Your nonprofit’s website is your organization’s online resume.
It’s where you collect your online donations, display your programs for everyone to see, and make your case to potential donors.
Think of every visit to your website as an interview for support. Wouldn’t your organization want to put your best foot forward? After all, these donors are the lifeblood of your nonprofit, funding everything from the people you hire to the technology that keeps you up and running, including the software programs you use every day.
Whether you’re working with an existing website for your nonprofit, or you’re just starting out, here are the essentials you need.
What you need when starting out
If you don’t have your website set up yet, there are a few steps you have to follow before getting into the design aspect of your site. Here’s what you’ll need to get started.
1. A domain name
Every website must have a domain name, whether you host your website on your own server or use a hosting provider such as WordPress or Squarespace. This domain name is listed at the top of the address bar as the location of your website, as so:Things to keep in mind when selecting a domain name:
Shorter, more concise domain names will cost more due to their higher search volume and recognizability. Longer, more complex domain names with endings such as “.us” instead of “.com” will be difficult to remember, and could have a negative impact on your website traffic.
The key to selecting a quality domain name is finding one that is relevant, won’t break the bank, and will be easy to remember.
2. A consistent design
Your website’s design should match the overall theme and purpose of your organization. For, example, the Susan G. Komen Foundation website is designed with breast cancer awareness in mind, from the pink color scheme, to the women’s advocacy theme.
Hosting sites offer many tools to help you build and design your website based on premade templates with customization options. These work best for smaller, newer nonprofits.
If you want custom layouts and unique functions, you’ll need to either work with an in-house designer or look into hiring a third-party or a web design freelancer. Sites such as Upwork can help you find a professional web designer for your website.
What you need once you’re up and running
Once you have the above elements, you can start thinking about how you’ll build out your site, what design elements to use and what content you need. In this section, we’ll go over a few essentials to include.
3. A home page with your stated cause, navigation buttons, and a ‘donate’ button
Your nonprofit home page should include all of the necessary information a visitor needs to make an informed decision about donating money to your cause. Take Amnesty International’s home page for instance:
Everything you need to know about Amnesty International and what they do is summed up by compelling imagery, a short statement about the cause, and two donate buttons. One is a clear “donate” button in the top right corner, and the other is a relevant call-to-action under the statement.
If a visitor needs to know anything else about your organization, such as donor reports, updates, job openings, contact information, and volunteer opportunities, provide all of these in a menu at the top of the page.
4. Consistently updated, original content
Provide your visitors with original content in the form of blog posts, videos, images, news bulletins, and home page blurbs which give an overview of what donor support means for your campaigns.
Amnesty International’s home page invites you to read all about their latest victories as well as current struggles and causes under the “News & Stories” section of the website:
This section is updated daily with stories that either Amnesty International directly had a hand in or has vested interest in:
Amnesty International understands that nonprofit content marketing such as this is important, not only for keeping your donors informed, but it also has a positive effect on your search engine optimization and social media clicks.
Whether it’s news stories, blog posts, or social media posts, you need a content strategy that keeps your followers informed.
5. Social media sharing buttons
A strong social media presence is crucial to the success of any website today, especially for nonprofits. NP Tech for Good found that Millennials are more inspired to give by social media:
Adding social media buttons to your website increases the likelihood that people will share your content, whether it’s a blog post, campaign update, or donation call-to-action.
Social media share buttons also provide a rough picture of what type of social engagement your content is receiving. On the Capterra nonprofit blog, for example, I can assess which social media outlets my pieces are performing well on, and which ones need extra attention:
Also, by posting share buttons at the top and bottom of posts, we give readers every opportunity to spread our content to all outlets.
Here’s a useful guide to installing social media buttons on your nonprofit website from Hubspot: “How to Create Social Media Buttons for All the Top Social Networks.”
What you need to attract visitors to your site
Your site’s content is useless if it isn’t optimized and shared on all the available social media outlets, because no one will see it.
Here’s where your content marketing and social media strategies come into play.
6. A solid social media strategy
As I’ve said in previous pieces, social media is neither a science, nor an art, but a mixture of both. There is no silver bullet to social media, since each of the outlets is constantly changing with new sharing algorithms and audiences.
But, there are some best practices and tools you can use to make the most of your social media presence. Here’s some advice for how to boost your site’s traffic by leverage some popular platforms:
Facebook: Recently, Facebook has been weening brand pages off of the old system of high (and free) organic traffic in favor of a “pay-to-play” model. What this means is that posting your content on your Facebook page with little thought—or money—going into it won’t fly any longer.
Best practices for Facebook:
- Join like-minded, relevant Facebook groups
- Vary the types of content on your timeline (links, images, and videos). (Don’t expect plain text posts to gain much reach.)
- Post at least twice a day
- Invest in Facebook post boosting and paid advertisements
Twitter: Twitter is a different beast than Facebook. Due to its character limit and fast-paced information model, anything posted on Twitter will have a significantly shorter life span than Facebook posts. On Twitter, you must be brief, clever, and to the point. For a more in-depth look at Twitter and your nonprofit, be sure to read: “How to Boost Followers on Twitter for Nonprofits.”
