Nonprofit Websites for Beginners: The Importance of Nonprofit Website Design
Nonprofit Websites for Beginners: The Importance of Nonprofit Website Design
In this digital era, an online presence is almost required for any nonprofit organization to have a successful journey. James Schramko summarized this perfectly when he said, “your website is your calling card, or your business front door”. It is vital that design is carefully considered when establishing a website for a charitable organization. When a visitor enters a website, the first thing that they will notice, and therefore analyze, is the design of the webpage. A website with a professional design will help the visitor to form a positive and lasting first impression that may be the difference between them exploring further and leaving immediately.
The goal of a nonprofit organization’s website is to drive engagement and donations. The results achieved in these metrics will be affected by the website’s design team. In order to encourage visitors to take action once a website has their attention, it is critical to consider all design aspects such as, navigation menus, visual design, and call-to-action prompts. Implementing these features into a professionally designed website will assist in creating a more engaging experience for users. Ultimately this will lead to increased support and donations for the nonprofit organization.
Essential Elements of Nonprofit Websites
User-Friendly Navigation in Nonprofit Web Design
Every successful website has a user-friendly navigation menu as part of its design. This means that the navigation is clearly accessible, simple to use, and allows the visitor to understand exactly which webpage they will be visiting next. It is vital that a website’s design team creates an intuitive navigation menu in order to reduce bounce-rates. When a visitor is able to easily access relevant content and pages, it promotes exploration and lowers the chance that they will leave the website.
When considering the navigation design of a nonprofit organization’s website, two ways to achieve positive results are drop down menus and call-to-action prompts. A drop down menu is a navigation interface that can be activated by clicking or hovering over it and will display a list of page options in a vertical format. A call-to-action prompt is a direct instruction, generally in the form of a button, designed to elicit an action from the user. Combining these features is a great way for the design team to heighten user satisfaction and increase conversion rates.
Website Design that Considers Mobile Responsiveness
The widespread accessibility of mobile devices is leading to an ever increasing number of mobile users accessing webpages. According to Statista, in 2021 the worldwide number of mobile phone users was 3.8 billion and that number is anticipated to grow to approximately 4.3 billion by the end of 2023. The ease and flexibility of browsing the internet via a mobile device will continually increase the percentage of mobile users accessing the websites of nonprofit organizations.
When designing a website, it is extremely important for the team to consider mobile optimization and responsiveness to account for this growing number of mobile users. A simple way to do this is to ensure that the layout and content of a website is automatically adjusted based on the screen size of the mobile device being used. Doing so will greatly expand the audience of a nonprofit organization’s website and contribute towards future proofing as the number of mobile users continues to grow.
The Significance of Engaging Visuals on a Nonprofit Website
The website of a nonprofit organization must engage visitors in order to achieve success. A fantastic way for the design team to aid with engagement is the inclusion of images and videos. These visuals can be combined with text elements and other content to provide further information and facilitate users that connect more with imagery than writing.
When the design team is utilizing images and videos in website design, it is critical to ensure that they are of a high-resolution for the best results. Engaging visuals can accomplish many things on a website, including generating great first impressions, enhancing the engagement of visitors, communicating information in a simple way and reinforcing the branding and identity of the nonprofit organization. Consistent use of high-quality visuals on a website will assist the nonprofit organization in piloting the behavior of visitors, allowing attention to be directed to important pages and call-to-actions.
How Nonprofits Benefit From Clear Call-to-Actions
Call-to-actions are a key design component for converting website visits into donations to a nonprofit organization. As discussed earlier, a call-to-action is a direct command to the user that instructs them to undertake a certain act. There are two principal call-to-actions for nonprofit organizations.
The first of these is a donation button, a call-to-action that should be used frequently across a website in order to make it as accessible as possible. A donation button with a great design will incorporate compelling and persuasive text, have a visual that draws attention, be of an appropriate size, and be placed in a location on the webpage that maximizes discoverability.
Alongside donation buttons, newsletter sign-up prompts should be implemented by the design team. A great way to do this is to have a pop-up form that will appear after the user spends a minimum amount of time on a nonprofit organization’s website. In order to enhance the success of the prompt it is best to offer an incentive for signing up, use imperative language, and ensure that the pop-up is visually appealing.
Making Use of Trust Building Elements on a Nonprofit Website
Establishing trust between a nonprofit organization and visitors to its website is crucial to successful conversions. One great way for the design team to generate trust is to make use of reviews and testimonials. Most websites will have a dedicated webpage for this purpose as part of its design. Reviews and testimonials can be sourced from people that have been involved in the nonprofit organization or that have benefited from the work of the nonprofit organization.
