Five Pitfalls of Nonprofit Website Design

If you’re like most nonprofits nowadays, you have a website. That’s a good thing. A website can be a serious asset for your organization. You can use it to attract new supporters, collect donations, and keep people up to date with news about your organization or cause.

It’s not all sunshine and roses in the land of the Internet though. Just as a good website can strengthen your organization, a bad one can hurt it. Poorly crafted websites can put off prospective supporters and wind up idly consuming organizational resources. So, if you’re going to maintain a website (and you should) make sure you do it the right way.

How many of these common mistakes is your organization’s website guilty of?

1. What exactly are we doing here?

Many nonprofit websites are confusing, cluttered, and difficult to navigate. They look like they were designed by someone who really didn’t have a clear idea of the purpose for creating the website in the first place.

When you’re designing (or refining) your website, it’s critical that you have a firm understanding of what you’re actually trying to accomplish with the site. You need to understand both your own priorities AND the motivations of your likely visitors. Understanding these two things will provide you with a solid framework for evaluating your design. Anything that doesn’t advance your agenda, or match up with what your visitors are looking for, should be tossed.

Common uses of Nonprofit Websites:

  • Providing background information for prospective donors
  • Gathering e-mail contacts
  • Accepting online donations
  • Publicizing events and campaigns
  • Updating supporters on relevant news

Common Reasons People Visit:

  • Evaluate whether your organization is worthy of a contribution
  • Learn more about an issue or cause
  • Getting updates on current events or campaigns

2.  Don’t Hide Your Action Items.

Visit enough nonprofit websites and you’ll be left wondering if some of them are deliberately trying to hide the action items on their sites. At times it can feel a little like taking a trip down the rabbit hole just to find the “Donate Now” button. Ditto for newsletter signups, social media features, and fundraising calls to action.

If you make your action items hard to find…people won’t find them! Not rocket science, we know. Just remember, action items aren’t pirate’s treasure, so don’t bury them.

  • Include your donate button above the fold on your homepage and all subpages (visitors don’t always enter your site through the homepage, they will enter your website via subpages because search engines direct them there)
  • Include social media share and like features on all pages.
  • If you have one, include a sign up button for your e-newsletter on your homepage and other key sub-pages
  • Make it a quick one-click jump from your homepage to pages about fundraisers, so supporters can easily get involved

3. Make Conversions Easy.

It’s great when you see a donation button, or an e-mail signup form, that’s prominently displayed and easy to find. It’s not so great when you click on it and realize you have to navigate a labyrinth of forms and fields just to make a donation or signup for the list.

Not only should you make it easy to find action items, you should also make it easy to convert! After all, what’s the point of making it easy to find your donation button if the underlying form is unwieldy or likely to turn donors off?

On the Internet you’re always “one click away” from losing the contribution. At any point in time a visitor to your website can simply say “no thanks” and click off to their next virtual destination. Make it easy for them to stay and finish what they started.

You can increase your average donation size up to 38% by using a branded checkout page.

4. It’s 2012.

Not all fashion is cyclical. That vintage 1990’s looking website of yours? It’s not coming back in style. Sorry.

We know that nonprofits have a lot going on. They are, and should be, primarily focused on delivering services and fulfilling their missions. That being said, there’s really no excuse for having a sad looking website. There are plenty of easy to use tools out there for building and maintaining a website.
Even if you have to get a web-designer or other tech people involved, it’s worth it. Make no mistake about it, prospective donors will visit your website before deciding whether to make a contribution. There’s no better way to earn a quick “no” than by having a tired looking web site. It immediately signals to the visitor that you are not particularly tech savvy or up to date. It also invites questions about whether or not you’ll be a good custodian of donor dollars.

You don’t wear the same clothes you did 20 years ago, right? Well neither should your website; go get it a nice new wardrobe.

5. Information overload.

There’s nothing quite like reading a good novel. In fact, we love books. What we don’t love, however, are nonprofit websites that read like books. Hint: no one wants to read a ten-page history of your organization (not even your board members!).

Your homepage should contain a concise statement (a sentence or two) of your mission. Ideally, you want new visitors to be able understand your mission and basic identity within seconds of landing on your homepage. You’ll also want to create a section where interested prospects can read up on your programs, staff, organizational history, and finances.

It’s important to keep this area informative but concise. Long pages go unread. Rely on crisp, professional text. People will appreciate getting the information they were looking for without having to trudge through pages and pages of copy.

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