Keys to Effective Nonprofit Organization Websites

Nonprofit organizations tend to have limited budgets and limited involvement from members for planning, designing, and maintaining websites. This often results in a site that doesn’t achieve everything that it could for the organization and the people involved. In recent years there has been an increasing number of organizations that are doing great things with their websites and truly making them valuable and effective. For your website to be effective and not detract from your marketing and fundraising efforts, there are two very important things to keep in mind.

  1. Make sure the content on your website matches your written materials, including grant requests. Prospective funders often look at your website, and if the content doesn’t match other information they have about your organization, such as number of clients served, programs, staff, etc., your chance of receiving funding will decrease.
  2. If you have “news” on your website, keep it current. If you have a news section and the most recent news posted is three years old, your website will look out of date.

Here are some other keys to an effective nonprofit organization website.

1. Clear Description of the Organization’s Mission/Purpose

Many of the visitors that will be arriving at your website will not be familiar with your organization. Visitors should be able to quickly get an idea of why the organization exists and a basic picture of what it does.

The full mission statement or purpose statement is sometimes part of an About Us page, but first time visitors to the home page should have an idea of why the organization exists without even visiting another page. The About Us page can provide more details, but visitors should not need to navigate through the site in order to understand the basic purpose of the organization.

There are a number of ways to help convey a message of mission or purpose on a home page. In some cases there will be a brief one or two sentence statement that is located in a prominent position. Photos and images can also help to communicate purpose.

2. Concise but Complete Information about the Organization’s Background and Basics

Once new visitors have arrived at your site and quickly determined the mission or purpose of your organization, if it is something that interests them, they may want to find out more details. Providing information about the history of the organization can be a great help for connecting on a deeper level with visitors. You may want to include details about when and why the organization was founded, and by whom. Important dates, milestones, achievements, and evidence of growth and impact should also be included.

3. Clear Idea of the Site’s Visitors and the Organization’s Audience

One of the difficult aspects of working with nonprofit websites is that they can have several different audiences, and the needs of each will vary. For example, one audience will include members, supporters, and volunteers who are all familiar with the organization and use the website to stay up-to-date. Another audience includes individuals who are not familiar with the organization and are being introduced to it through the website. These people will generally be looking for information about what the organization does, why it exists, and hopefully how they can get involved.

A third audience may be the people that are being served by the organization. For example, an organization that helps low-income families with housing may have a website that attracts people who are looking for help from the organization. These people would be most interested in the details of the services that are provided and how they can apply or request assistance.

A nonprofit organization’s website must meet the needs of several different types of people, and all are equally important. The site must provide the necessary information that visitors will need to be able to easily find what they are looking for.

4. Information for Donors

Most nonprofit organizations rely heavily on donations in order to function. A growing number of organizations are accepting donations online, which makes it easy and convenient for donors. Whether or not an organization is accepting online donations, the website should provide relevant information for donors. This may include how they can give, what specific programs or purposes they can give to, fundraising goals and progress, details about how the money is used or handled, and information about tax deductions.

5. Information for Volunteers

In addition to monetary gifts, volunteers who are offering their time and services are also critical to most nonprofits. The website should provide information that tells people how they can get involved, how it will make an impact, and how to express their interest in volunteering.

6. Photos of People Who are Impacted

Visitors like to see pictures of people that are being helped through their donations or volunteer efforts. By including photos of the people who are benefiting from the work of the organization, it will provide a much more personal experience for website visitors. In addition to photos, some organizations include stories or testimonials on their site about the impact that is being made. This is a great way to encourage people to get involved because it is easier to see the results and how it is impacting real people, as opposed to simply seeing statistics.

7. Contact Information

Some website visitors may wish to get in contact with the organization about volunteering, receiving assistance, employment opportunities, donations, or any number of things. The site should at least provide a contact form or email address, and in most cases a phone number and mailing address should also be included.

8. Design that Fits with the Organization’s Culture

Nonprofit organization websites should feature a design that is consistent with the message and culture of the organization, as it will help to communicate with visitors and to brand the organization. In many cases you can tell a lot about an organization’s culture by the style of design. Take for example church websites. Many churches appeal to young adults through a grunge-style design. You would not expect to see this type of design used by a church that has an older audience.

9. Email Newsletter Signup

Regardless of the type of work the organization does, it is important to stay in contact with people who are involved and to keep them up-to-date. Many organizations that have been around for a long time are still spending huge amounts of money each year that could be greatly reduced with better use of email newsletters. The website should offer visitors the option of opting in to receive updates from the organization. In some cases it may be just a single newsletter, and in other cases there may need to be multiple mailing lists for various purposes.

10. News and Events Sections

In order to help visitors to stay up-to-date, to make the website more useful, and to add some dynamic content to the site that is changed frequently, it is good practice to include an event calendar and news items. This way people can check the website to see what is coming up. News items could be displayed through a blog on the organization’s site, or a separate blog could be used for the interaction between the organization and visitors. And be sure to keep the news current.

This blog is a re-post from May 14, 2013.

If you think this blog was helpful, please let us know!

Recent grants received by our clients include:

$100,000 for an agency that connects executives, entrepreneurs, and MBA students with convicted felons, uniting them through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring – for general operating expenses

$15,000 for a domestic violence organization - $10,000 for general operating expenses and $5,000 for programs for children

$10,000 for an organization providing last wishes for children terminally ill with cancer – for general operating expenses

$10,000 for a pediatric clinic for children from low-income families - for general operating expenses

Murray Covens, Principal

North Texas Nonprofit Resources