Reviews and testimonials provide social proof that an organization is honoring its commitment to the overall mission and other smaller goals. They supply the user with evidence of satisfaction and allow nonprofit organizations to create, grow and maintain a strong reputation. Having a large variety of sources will give the website user enough data to determine that an organization is trustworthy and therefore that the decision to act on a call-to-action prompt is the correct one.
Displaying certifications and partnerships on a website is another good way to build trust and credibility. Certifications demonstrate to visitors that an organization meets certain requirements and has been recognized by authoritative associations. Partnerships indicate that an organization is working together with other like-minded groups to collaborate towards the same goal. It is important that a website clearly describes what each of an organization’s trust building elements represent for the best results.
Best Practices for Designing Nonprofit Websites
Consistent Branding on the Web
When building a website for a nonprofit it is best practice to consider branding and how to make it consistent across all pages and throughout the design. Creating brand recognition is vital to the success of non-profit organizations and at the heart of this is the organization's logo. Placing the logo at the top of the site, in a prominent position, allows visitors to identify the brand and to begin forming a visual relationship between the organization and its branding.
Another way for the design team to establish brand recognition is to utilize consistent color and font themes throughout the site. It is advised to align this as closely to other branding as possible. For example, choosing similar colors to the logo is a fantastic idea. Web designers should attempt to use a typeface that represents the values of the nonprofit. A formal font can indicate to the audience that the organization takes itself and its mission seriously.
The Link Between Fast Loading Speeds and Great UX
Nonprofit web design is not entirely about the visuals of a site. There are other aspects to consider, such as the loading speed of the nonprofit website. Users can become frustrated if they follow a link to a site and the page does not load quickly, which can cause them to click away. By creating a seamless ux with prompt loading speeds, visitors will be more likely to engage with the content on a site. This will greatly help with fundraising as it will improve the pipeline between visitors and donors.
SEO should always be considered in web design projects but many are ignorant to the fact that Google considers loading times when ranking websites. The greater the speed at which a site loads, the healthier the search engine ranking will be. Alongside the content of a website, this is a great way to maximize organic traffic.
Ensuring the Accessibility of a Nonprofit Online
The importance of website accessibility is often understated. In web design, inclusivity should be a high priority to guarantee that a site is usable by all individuals. An accessible nonprofit website will provide a more fluid user experience and help to attract a wider audience. Accessibility will also contribute to generating a positive brand image, indicating that the nonprofit has a commitment to social responsibility and equal opportunity.
A great tool to assess the accessibility of a site is WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. This is a web-based tool that can automatically identify accessibility issues on any website. WAVE will give the user clear visual feedback on any issues that have been detected and, furthermore, will provide the user with guidance on how to rectify the accessibility problems that were identified. It's also a great idea to test a nonprofit website with screen reader software to make sure that it's compatible. There are several options for this, including JAWS (Job Access With Speech), NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) and VoiceOver.
Keeping a Site Regularly Updated
Maintaining a cycle of fresh content is an ideal way to further engage the audience of a nonprofit website. If a user is to see up to date and relevant content on a webpage, they are more likely to stay longer on the site, explore other pages, and interact with call-to-actions. Adding new and intriguing articles to a website is also a great method to attract first-time visitors. A potential user who may not have been interested in older content may now be interested in the latest.
Alongside frequently updated content should be an event calendar and a news section that are refreshed consistently. An effective event calendar will allow a nonprofit to successfully promote important dates and exciting upcoming events, acting as a form of online marketing. News sections are perfect for keeping visitors informed and maintaining brand relevance by indicating that a nonprofit remains current on industry trends. This contributes to the relevance and authority of a brand.
Integrating Social Media into a Website
When thinking about the design of a site, always consider the addition and placement of social sharing buttons. These buttons are a simple and effective way to increase the visibility of a nonprofit online. Social media can be leveraged as a form of free marketing and when an article is shared to any other platform, it can garner likes, shares, and generate a discussion around the topic. Each of these interactions will positively benefit a website as it will lead to traffic generation and brand exposure. Sharing via social platforms is also a brilliant method for generating backlinks, which can improve the search engine optimization of a webpage.
The best website designs feature embedded social media feeds. Rather than having to go to an external site to see a nonprofit's social media profile, a visitor can view it directly on their website. Often these feeds will be positioned on the homepage as it is a quick and concise way to provide the user with important updates and information. As well as this, it is an easy method to increase the visibility of the brand. Visitors will be able to follow and interact with each of the organization's social media platforms, furthering their reach and allowing for the simple distribution of content.
