The internet is the nonprofit’s shop window. It’s the way that people find a charity dedicated to the issues they care about. It’s how prospective employees or volunteers discover opportunities. And it’s how donors may decide where to put their money.
So a well-designed website is one of the top methods for how a charity can generate attention, promote its work, build trust, and elevate its impact. Follow the advice below to create the best website for your nonprofit.
1. Getting started with your nonprofit websiteToo many people create a website without first considering why they need a digital presence in the first place. Start with some basic questions—the answers should inform every aspect of your text, photography and design choices.
- Who is my audience? Some nonprofits may have a hyper-local focus or niche mission—such as a neighborhood soup kitchen or urban farming initiative—and in turn, a very specific demographic they’re trying to reach. Larger, international nonprofits may consider several groups of people as their audience. Virtually all nonprofits list donors and prospective donors as part of their primary audience. Keep in mind that many members of the donor community will not be well-versed in your work or mission; make sure web content is accessible to all audience members by avoiding jargon and technical language.
- What are my goals? Identify your top three-to-four goals for your website. These goals should also support your overall mission. Commons goals could be: Expand our membership or donor base; raise our profile in emerging markets; acquire more signatures on our petitions; or increase our followers on social media.
- Who will manage the website? Creating a website is just the first step in establishing a digital foothold—it’s a living piece of multimedia that must also be maintained over time. Make sure someone is responsible for reviewing content at least every three-to-four months to ensure it is relevant and up-to-date.
Note: Jimdo provides free website hosting for your not for profit or charity website. It's free now and forever, but you can always upgrade to JimdoPro for a very affordable custom domain name (website address) and other great features.
2. The building blocks of the best nonprofit websitesA nonprofit’s website may hold hundreds of sub-pages, depending on the scope and history of work. Divide this content into two buckets: Primary information and secondary information.
Primary information is the most important and high-level, and should appeal to the broadest of audiences. Ask yourself the question: If someone didn’t know anything about my organization, what would I tell them? This primary information should be accessible on your homepage “above the fold,” or before the point at which visitors need to scroll down to see more of the page.
Secondary information is any content that readers will need to dig a little deeper to get. This can be hyper-detailed content that would only appeal to niche audiences, such as landing pages for research papers, sub-projects within a larger body of work or theme, or very detailed descriptions of your work on a particular topic or in a specific region of the world. It can also include archived or dated material, such as descriptions of inactive projects, past events, or previous campaigns. You can still link to this information from primary content pages, but it should not have a presence on the homepage.
Primary or homepage content will vary depending on the organization, but a general rule of thumb is to give visitors easy access to information on what the organization is, what it does and where it works, the impact it’s made, and how people can get involved. Some of this information will be displayed on the homepage itself; other parts should be accessible via large links or menu items at the top or side of the page. Some best practices apply to these top-tier pieces of content:
Elevator pitch: This one- or two-sentence description quickly and succinctly lets first-time visitors know who you are and what you do. Considering the fact that roughly 55 percent of users spend 15 seconds or fewer on a webpage before navigating away, it’s important to include this snippet high up on the homepage.
A few examples of elevator pitches include:
- Conservation International: “We’re working to ensure a healthy, productive planet for everyone. Because people need nature to thrive.”
- Greenpeace: “Greenpeace and people like you are a people-powered movement fighting for a green and peaceful future for our oceans, forests, food, climate and democracy.”
- Feeding America: “Our mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.”
In addition to an elevator pitch, you may also want to include a short tag line near the organization’s logo. A tag line, even shorter than an elevator pitch, uses only a few words to describe a not-for-profit’s mission. A few examples include:
- Nature Conservancy: "Protecting nature. Preserving life."
- Wounded Warrior Project: "The greatest casualty is being forgotten."
- Salvation Army: "Doing the most good."
About: Include a prominent “About Us” menu item on the homepage that links to a longer description of the organization’s mission and work. This text—roughly three to four paragraphs—should answer questions like:
- What does this nonprofit do?
- What impact does it make in the world?
- How long has it been around?
- Where does it work?
- What is its approach, and how does it differ from other organizations that work on similar issues?
Be sure to include hyperlinks to other relevant pages—it’s a great way to help readers find more comprehensive “secondary content” on your website.
For a more robust “About Us” presence, consider including a drop down menu under the main tab to other relevant high-level pages, such as “Mission and Values,” “Staff,” “Jobs,” ”History,” or “Contact Us.”
