Essentials for Non-Profit Websites

In the 21st Century world, having a website is a no-brainer for most non-profit organizations. You don’t need anything fancy, but a functional site that gives visitors key information and a place donate is imperative to its success. You might as well not have a site at all if you don’t include these important items.

Usability and user trust
Clear, Obvious Navigation is Pivotal

You can’t convert visitors into donors and grass-roots advocates (viral marketing) if your website makes them feel stupid.

Your site needs to have an obvious, intuitive navigational structure. Visitors have a short attention span – they aren’t going to spend a lot of time roaming around trying to find things. Therefore, it is important that your site is clean, not have a lot of interfering bells and whistles, and be easy to maneuver. For example, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a menu bar across the top, a clear description of its purpose, and if you can’t find something, has a search bar.

What do you do in five words or less

This is not a mission statement, rather a one line phrase gives a reader an idea of what you do. Bird Ministries is a good example here. At the top of the site, it says, Beginning in the Right Direction. Bird Ministries is a ministry to help women who have been in prison find reconciliation. They help women begin in the right direction.

What you do in a sentence or two

Once a reader sees something like Beginning in the Right Direction, then they will start to look at the site, scrolling down. In the body of the home page, make sure you include a more detailed description of your mission. Again, this is not a mission statement, but a reader should have a clear picture of your goal. On Bird Ministries’ site, look beneath the rotating pictures. In big bold text, it says “We provide women who have been in prison hope, healing and reconciliation with God, family and community.”

Donate on every page

Increased usability of donate form = more Donations

It is seemingly obvious that you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to donate. Make sure that on every page there is an obvious way to donate. Click around on the site of after school program The Mix at Arbor Place and you will see that every page includes a red banner on the right hand side bar that says DONATE in contrasting white letters. If you click on it, you are led to the donation page which sells someone on why they should donate to help the cause.

There is even a multimedia presentation (YouTube video) for someone who is not interested in reading. These multiple avenues help draw in the maximum amount of interest and subsequent donations.

Also, show how you use donated money. A circle graph is great for this (especially if you spend little on administrative costs), or you can give a quantitative example like, “Every $5 you give allows a kid to have lunch for a week” or “$25 is one more bed we can purchase to give someone somewhere warm to stay tonight”. Make donors feel good about donating.

Social Media is as important as the site itself

Having a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Google Plus page are excellent mechanisms to draw more readers and potential donors to your site or to get them to share it with their friends, but simply having the pages is not enough. You need to link them on your site. Take the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Organizations (PANO), for example. On every single page at the bottom, there is a link to their Google Plus page, and on their home page, there is a convenient box that links to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Another approach is to use one of the great widgets that Google provides and add it, like the one in the upper right hand corner of Arbor Place. No matter how you decide to do it, make sure you link your social media pages and your site together.

Email Newsletters

An easy way to connect with your audience is to have a weekly or monthly email newsletter that someone can sign up for online. Link it on your site. In your emails, provide a link to donate. Every dollar helps.

About Page

Make sure you have an about us page. Now is the time to include your mission statement and some history on your organization. Having multiple channels to distribute this information, such as images and videos in addition to text is always a nice touch. Your history should be written in a concise, compelling, anecdotal manner. Personal stories always help someone make a personal connection to your organization and want to donate. Make sure that you provide a link to donate on this page (as you should on every one, just particularly this one).

Online, Online, Online

These days, people want to be able to plan and conduct their lives from their living room in their pajamas as much as possible. Allow them to see your upcoming events in a calendar online. Ideally, create a Google Calendar that someone can export to their personal Google calendar, or at the very least include a calendar that allows people to see details on an event and gives them a phone number to call if they need more information. Allow them to sign up online. By that same token, allow people to volunteer to help online; you can even include a link to volunteer beneath your link to donate on every page. After all, time is money.


At the end of the day, the same SEO principles that guide for profit websites should guide non-profit websites. Though the websites have different objectives, they all need to be easily navigable, provide a call to action, and be intertwined with social media effort. The goal of a non-profit site, however, should be to get donors and to spread the word. Following these tips will help you do both.

About M Street

M Street has designed over a dozen websites for non-profit organizations in Central Pennsylvania. It also assists organizations in their search engine optimization efforts. Contact them today for more information on how they can help you.

Very Nice To Have

  • Financials
  • Success Stories/ impact
  • Photos
  • Donate online seamlessly on site
  • Interactivity / feedback
  • Donor recognition
  • Memorable URL
  • Distinct brand experience

Must Have

  • What you do – quickly
  • Updated content
  • Contact info
  • Donate online securely
  • Clear call to action/case for support
  • Email communication
  • Page titles

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Non Profit Website Design | The Challenge

Know Your Audience

  • I want your “product”, information
  • I just arrived from Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook
  • I want your phone number or address

What is your GOAL?

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What action do you want them to take on your site?
  • What information are you trying to convey?

Content Management System (CMS)

  • Buy or build?
  • Open-source or commercial?
  • Developer or editor?
  • Does it force a new editorial process on your organization?
  • Make sure you understand the total $$$ of ownership

Online Marketing: Measure!

Email Marketing | Newsletters

  • Avoid domain blacklisting:
  • Send from capable systems, not from desktop email clients
  • Make unsubscribing easy (e.g. a “Remove Me” link in every email)
  • Make sure multiple lists / systems stay synchronized
  • Content must be tailored to email communications
  • Subject lines are crucial. Put important/ descriptive words first.
  • Keep content short, link back to website

Remember: Measure, talk to your audience, then improve!