Website Design for Nonprofits

Non Profit, Web Design

After your incredible, passionate staff, an amazing website is the most important asset in your nonprofit tool box. Whether you’re redesigning your current site or starting to build it from the ground up, it can feel like an overwhelming process. 

True, it’s a big undertaking. But we are here to simplify and demystify the process, at least as much as we can in one blog article.

What your Site Needs to do: Inspire and Galvanize 

The real purpose of your website is to provide your users with what they need to take action. Here’s a basic breakdown of what that might look like:

  1. Highlighting your mission & Educating your audience
  2. Make donating easy 
  3. Showing proof/impact of your work
  4. Organizing Volunteering

This means it’s imperative that you know your audiences, and that your site inspires them to take action. A great place to start with any marketing initiative is identifying and defining your target users, ideally by creating detailed personas. You can start by outlining key characteristics for each group.

Let’s use donors as an example – they’re quite possibly your most important group of constituents. From there, you can break down donors into subgroups based on frequency of giving, donation amount, demographic traits, etc. For each subgroup, ask questions like:

  • How often do they donate?
  • When/what time of year do they donate?
  • How do they prefer to donate? (credit card online, monthly autopay, mail-in check, etc)
  • How do they like to be approached/asked for donations?
  • What piece of your message is most inspiring to them? 

These answers will help you determine the  website functionality and content you need to cater to the individual donor, and create strong, appropriately-placed calls to action. Ultimately, your website is for the donors, not your organization.  

The Main Design Goals for your Nonprofit Website

Highlighting your Mission & Educating Your Audience

Your mission is not just a statement, it’s the story of your organization. Stories are relatable: it’s how you discovered this cause, why you’re doing the work, and what would happen if you didn’t. 

Stories aren’t just told with words, they’re told visually. Your site must contain beautiful, impactful visuals in the form of photography, infographics, and design elements. Photography cannot be stock – it must be unique, professional, and high-quality. Stock imagery is okay, as long as you are purchasing the rights (so they’re not being used on multiple websites), and the images are well-selected. Uryadi’s Village uses beautiful visual elements – their images are simple and joyful, and the homepage video tells their story visually and verbally.

Your nonprofit’s story and the background of your cause will be told on multiple pages, if not all pages across the site, from the home page to the about page, to case studies and testimonials. Content length, tone and style will vary based on where it’s placed on your site, but it should all reflect you, your voice, and your mission. 

Educating your audience also means telling them why they need to give, what impact their donations make, and why it needs to be done now. This leads us to…

Make Donating Easy

This is (or should be) the goal of every site: make it extremely easy and intuitive for users to take the action you want. The action here is for individuals to provide their information and potentially make a transaction via your site.

For starters, there should be a donation call to action on every page of the site. Charity Water has a sticky header with a single button saying “Donate,” making it available no matter where you are. That button will take the user straight to the page where they can make their donation. The more steps in the process, the more likely you are to lose a donor.

The donation page itself should be simple, branded, and clear, whether on a desktop or mobile device. Here are a couple excellent examples:

  • Charity Water: it offers frequency of donation options, amount options, and a clean, simple layout. Their payment method also shows one form at a time so it’s not visually overwhelming. 
  • Planned Parenthood: their donation page isn’t beautiful but it’s highly functional. It has one purpose, one call to action, and it’s extremely straightforward. 
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metro Area: they use the word “Give” as their call to action, and the donation page interface is clean, easy-to-read, and easy to navigate.

If you use a third-party website to process the transaction, make sure to do everything you can to customize that page so it looks branded and in line with your website’s visual layout.  The transition from your website should be as seamless as possible.

Showing the Proof & Impact of Your Work

Numbers and statistics are powerful. Stories are even more powerful. Stories effectively evoke emotion in us; those emotions not only create lasting impact and memories, they inspire us to take action.

The benefit of contemporary website design is you can make statistics visually interesting and use them to break up larger blocks of content. Using numbers alongside a related story can make an incredibly compelling case. does a killer job of this on their Projects page by using snappy graphics to display statistics, and linking images to individual pages with stories “from the field.”

If it’s important for your organization to supply financials, media assets, and other documents, you can create a resources section for downloadable materials. This is a great way to supply pertinent and constantly-changing information to the right constituent without creating a page for every resource.

The World Monuments Fund uses a main simple navigation and a sub-navigation with more page options shown. This is one way to design around your primary purpose without cluttering the page, but it’s important that users are able to find exactly what they’re looking for and quickly. It’s not immediately clear what they do, or the level of their impact.

Musts for all Websites Beyond 2020

Whether you’re a nonprofit or not, there are some custom website qualities you simply can’t live without in this day and age. Here’s a list, and missing one or doing it poorly could cost you big:

Site Speed – it’s a ranking factor for Google, and it’s a crucial part of a positive user experience. Use Google’s tool to test out your current site.

Good Content – it’s 2020 something and content is still king. It’s crucial, and there are countless articles explaining why and how to get there. Here’s a good one from Key Medium

Hosting – good hosting makes your website fast, safe, and secure. It’s crucial! Don’t go cheap on this one.

Maintenance – this is the ongoing effort to make sure your site is secure, technically sound, and up to date. Today, it’s just part of owning a website, and it’s not optional. 

CRM Integration – you probably have a CRM, and this just means hooking it up to your website so donations, email subscriptions, and any user information is saved, organized, and secure for future use.

Wrapping up

This is a lot of info, and we’re barely scratching the surface! If you’re wondering where to start, please give us a call. We can help demystify the process and break it down for you, whether you’re looking for agency help or endeavoring to build a site yourself! We’re here for you.

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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