Common Mistakes a Website Builder Should Avoid
Overloading with Information
Always be mindful when constructing content that will appear on a site. An easy mistake to make is overloading the user with information. Organizations that have a successful online presence do so by ensuring that articles posted are concise and clear. Information should be transmitted in a digestible way that gives the reader important details without adding too much unnecessary filler. Writing in this fashion is the perfect method for increasing engagement as it will be more likely to maintain the attention of the reader.
Visual design can also suffer from cluttering in the same way that written media can. It is advisable that web design teams follow a hierarchical structure where important information is prioritized ahead of secondary and tertiary information. Be sure to use only a limited color palette and maintain visual consistency across the site. Tie all of these aspects together with an intuitive navigation system and the design of the site should avoid appearing cluttered to the user.
Not Accounting for SEO
SEO is extremely important and should be a heavy focus for any website builder. Websites that do not account for SEO will attract little to no organic traffic. There is only so much that social media and marketing can do for non-profit websites and attracting visitors through search engine rankings will be of great importance to fulfilling donation goals. It can take time to establish good SEO practices but in the long-term it will not require much maintenance to continue being effective.
Here are some straightforward ways to optimize a nonprofit website:
- Basic Keyword Research: Uncover a range of keywords related to the nonprofit and target them through articles.
- Mobile Optimization: Ensure that the website design is adaptable to mobile devices.
- Loading Speed: Use image compressing and browser caching to improve page speeds.
Websites that are able to achieve these basic elements of search engine optimization will have a solid foundation for generating organic traffic.
Not Highlighting Organization Success Stories
A huge mistake to make when building websites for nonprofits is ignoring their success stories. Be sure to design the site in a way that makes room for a page dedicated to sharing these achievements. Highlighting the tangible results of the work of a nonprofit is a sure path to building trust with the public, which can translate to greater fundraising success. Tales of great deeds carried out by the team can inspire others to get involved in the mission and enhances branding by allowing the nonprofit to associate their name and logo with holistic stories of positive change.
At every opportunity it is advisable to implement narratives and visuals, whether that be images or videos, when detailing the successes of nonprofits. Using this strategy will make it more straightforward for readers to engage and sympathize with a nonprofit's stories. Images and videos act as a source of evidence for the productive work that nonprofits are carrying out, enforcing the relationship of trust.
Lack of Donation Tracking
Nonprofits benefit greatly from having websites that offer analytical donation tracking tools. Accessing donation analysis allows the nonprofit to evaluate their performance and make informed decisions about the long-term strategy of their marketing. By identifying trends among their donors they can narrow down their target audience and use this information to refine their content and approach. Donation statistics are also a fantastic way for an organization to set realistic fundraising goals for the future by inferring expected information based on current results.
There are a multitude of tools available for nonprofits to track their donations. It can be as basic as manually creating an excel spreadsheet and documenting all of the available data for every donation, although it is recommended to use a tool that can automate this work for the team. If automation is the priority then some suitable options are Blackbaud Raiser's Edge, Network for Good, Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud, HubSpot CRM and PayPal. Each of these platforms has different benefits but they all offer nonprofits the ability to autonomously capture fundraising data.
Case Studies: Successful Nonprofit Website Designs
Case Study #1: UNESCO
UNESCO is an international nonprofit that performs work across the globe to build bridges between nations.They have been working towards this mission since 1945 and use education, science and culture to make a positive impact.
UNESCO's website design elements and their impact:
- Impact Stories: UNESCO features success stories on their homepage. This provides social proof that they are achieving goals in their mission and using donations to make a positive impact. This helps to build trust.
- Multimedia: Their site makes use of text, images, and videos. This creates an extremely engaging experience for the user.
- Social Buttons: Social buttons are included in the footer of the website. Linking to external social media sites is a fantastic way to further the reach of a nonprofit and garner greater engagement.
- Branding: UNESCO's website positions their logo in the header of the page and uses hashtags, such as #SharingHumanity, as part of their overall branding. This is effective in generating brand recognition and allowing UNESCO to become a household name in the nonprofit sector.
- Colors: Their site is largely made up of the colors blue and white, which matches their logo. This contributes to brand recognition and makes for a pleasurable browsing experience that isn't overwhelming for the user.
- Navigation Menu: The menu on their website is extremely intuitive and makes use of drop downs. This allows for quick and efficient navigation around the UNESCO website, which reduces bounce-rates and encourages exploration.
