Web Design for Non-Profits

A practical guide to website design for nonprofit organizations

Nonprofit websites deserve proper web design just like any other website. In fact, best practices for a nonprofit website don’t differ much from any other website design.

In this guide, we’ll go over some of the most common features, functionality, and considerations that nonprofits and not-for-profit entities should keep in mind when building a nonprofit website.

Throughout this guide, we’ll use the phrases not-for-profit, nonprofit and NFP interchangeably.

Defining your audience

Identifying and catering to your website visitors

Before any web design work begins, it’s important for your nonprofit organization to have properly determined who is most likely to access your website and why. A great nonprofit website is one that quickly and easily gets its website visitors to the information they’re looking for.

Examples of defined NFP audiences might be:

  • Clients or users of your organization
  • Potential donors
  • Government staff
  • The general public

Once you’ve broken down the various audiences for your nonprofit website, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to work on content.

Organize your content

Great nonprofit web design is built on great content

Now that you’ve got your audiences defined, it’s time to organize your content into intuitive, easy to read sections. This initial organization of your content should help inform the navigation of your nonprofit website.

If you already have your own website, it’s possible some of this work has already been done. Consulting with a professional copywriter (marketing & content writer) and a web designer can help you determine whether your existing content and website design have done a good job of getting site visitors to the content they need.

With any nonprofit website, make sure that you clearly state your organization’s mission, but also consider that many of your website visitors will already be familiar with your mission. Keep in mind that these users will be looking for quick access to the most vital resources and functionalities that your site offers, so don’t get so hung up on the mission statement. Communicate your values quickly, then move on to the meatier stuff.

Determine key features

Scoping out desired functionality ahead of time will save your project

Many nonprofit organizations have limited resources or, at the very least, lack a dedicated web designer / developer.

Whether done by an individual or as a team, your organization needs to give thought as to what your new nonprofit website needs and what your organization wants. Breaking down your key features into these two categories will help you figure out what is nice to have vs. what is a must-have.

From there, the idea for which key features to move forward with can be developed further. Here are some common examples of nonprofit website features and functionality:

  • Members only areas that includes educational resources or other information and features for your clients
  • The ability to accept online donations
  • Events calendar and event registration

Your most valuable resources and functionalities should be well thought-out ahead of time. The chances are you’re not a web development professional, but bringing the best formed version of an idea into a conversation with a web design agency will always yield good results.

Let’s start designing

How to look for the most important design factors in a nonprofit website

Nonprofit web design uses much of the same web design elements as any other industry and all of the same principles apply for best practices. This is a good thing! It means you don’t need to worry about reinventing the wheel.

Keep these principles in mind when looking for a website designer or web development partner:

  • A visually appealing homepage that clearly conveys your mission, brand identity, and is a user friendly guide to the other areas on your nonprofit website
  • Use high-quality images, ideally professional photography and not stock photos
  • Mobile friendly designs ensure that people using mobile devices of all shapes and sizes have a consistently good user experience
  • Meet current web accessibility standards to allow for a barrier-free experience for differently-abled visitors

Keeping these best practices in mind and working with a talented designer should guarantee you a professional looking website that your nonprofit organization will be proud of for years to come. And if you decide to do it yourself with a drag and drop website builder, you’ve given yourself the best shot at creating a great nonprofit website.

What about fundraising efforts?

Consider designing reusable page templates for fundraising campaigns. These can even act as little ‘micro-sites’ within your main non profit website. With the tools available today, you can accept donations right on the fundraising landing pages or you can simply funnel users to a designed donation page.

It’s the nature of what you do – a great nonprofit website design should encourage visitors to visit your donation page and contribute what they can.

Spend well to save well

Unless you are absolutely forced to bootstrap your first nonprofit website (meaning to design and build the website yourself), we’d always recommend finding a qualified, experienced web design agency to help.

Why? The inclination can be to go the cheapest route, but it can end up costing you far more over time. Paying a bit more upfront (with the right partner) can save you a lot of money down the line with bug fixes, long-term support, and more.

  • If your finances are tight, consider proposing in-kind donations or other marketing opportunities or awareness you can provide for your web developer
  • Hire reputable, well-established companies that can provide support and continuity over time as your staff and board members come and go. Your nonprofit’s website should be a stable beacon in times of transition
  • Consider choosing a company that can build out functionality in stages as more grant money or other funds become available to you
  • Use an established, stable content management system (the software that allows you to edit your own website) so staff can make changes internally
  • Provide and facilitate training either internally or with your web design partner that saves future maintenance costs for small, everyday edits you can easily learn to make yourself

Search engine optimization

Do nonprofit websites need it?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of creating great content and a website experience that meets the criteria of search engine algorithms. The goal is to have your website be best setup (optimized) for search engines.

If your nonprofit organization hasn’t considered SEO, give it some thought. The ability to rank well for searches that relate to what you do can be the difference between having a lot of mindshare or very little.

Nonprofit website design should follow SEO best practices the same as any other website. Search engine optimization should be a part of your not-for-profit’s digital marketing strategy.

Examples of some basic SEO considerations would be:

  • Properly organized header tags
  • Well-written, well-organized content
  • Page titles and URLs that include keywords
  • Pages that are quick to load on both mobile and desktop

The best nonprofit websites have engaged in a holistic website strategy that includes SEO and considers how easily people can find them.

Have a digital marketing plan

Even if you’re not an active advertiser

A beautiful web design is only as great as the number of people it helps. Nonprofit websites should be created with a digital marketing strategy in mind, like any other for-profit entity.

The rationale is simple: if you don’t have a digital marketing plan, then you are relying on your existing user base, donors, and word of mouth to spread your organization’s mission, mandate, and offerings.

Many NFPs choose to use digital advertising in some way, whether that’s to promote something specific such as an upcoming event or to create greater awareness of the organization itself. Your nonprofit website should serve as the hub of your online presence. Beyond that, you should have some form of digital marketing strategy to help promote your site to the broader world.

SEO, social media, and digital advertising are three pillars of digital marketing that can go a long way when used properly. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, consider talking to a digital marketing agency that does.

A nonprofit’s online presence will only become more important as time goes.

Summing it up

Don’t aim to have a good nonprofit website – aim to have a great nonprofit website. By staying organized and following the basic principles we’d laid out here, your new nonprofit web design can help your organization achieve in ways that can be hard to imagine.

Engage your community members, attract new donors, provide educational resources, and stay relevant in today’s digital age. Nonprofit website design doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does require some thought and planning.

If you’d like help from a professional web design and development agency with expertise in designing nonprofit websites, consider reaching out to us here at Red Ear Media. We’re happy to chat.

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