5 best practices for your non-profit website
Overhauling a non-profit website, or going through a re-designing phase is no easy feat, and it can be difficult to know what to prioritize. Or, sometimes it’s difficult to know when your website is ready for a refresh, especially if you don’t know the criteria that make up a great non-profit website. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the best practices you can build into your website so it reaches its full potential and shares your nonprofit’s mission more effectively.
Practice 1: Make your non-profit website easy to find and trust
Using a .org domain as your website’s Top Level Domain (TLD) can make it easier for internet users to find your website. 68% of donors say they are more likely to trust a nonprofit website that has a .org TLD. The .org TLD was one of the original domains established in 1985, and has been operated by the Public Interest Registry (PIR) since 2003. In 2020, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) blocked the sale of .org to a shell company that would have opened up the use of .org to any type of website, on the basis that transfer of control of the domain would create “unacceptable uncertainty” for non-profits that relied on the org domain. This maintained the credibility of organizations who are allowed to use .org.
Credibility and trust is extremely important for a non-profit website because without trust from your site visitors, you won’t gain donations, volunteers, etc. A great way to boost trust within your website is to include testimonials, industry reports, and other documentation on the website so site visitors can get a stronger sense of how your non-profit is operated and how it makes an impact in its communities. This data will boost your credibility because there is research, statistics, and quotes from people impacted by your non-profit to back up your purpose and make your website stronger.
Being affiliated with trustworthy non-profit associations like GuideStar and Charity Navigator can also increase your credibility. They are both associations that evaluate and assess non-profit data, and make this data available for potential donors to review. Being accredited by associations of this nature will boost your reputation, show your organization’s legitimacy, and ensure your donors of where their donations are going once they make them.
Security is also important with your non-profit website. A few years ago, Google stated that websites with HTTP and not HTTPS would be labeled as insecure. HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. This means that the communications between a browser and a website are encrypted. To change from HTTP to HTTPS, you must install Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate. A SSL is a small data file that digitally binds an encrypted key to an organization’s details. It authenticates the identity of the website owner and encrypts the information sent to the website’s server by scrambling the data. This certificate acts like a digital “passport” for doing business on the web. The SSL is installed on a website’s server. SSL Certificates need to be issued from a trusted Certificate Authority. Your website host sometimes installs SSLs for free, or it can be installed through a WordPress install. Having HTTPS on your website boosts trustworthiness because it increases a user’s comfort level interacting with your site, knowing their information is secure and protected.
Practice 2: Make the content easy to navigate and understand
User experience is a large part of a successful non-profit website that cannot be ignored. It is crucial that your website provides a positive experience for its users. Here are some criteria it should meet:
- Easy To Use and Read
- Keep your website content easy to understand. It’s standard practice to keep your content at a 6th grade reading level so the information is accessible and easily understood by all education levels.
- Loads Fast
- A lagging website is incredibly frustrating and can deter users from exploring your site further. Your website should load in under 3 seconds. There are tests you can complete to check your site speed, and you should make sure your website theme and multimedia elements like photos and videos are optimized for site speed as well.
- Mobile Friendly
- The world is on the go these days, and your website needs to be just as responsive on a mobile phone or tablet as it is on a desktop. Half of all nonprofit website traffic last year came from mobile and tablet users. The share of desktop-based traffic decreased by 9% over the previous year. The number of transactions completed through mobile devices increased by 50%.
- Easy to Navigate
- Make your navigation familiar so visitors can easily get to information they are looking for. Clearly-labeled navigation menus are the ticket for easy access for users. The key pages you should include are: Home, About, Donate or Join, Events, and Contact.
- Call to Action (CTA)
- A Call To Action (CTA) is imperative for getting external parties involved with your organization. A CTA belongs at the top of your school website homepage and should be short and to the point. Research shows that readers often ignore or just scroll through lengthy headlines or carousels of information, so keep the CTA simple with an engaging phrase to encourage participation. Some great examples are:
- Make a donation
- Volunteer with us
- Join our cause
- Help our community
Practice 3: Value professional design elements
An unprofessional-looking or poorly-designed website will not establish credibility with website visitors and potential donors or volunteers. Again, they want to be sure your organization is legitimate. You don’t have to hire a designer to make a professional-looking website. There are many templates and website builders that can help, along with some basic design principles to consider and others to avoid.