Best practices for Twitter:
- Use no more than two hashtags per tweet (and research your hashtags using tools such as Hashtagify.me and Keyhole)
- Tweet no more than three times per day, or risk losing engagement
- Use visuals (images and GIFs work best)
Google+ and LinkedIn: These two are more straightforward than Facebook and Twitter, and they work best for connecting like-minded individuals in groups. For the best results, do relevant group research and limit posts in these groups to one per day, so you don’t give off a “spammy” vibe.
7. A search engine optimization (SEO) strategy
There is so much to unpack when talking about optimizing your website for search engines. I could spend this entire piece explaining the ins and outs of impressing Google and the other search engines in order to rank higher on the results page, but for now, I’ll just stick to the basics.
- Keep content relevant: Search engines evaluate and rank your site’s content based on its relevance to what users are searching for. For example, if you try to target people who want to find new homes for dogs, and all you deliver is advertisements for a new brand of dog food, Google will recognize this and penalize your site for it. Keep your content relevant and useful.
- Prioritize keyword research: When developing new content, do keyword research, starting with your headline keywords and ending with the keywords sprinkled throughout your website. Some useful tools for keyword research include Google’s Keyword Planner Tool and KeywordTool.io.
- Link internally whenever possible: As you’ve probably noticed, at certain points throughout this article, I’ve linked to other pieces on our blog which are relevant to this topic. This is called “internal linking.” This practice not only helps drive traffic to other areas of your site, but also introduces your audience to other helpful pieces of content and increases your trust rating with Google.
- Produce high-quality content: Don’t you just hate it when you’re looking for an answer to your question on the internet and you can’t find it? Some links claim to have the answer, but after reading three paragraphs of fluff, you’re right back where you started. In order to rank higher with Google, your content should detail a problem or question and then address the problem or answer the question.
More essentials for your your nonprofit website design
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when designing your website, which will boost engagement and increase donations.
8. The “good” kind of pop-ups only
“I love all pop-ups; they really make my day!”- No one—ever
However, in spite of their reputation, pop-ups aren’t always a bad thing, but it’s up to you to make sure they’re worth your viewers’ time.
Research shows there are tangible benefits to using pop-ups to increase conversions, i.e., the percentage of people that take a desired action on your website, such as click on a link, sign up for your email newsletter, or make a donation.
This same research also shows the negative consequences of website pop-ups. They can potentially decrease engagement rates, harm brand authority due to a projected sense of neediness, and decrease the overall user experience on desktop and mobile browsers.
The key is to use pop-ups sparingly to gain donors or email subscribers, but including pop-ups on every page on your site does damage to your online efforts.
According to Optimonk, there is specific criteria for a “good” pop-up:
- “Appears when it’s the least disturbing (not when a visitor is entering!)
- Is relevant to your visitors and the page they are viewing (the visitor is interested in its content)
- Provides a sufficiently attractive offer (a discount itself can be less motivating than a free giveaway for you, but it can be the opposite for another company —test to see what works best for your visitors)
- Doesn’t appear too often to a particular visitor
- Increases the time spent on site
- Boosts your conversions”
No one likes pop-ups, but if they’re used strategically, they’ll benefit your site more than harm it.
9. Solid mobile functionality
According to Smart Insights, mobile web traffic surpassed desktop traffic back in 2014 and has continued to rise ever since.
Prioritizing your mobile traffic by optimizing your organization’s site for mobile devices will make all the difference when it comes to attracting donors and volunteers.
When it comes to mobile websites, pop-ups and autoplay videos slow down rendering times, which is detrimental to bounce rates.
“According to surveys done by Akamai and Gomez.com, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within three seconds.”- Kissmetrics Blog
These features work well for a desktop site, where they render and disable easily. But on a website that isn’t fully optimized for mobile, closing out pop-ups and disabling autoplay videos is far more difficult on a mobile phone’s touch screen.
In fact, pop-ups simply are not recommended for mobile sites, according to UsabilityGeek:
“Pop-ups are a tough call for designers of mobile UIs. Different operating systems require different designs. The usual top-right close button is way out of the thumb zone and tricky to hit accurately, and all too often mobile pop-ups fail to resize adequately, leaving users scrolling around desperately looking for the ‘close.’ Basically, as UX Mag points out, modal pop-ups ‘just don’t work well on tablets and mobile devices.'”
The most important aspect of mobile optimization is making the mobile experience as intuitive as the desktop experience:
The website on the left is hard to read and hard to use, with small buttons and text, whereas the mobile-optimized website on the right is simplified and designed for tap and touch functionality. For a guide on in-depth optimization, check out “Web Designer Depot’s eight steps for mobile optimization.”
Other nonprofit best practices
If you’re looking for other ways to improve your nonprofit, check out the Capterra Nonprofit Blog for more advice.
Here are a few other articles to help you make the most of your nonprofit organization and increase donor numbers:
- 4 Ways You’re Scaring Your Nonprofit Donors (and What You Can Do About It)
- How to Maximize Nonprofit Income While Maintaining Your 501c3 Tax-Exempt Status
- 3 Tips to Maintaining an Outstanding Charity Navigator Rating
Have you found any other best practices that work well for creating and maintaining a website? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.
Looking for Nonprofit software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Nonprofit software solutions.