is confusing. Test this with visitors on both a mobile device and a laptop/computer.
Now ask them to tell you what the mission and values of the organization is in their own words. If they cannot easily explain the mission then the website does not concisely state your message and needs to be improved.
Showcase the organization’s work and success stories
When sharing the story of your organization remember that a majority of visitors to your website will form their impression based entirely on your visuals. This means things like images, colors, and fonts have a significant impact on how people will respond and act on a website.
Make sure the readability of your content is easy. The choice of font remains front and center for website design, so to improve readability use simple fonts which contrast well with the background of the site. Choose your images carefully. Do not use images that are blurry photographs or use pixelated logos as this drives visitors away from your nonprofit website. High-resolution photos and smooth graphics draw the attention of the viewer.
Encourage donations and viewers to engage and take action
Your nonprofit website should inspire potential donors and supporters to help in your mission in a visual, contextual and emotional way. Make sure that when people are determined to join or donate, that they can find where to join or donate on your website within a few seconds and on every page.
A great nonprofit website makes sure to also explain the impact of recurring, monthly gifts. The initial job of the website is to get a one-time donation but another benefit is that a nonprofit organization now has the opportunity to try to convert one time donors into a more committed monthly recurring donation, while outlining the positive impact their monthly gift will have.
Be accessible to those who need or want to work with your nonprofit
There will be times when someone like a donor will want to actually talk to someone from the nonprofit organization. It’s always advisable to share an organization’s contact information to get the process started or to provide a form so your visitors can send a message.
Ideally, everyone should be able to use your nonprofit website no matter if they have a condition that affects their capabilities or what hardware and software they need to use. This is the main requirement behind the concept of web accessibility. While there are a lot of disabilities and conditions that can affect the way people use websites, here is a list of the most common categories of impairments:
If your nonprofit website is more accessible by all, the more supporters you can reach.
Expand the reach of the nonprofit organization
A nonprofit has limited resources to market and grow the reach of the organization through media like advertising. But by taking some time to understand your goals, your audiences, and some of the best ways to use your resources to reach these people, you can achieve a lot with very little. In order to expand your reach, your nonprofit website needs to be able to help with the following:
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all website sitemap that’s perfect for every nonprofit, there are some general best practices to keep in mind.
Identify your audience
Nonprofit organizations should avoid trying to be an “all in one” platform. Sure, you want to reach a broad audience, but you don’t want to sacrifice the user experience for those visitors most likely to get engaged with your cause.
Identify user paths
The point of your website structure is to make content easy to find. This means the main navigation should provide the content in buckets based on the behavior of the visitor. These won’t necessarily be the most important pages on your site. Instead, they’ll allow visitors to easily find whatever it is they’re looking for.
What to avoid
To ensure a good foundation in your website structure, try to avoid confusing your audience. As they say, just keep it simple:
Purchase a Domain
The first step in getting started is choosing a domain name. We recommend using namecheap since their service has FREE privacy (GoDaddy charges for this) and have additional tools that are cheap like business email and hosting. Buying a domain is also cheaper than compared to other domain registrars as well as SSL certificates.
To Use Wordpress or Not To Use Wordpress
If your organization is looking for a solution where you have complete control over everything with your site including the HTML/CSS code then Wordpress might be the solution for you. There’s a reason over 34% of websites on the entire internet use Wordpress. Here are a few of the reasons why you should use Wordpress:
Some of the advantages of a Wordpress site can also be a hindrance to a nonprofit organization. Here are a few reasons not to choose Wordpress:
If you choose WordPress: The next step is to find a hosting provider. If you purchased your domain with Namecheap or GoDaddy (or another large domain registrar) they usually provide hosting packages that make the entire site hosting process easy since your domain is also registered through the same company. For additional information you can go to Wordpress.org.
There are a number of alternatives to Wordpress and choosing the right solution for you will depend on the amount of time you have and the amount of technical skills you possess. The list provided here is ordered from the least amount of technical skills needed to the most advanced.
FlexibleSites - Our solution allows you to focus on your content and nonprofit mission while at the same time having a custom built website. We take care of the difficult and time-consuming coding part while you have access to your CMS dashboard and make updates to the content as easy as filling out a form. Best part is that your site can grow and maintenance is handled by our team. As your nonprofit grows, your website should reflect that growth.
Weebly - A very intuitive website builder that has been used to create around 40 million sites to date and provides one of the best free alternatives for building a site. Weebly remains one of the easiest-to-use site-building solutions out there. It delivers great tools for creating straightforward sites that serve specific purposes. Unlike the next alternative, all Weebly templates are mobile-optimized. This means your nonprofit website will look good on any device your visitor uses. Weebly is ideal for content-rich sites that don’t require advanced functionality.
Wix - An all-in-one platform where everything happens in one place. Nothing to install, no web server for hosting and all themes are found in their marketplace. Wix is a hosted website builder that offers free reliable web hosting, security features, built-in SEO tools, and a dedicated support team to help you create and manage your site. Unfortunately, you can’t change your template once you have selected one, and you won’t have access to the source files. And as previously mentioned, not all templates are mobile-optimized which means you can control how your site looks on mobile, but you might have to rearrange some elements. That’s unfortunate if your site has over 50 pages.
Jimdo - Building a site with Jimdo allows you to choose between having your site built by AI and then making changes or using their drag and drop web editor much like Wix or Weebly. Jimdo has everything a basic website needs, and the site-building interface is straightforward to use. Overall, it’s much easier to get started with a simple website on Jimdo than it is on WordPress. With Jimdo you have to be aware that it is not as feature-packed as other website builders and the templates are much less flexible.
Squarespace - This platform is everything that Wix is, but a bit simpler. The site builder in Squarespace is straightforward and intuitive to use; it takes you by the hand through the entire site-building process. Squarespace is also the leader of the design game among website builders. All designs/themes in its catalog are modern, great-looking and optimized for readability.
Joomla - A content management system (CMS) very much like WordPress, which provides a ton of functionality right out of the gate, and can be used to run any type of website — from simple brochures to blogs, eCommerce, informational sites, and even social networks. One of the main differences between Joomla and Wordpress is that Joomla allows you better user and media management than WordPress. With Joomla, you can upload and manage any type of media files. Plus, there are also built-in SEO and banner management tools.
Drupal - A highly flexible CMS with virtually infinite customization options. It’s best suited for developers or other users with a familiar understanding of HTML, CSS, and PHP. Drupal includes better security features, user and permission management, data encryption and website performance than Wordpress. Just be prepared to put in the hours required to work on your site and tweak source code or build from the ground up.
Webflow - Webflow should be on your radar if you want complete control of the appearance of your nonprofit website. The editor feels a bit like Photoshop and offers plenty of options but this definitely is not a platform for beginners. Webflow is a “visual” content management system that allows designers to create fully customized sites without having to worry about hosting, security, or performance.
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