Great design can be traced down to the layout in which your content is organized. At Design TLC, we suggest using an “F-layout.” This pattern traces human reading tendencies to read from left to right in a horizontal movement, then down to the next line to continue reading to the right. This pattern can cause issues for web designers because important information can be skipped over or missed when readers quickly scan over content.
To avoid the issue of your information being missed, you can:
- Place the most important information in the first two paragraphs of the webpage.
- Organize your information with headings and subheadings so readers can find what they’re looking for without having to scroll through too much.
- Place the strongest information in the first 2-3 words of the headings or subheadings to hook readers in.
- Visually group relevant content together in small bunches, separated by a different background color, border, or other visual element. Make sure the visual element doesn’t distract the reader from your message.
- Bold important phrases and words.
- Format internal and external links with information-bearing phrases like “click here for more.”
- Cut unnecessary fluff content. Keep it simple.
- Use bullets and lists to organize information.
Design elements like photography and multimedia also will impact the professionalism of your website. A picture says a thousand words, make sure your photography is strong enough to enhance your mission and purpose on your website. Photos are supposed to be used as advancement tools along with your message, not just as filler to take up space. A few tips to follow are:
- Have a central focus
- Aim for close-up photos
- Visually represent the communities you serve
- Touch up small details on Photoshop or another editing software
- Use “The Rule of Thirds”
- Prioritize good lighting
- Use simple backgrounds
For color schemes, the colors you choose should represent your non-profit somehow. For example, a non-profit focused on saving the whale population or another aquatic mission won’t have colors like red and yellow and orange, they’ll primarily use colors like blue and different greens, which represent water and tie back into their mission. The colors should complement each other and visually make sense. Use a color palette tool like Coolers to help select 3-5 colors that compliment each other and use them consistently throughout your website. Avoid the temptation to add in random colors which can make a website look too busy or inconsistent.
Fonts are another design element that have the potential to make your website look sophisticated or on the other end, tacky. It’s a rule of thumb to keep fonts limited and simple, and relevant to your website’s cause. There are a lot of fonts out there that look cool, but would look unprofessional on a non-profit website. For example, the comic sans font won’t be much help for a non-profit with a serious message. Choose around two fonts for your brand and stick with them so your branding is consistent.
Don’t center long paragraphs of text. Centering text can be nice for headlines and subheadings, but when used for a multi-lined paragraph, the text is hard to read because your eye has to bounce around, and it is also a sign of a poorly designed layout.
Practice 4: Keep a relevant message
All nonprofit websites should have a simple mission statement that is easy to find on their website. A mission statement is the foundation of your non-profit organization. It should sum up who your non-profit serves, why you’re serving that community, and how you serve that community in about 5-15 words. Your non-profit mission statement needs to be clear, concise, and informative. It should be a statement your communities can relate to, and one that will encourage action from donors, volunteers, and potential participants.
Keep your messaging relevant by updating your content as the year carries on. Different donations are carried out at different times of the year, so ensure your messaging is updated and refreshed with each campaign. You also need to state the impact your organization makes on its communities so it’s clear to your audiences that your non-profit is successful in its mission. A great way to portray this information is through an infographic.
Practice 5: Make donating easy
You can cover the four bases listed here so far, but if you want people to donate to your nonprofit, ultimately, it is most important to make sure your website donation form works and is easy to use!
People want things as easy as possible these days, with little to no wait-times or barriers to keep them from completing their desired action. This applies to your website donation form, and the donation process on your website should be kept simple.
Ensure that the donate button on your website works, and payments can be submitted securely and easily. Set up notifications for when your organization receives a donation, and make sure donors receive a receipt and a Thank You message after making a donation.
Your donation form must be easy to navigate. Don’t ask for extra information that you don’t really need during the donation process.
With that said, donation forms today include some effective options that may increase donations or make the donation process easier and more interesting for donors:
- Fee recovery
- Recurring donations
- Corporate matching
- Gift in Honor of E-Card to giftee
To make sure your donation process is smooth and easy for donors, run a user test on your website and test the functionality of your donation form.
Need your non-profit website updated before your next campaign, but don’t know where to start? No worries – contact us today for a free consultation.
Lunch & Learn Workshop
Register for our next Free Lunch & Learn WordPress Workshop series for schools! Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 27 at 1PM to learn more about WordPress Plugins and how they can help your website do more for your organization!