Impact: It’s important to show visitors your work, not just tell them about it. Include a menu item that features stories of impact or outcomes that can be attributed to your organization. Common headings for this type of tab include "What We Do,"" "Our Impact,"" "Success Stories,"" or simply, "Our Work.""
Multimedia can enhance these stories. Research shows that the brain processes visual data 60,000 times faster than text—be sure to include powerful photographs or videos of your work in action. You can also consider displaying examples of impact via a gallery or interactive, embeddable timeline (such as those from Tiki Toki, Dipity or TimeGlider) to create a more dynamic look and feel.
Get Involved: A call-to-action is an essential part of any effective website—especially for nonprofits, which are dependent on financial and volunteer support. Make it easy for visitors to find out how they can make a donation, volunteer, find a job or become a member. This is also a great place to include newsletter sign-ups and social media buttons. You can use Jimdo’s Button element to create a call-to-action that matches your site.
3. Building trust and transparencyIf you’re attracting new visitors and potential donors, they want to know if they can trust you to spend their money wisely. There are many ways you can show that your nonprofit is a worthy, reputable cause. Include links or dropdown menu items on your “About Us” page to content such as:
Testimonials: Just like with a business, testimonials count for a lot. Think about including first-person accounts from people you have helped or donors you have worked with. These can be written testimonials, or short videos of people describing how your organization helped them.
Charity ratings, badges and certifications: Add the icons of any larger organizations you belong to, or any certifications, charity ratings, or awards your group has received. Your sidebar, footer, or About Page would be a good place to put these.
Financials: Many successful charities and nonprofits share information on their finances, showing where their funding goes, who their donors are, and what percentage goes directly to services as opposed to overhead or fundraising. You should also state whether you are a tax-deductible 501(c)3 organization and provide your Federal Tax ID Number.
News: Include a list of recent press releases and media advisories your organization has disseminated, as well as links to news articles that mention your nonprofit. If your organization is especially engaged in media outreach and receives frequent coverage, you may want to include a dedicated “News” or “Media Center” tab on the homepage. Make sure to list at least one staff member journalists and other visitors can contact for more information.
4. Other best practices for charity websitesNow that you’ve got the right information architecture in place, consider employing the following strategies and web best practices for your not-for-profit website.
Start a blog: A blog is a great way to consistently talk about your work, impact, organizational updates and expertise. Many nonprofits will feature a “Blog” tab in their topline navigation so that visitors can easily find timely web content. Publishing at least one post a week can also act as a hook for attracting people to your website through search engine results. According to Nonprofit Hub, business-to-business companies that blog generate 67 percent more leads than those that don’t.
Use a custom domain name: Your own custom website address (www.your-organization.org) helps show that your charity or cause is the real deal.
Keep the design clean: It may be tempting to crowd your homepage with lots of text and information, but resist! Visitors respond to a clean, easily navigable design and layout. Use white space. Keep text light. And use hyperlinks to direct readers to more comprehensive, topic-specific content.
Include visuals: More and more nonprofits are creating visually driven homepages. Compelling photos, videos and infographics help convey your message without cluttering the page with too much text.
Focus on your writing: Your homepage and web content can be major hooks for attracting new supporters. Many visitors will arrive to the site without much knowledge of who you are and what you do. Don’t scare them off with wonky, technical lingo or poorly written prose! Use plain language. Keep sentences to 35 words or fewer. Watch out for spelling and grammatical errors. And avoid passive voice. For more writing tips, check out 11 Golden Rules of Writing Content for Your Website.
Add a "Donate" button: Assuming one of your goals is to collect donations on your website, it’s easy to install a widget on your website to do so. We recommend the PayPal widget—it’s simple to install on your website and connects directly to your PayPal account. Make sure you have a prominent link in your top navigation to Donate. If that’s what people want to do, you want to make it easy for them.
Promote, promote, promote: The old movie mantra “If you build it, they will come” is only partially true on the web. Make sure you’re promoting your web content through social media, e-newsletters, in your email signature and on printed collateral like brochures and postcards.
Now, with an effective, well-structured homepage and website, you’ve got a major tool to help attract new supporters, elevate your work and help change the world!
Sarah is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, MD. Her work has also appeared in Popular Science, Audubon, OnEarth, GOOD, Grist.org, Inhabitat.com, and several other publications. When she's not creating compelling online content, Sarah enjoys reading, cooking, watching bad reality TV, and pampering her dog, Clancy.