Optimizing Your Nonprofit’s Website: Best Practices for 2021

Optimizing Your Nonprofit Website

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According to 2019 trends, the average person in the US spends 6.5 hours a day on the internet. That adds up to nearly 100 days on the internet per year, per person.

The internet has taken over as the main medium of where people get their news, talk to friends, do research, shop, and more. For nonprofits, it’s become an essential—if not the essential—channel for all aspects of fundraising: spreading awareness, hosting events, recruiting new donors, and soliciting donations from supporters.

Because so much interest in your organization is funneled through your website, paying close attention to its design and functionality is essential to maximizing engagement of all kinds. One particular interest is the financial aspect of your website’s job: donations from all of your online fundraising efforts depend at least partially on your website. Your team should prioritize effective digital strategies so your organization doesn’t miss out on valuable support.

We’ve gathered some of those effective strategies in this article. Particularly, we’re going to cover five best practices for optimizing your nonprofit’s website, so you can make sure your web presence is doing all it can to help you further your mission. Here they are:

  1. Clear mission
  2. Intuitive navigation
  3. Prominent CTAs
  4. Streamlined donation form
  5. Mobile optimization

Auditing your site for these best practices and implementing them might take a little time, but it’ll be worth it to your donors—and your fundraising numbers—well into the future. Let’s get started.

1. Clear Mission

Your mission is so essential to your nonprofit that it should be obvious from every piece of material affiliated with your organization, especially your website. If a user lands on one of your webpages and it’s unclear where the mission is, they are likely to leave.

That’s why it’s so vital that you tell the audience loud and clear who you are—and quickly, before they click that text notification or switch tabs to email a colleague. Your mission should be front and center to capture the hearts and minds of your audience before they look away.

Maximizing online giving means maximizing your mission on your website’s homepage. Some strategies for communicating your mission on your homepage include:

  • A powerful, illustrative image or video: Most nonprofit organizations’ websites will benefit from a large featured image or video that has to do with their mission as an organization. This quickly lets your audience know what you do, adds specificity, and provides a figure to empathize with. Visual communication requires little thought or analysis from your audience but still carries a large amount of information in a digestible format. For example, the Boys and Girls’ Club of America has a large featured image of children smiling in their T-shirts. This is related to their mission statement, which is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
  • Concise and strong copy that abbreviates but communicates your mission: Your homepage might not be the place to house your full mission statement, but it should indicate what your nonprofit does. Let’s take an Atlanta nonprofit, Trees Atlanta, as an example. Their mission statement, found within a tab of their website, says that they aim to “protect and improve Atlanta’s urban forest by planting, conserving, and educating.” Meanwhile, their homepage features a prominent phrase over a photograph of Atlanta’s trees that dictates, “140,000 trees and counting,” which quickly communicates an aspect of their mission: planting trees.

Essentially, these two elements are just ways to tell your nonprofit’s story quickly and efficiently. After all, storytelling is a must when it comes to fundraising. Your nonprofit’s website will surely see increased online giving if you can incorporate these two essential features into your website’s homepage.

2. Intuitive Navigation

You want your audience—whether they are just becoming aware of your organization, looking for volunteer opportunities, or current donors—to be able to easily access essential information about your nonprofit’s impact and work. That means you need information architecture that makes sense.

Your navigation menu should be prominently displayed on the top or side of your website’s homepage with distinctive headings. There is no single formula that will work for every nonprofit, as every nonprofit has different goals and strategies to reach those goals.

Using the same nonprofit website examples from the previous section, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club navigation headings read, “About Us,” “Kids in Need,” “Programs,” “Get Involved,” and “News and Stories,” suggesting what their priorities are when it comes to website visitors. (Note, while a donation button does not appear in their navigation headings, they do include a “Donate Now” CTA, which appears separate from their navigation bar at the top of the page.)

Meanwhile, Trees Atlanta’s navigation bar reads, “About,” “Our Programs,” “Calendar,” “News,” “Resources,” “Get Involved,” and “Support Us.” The addition of the “Calendar” heading suggests Trees Atlanta may have regular events and programming for the public to get involved with. Depending on what your nonprofit’s goals are, your navigation menu may use a different structure.

Regardless, these menu examples work because they are:

  1. Clear
  2. Suggestive of the content they contain
  3. Offer paths to deeper engagement

Sometimes, it can be helpful to draw inspiration from other successful websites. To get some ideas for your nonprofit’s website, check out this article, which compiles a list of top nonprofit websites for reference.