Case Study #2: University of Wisconsin Foundation
University of Wisconsin (UW) Foundation is one of the many nonprofits across the United States of America that is supporting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on college campuses. They work towards providing opportunities to those less fortunate and aim to make higher education accessible to everyone.
University of Wisconsin Foundation's website design elements and their impact:
- Call-to-Actions: UW Foundation's website has easily accessible call-to-actions, which are direct and imperative. This aspect of the site design generates opportunities for conversions and fundraising.
- Font: Their website is consistent in its use of typeface and the font is professional and simple. This indicates to the user that the nonprofit is serious about their mission and conveys a mood of dedication.
- Loading Speed: Pages on the UW Foundation website load extremely quickly. This helps to lower bounce-rates, boost visitor engagement and improve search engine optimization.
- Mobile Optimization: Their website is automatically formatted to display correctly on mobile devices. This makes the site accessible to a wider range of potential donors.
- Branding: The red and white UW Foundation logo is in the header and footer of the website and the overall palette of the site utilizes these colors. This promotes brand recognition among users.
- Testimonials: There are many readily available testimonials on the website that describe the positive impact of certain donations and endowments. This is a good example of a trust building element that supplies proof that the nonprofit is making suitable use of the results of their fundraising.
- Social Buttons: UW Foundation's website contains social buttons in the footer. This is a great way for nonprofits to expand their platform and increase levels of engagement.
Q: How often should a nonprofit update its website?
A: Nonprofits should aim to keep different sections of their sites updated in varying frequencies. The general maintenance of the site should be an ongoing project and will occasionally require updates on a daily basis. Blog posts and news feeds should be updated around once every two weeks in order to keep content relevant and engaging. Calendars will require weekly updates to reflect upcoming events and important dates. If nonprofits wish to alter the user experience then this is something that will require a heavy time investment and should be done only once every 1-2 years.
Q: What are the best tools for nonprofit website design?
A: There are plenty of tools available to streamline the design of nonprofit sites. A few good examples of these tools are WordPress, Wix and Squarespace. Each of these platforms have plenty of gadgets to assist with web design and many organizations rely on them for support. Pricing can vary and these platforms generally have a free plan that will allow the user to get started without upfront costs. Organizations that choose to share important information with users via email may find other options more useful, such as Mailchimp. Mailchimp offers tools and templates that organizations can use to efficiently draft and send marketing focused emails.
Q: How can nonprofits optimize their websites for mobile devices?
A: It's important to ensure that websites are optimized for mobile devices in this era of technology. Nonprofit websites should work from a mobile-first perspective and focus heavily on guaranteeing that the site will be accessible to mobile users. Good mobile website design will be responsive and adaptive, meaning that the size and layout of the page will automatically change to suit the mobile device being used. Incorporating optimized images and videos, touch-friendly buttons, and simple navigation menus are all great ways to enhance the mobile experience.
Q: Why is search engine optimization important for nonprofit websites?
A: Search engine optimization is critical for nonprofits due to the increased visibility gained from ranking well in search results. Optimizing a site to rank well is, in some senses, as effective as marketing because it will help to generate organic traffic. The key difference between traditional marketing and search engine optimization is that nonprofits can optimize their search rankings at zero cost. Another upside to ranking well is that nonprofits that appear first in search results are generally perceived as being more trustworthy and credible. Strong search engine optimization practices can help to solidify the reputation of nonprofits and boost engagement via organic traffic.
Effective design of nonprofit websites is essential for a variety of reasons:
- First Impression: Creating a great first impression will pave the way for new visitors to become donors and help to reduce bounce-rates.
- Credibility and Trust: Design can contribute strongly to giving credibility to nonprofits and forming a relationship of trust with the user.
- User Experience: A fluid user experience will allow visitors to navigate the site easily, access relevant information, and follow up on desired actions (e.g. donating).
- Engagement: Optimizing a site for engagement will encourage visitors to explore more and spend longer periods of time browsing.
- Conversions: A combination of all factors involved in the design of a website will improve conversion rates and assist with donations.
It is highly recommended that nonprofits invest in their online presence. According to the Blackbaud Institute, in 2010, 12% of total fundraising was generated through online channels. This percentage is even greater, 17.8%, for small charities. Without a professional site, nonprofits risk losing out on over 10% of their total donations that would have otherwise been received online. As technology becomes more and more available, the percentage of fundraising completed online will only increase. It is high recommended that nonprofits prepare for the future by investing now to guarantee that they will make the most of their online presence as its importance grows.
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