3. Prominent CTAs

The philosophy behind calls-to-action or “CTA” placement on your website should prioritize ease above all else.

Users will always favor convenience. Actions with easy and obvious steps are downhill battles for your audience to complete. Meanwhile, difficult and confusing requirements to complete a task will result in fewer conversions. If your nonprofit has a desired action for your audience to take—donate, get involved, volunteer—make completing this action as accessible as possible.

For most nonprofits, this means including a “Give” or “Donate” CTA permanently situated on the top or left side of your website, so it can be seen from every page of your site.

This is beneficial for capturing donations from users who have navigated away from your homepage. Having CTAs permanently visible allows quick access to your donation form and empowers supporters who make the decision to donate at any time while reading your website’s materials.

To draw attention to these desired actions, ensure that your CTA buttons are larger than the surrounding fonts, or alternatively, you could change the font color or background for your buttons so they stand out against your background themes. Regardless, make sure your CTAs are always there and visible to encourage the desired action.

4. Streamlined Donation Form

Whether a user clicked a link they saw in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or an email appeal, the last thing you want to do is lose a donor as they’re completing a gift. Doing so would be a waste of the hard work and marketing you put into getting them there.

Potential donors can arrive at your donation form in a variety of ways, but regardless of how they get there, you should prioritize ease and efficiency once they’ve arrived.

Remember, “K.I.S.S.” — Keep It Short and Simple. On your donation form, ask for only the essentials you need to collect the user’s donation, plus a limited amount of optional information fields if there is additional information your organization is particularly interested in.

For example, the Boys and Girls’ Club prioritizes knowledge about their donors’ past involvement in the organization. With every donation, they also want to know if the donor participated in one of their Clubs as children. To save time, their donation form does not ask an open-ended question. All donors need to do is click a box.

This prioritizes ease over maximum information possible, making it more likely that the donor will fill the form out and complete the donation.

Remember that there will always be time to learn more about your donors after they’ve gotten involved—you’ll have their contact information on file, and you can always send them a questionnaire to gather more information.

One additional donation form option you may want to consider is the option to make a recurring gift, meaning the donation amount they select will be billed to their saved card every month (or other set period of time). According to Double the Donation’s nonprofit fundraising statistics, recurring gifts accounted for a 40% increase in monthly online giving in 2018. Take advantage of donors’ willingness to select “recurring gift” on your donation page for a boost in regular giving.

5. Mobile Optimization

Remember that 6.5 hours of internet time Americans indulge in every day? It turns out that 3.5 hours of that time is spent on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet.

A key difference between mobile users and desktop users is mobile users are more likely to use their devices in short intervals—in line at the grocery store, waiting to catch an elevator, on a lunch break—not hunkered down for a longer period of time staring at their computer screens. It’s important to factor this in when considering a mobile user’s experience.

Because mobile users are seeing your content on smaller screens for shorter periods of time, prioritize the following:

  • Shorter blocks of text
  • Quicker load time
  • Fewer popups
  • Simplified menus
  • Prominent CTAs

When users are on a mobile device, social media sharing is just a touch away. They can conveniently share your website, donation page, or other content if they are moved by the content or have a positive giving experience. This possibility represents a wealth of potential positive exposure for your organization, making it even more important to prioritize mobile optimization.

If you need any additional incentive to optimize your website for mobile users, consider this: Google penalizes websites that are not mobile-friendly. This means your nonprofit is less likely to show up in search results for relevant keywords (even though your content would be relevant) due to your lack of mobile consideration.

So, it’s not hard to convince your team to prioritize mobile optimization. Doing so will open the door to a lot of engagement you’re missing out on from potential volunteers, donors, or just curious members of the public.


Your website is too valuable an asset to your nonprofit not to consider its design and user experience. No matter where on your website—your homepage, subdomains, or donation form—make sure to consider the following: Are you explaining your organization’s mission sufficiently, driving traffic to key places, and maximizing efficiency? If not, you know you have some room to improve. And now, you know how to improve. Good luck!

 

ANNE STEFANYK is Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios. Anne helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

You can find her at:

https://twitter.com/Anne_Kanopi

https://www.drupal.org/u/annabella

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annestefanyk/

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