Building Non-Profit Websites: What You Need To Know


In many ways, building a non-profit website is a straightforward task; you already know what you need to promote, and you already have an idea of the people who will be interested in supporting it. Still, even with a host of crisp images and a great story, far too many not-for-profit websites fall flat on their feet – often without ever really knowing why.

In this blog post, we’ll tackle the world of non-profit and charity websites: How you can optimize them, what they should include, and how to know when you’ve gone off the right track.


Step 1: Pick one Goal

At any given moment, a non-profit organization is bound to have not just one, but dozens of goals to keep track of: newsletter subscriptions, donations, fundraising campaigns, and volunteer drives all pile up to create a flurry of simultaneous – and sometimes conflicting – deadlines and targets. To complicate matters further, these goals are often managed by several different people who themselves have their own goals and their own priorities.

Enter the task of building or optimizing a website, and you have a problem: Suddenly, everyone is fighting to be featured on the coveted front page.

Here’s a simple golden rule when it comes to building an effective website, non-profit or otherwise:

A single goal converts better than many goals competing for attention.

Few visitors are likely to spend several minutes clicking every link on your website, and fewer still are likely to click more than one call-to-action button. Choose one goal for your website, and build your content around it.


Tell One Story

Once you have your primary goal set in stone, you and your team can go to work choosing and crafting a story that will engage your website viewers as soon as they arrive on your site.

Humans have a strange approach to empathy; hundreds of thousands of people often mean very little to us, but one person, even if he or she is a total stranger, can capture our hearts and drive us to an immediate understanding of the problems they face.

Picking one story, often of a single event or person, helps ground your cause, simplifying it for those who have never heard or thought about it before and making it instantly relatable. Choosing a single story to focus on also helps drive social media traffic to your site. A single, inspiring story can be circulated via press releases and social media, which, if picked up, will drive untold traffic to your cause.

Know Your Audience


Who supports your non-profit? Are they young? Old? Where do they live? What kind of jobs do they have? What other non-profits do they support? How do they communicate?

If you stumbled on any of these questions, the time is ripe for some quantitative audience research. Start by profiling your current supporters, looking at them from the most to the least active. Compare these numbers to analytics on your website’s visitors – where they come from, what device they access your website from, and how long they stay on a given page.

Knowing who your audience is will help you focus and prioritize your website’s design and content. If, for example, your main interest group is 25-40 year old young professionals who live mainly in a large urban centre, you can bet that they will respond well to increased social media connectivity on your website and as part of your funding drives. This technologically-savvy group will also expect very few steps to follow to complete any process, and they’ll want to move quickly – quite in contrast to an interest group between the ages of, say, 55 to 75.

For more information on how to get to know your audience, check out our IM Creator blog tutorial here.


Use Real Photos to Tell Your Story

Why use stock images when taking a beautiful (and relevant) photo is as easy as unlocking your iPhone? For non-profits on a tight budget, today’s smartphones are nothing short of photographic miracles, often with lenses that rival a perfectly decent point-and-shoot of a few years ago that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice.

Instead of spending time wading through stock photography, paying for it, and placing attribution licenses all over your page, why not get out into the field, take some photos of real events and real people that are relevant to your non-profit, and use those as your image content?

Donors respond to real people, real stories, and real events. It helps reassure them that their support is making an impact, and encourages them to continue supporting (and talking about) your non-profit.



Keep forms to a minimum

Forms, forms, forms: You need them to lock in donations and subscriptions, but make them too complicated or too long and once enthusiastic visitors will quickly abandon ship. Keep sign-up and donation forms minimal, preferably on a single page and with a clear path from beginning and end; visitors are more likely to abandon a sign-up form if they can’t see light at the end of a dozens of questions.

Along the way, make sure to underline that subscriber information will not be shared with third parties, and that any payment information will be kept secure. If your website has an online donation function, make sure that you have taken the proper steps to secure your website and its relationship with any payment provider – then make this clear to potential donors.


Can a visitor find what they need in two clicks or less?

…And, for that matter, do they know what they’re looking for? The paramount goal of your non-profit website should always be to set a clear path for your visitors, letting them understand almost instantaneously (that is, within the span of about 5 seconds) what your non-profit does, why it matters to the visitor, and where they can go to pledge their support.

Here’s where things get tricky: Can a visitor (any visitor, not just the techno-savvy ones) navigate to what they’re looking for within two clicks? If not, your site architecture might need some tweaking. If you’re not sure, run some tests with colleagues, friends, and yourself. Try getting from point A to point B, and see what kinds of hiccups and dead-ends you encounter. What is hidden? What takes longer than you would have expected? Put yourself in your donor’s shoes, and you’re certain to discover dozens of details that can be improved.


A Final Word: Letting Your Cause Shine Through

All too often, non-profit websites make the mistake of addressing existing supporters over potential supporters by assuming that site visitors already know about a non-profit’s work.

As soon as a visitor arrives on your non-profit website, make sure that they can read about who you are, what you do, and why this all matters to them. This not only provides extra re-assurance that visitors have come to the right place, it also helps to underscore your primary goal from the moment a visitor arrives, making it clearer what their role should be.



Image Credits: All images sourced from IM FREE

Man at Occupy Wall Streetby WarmSleepy at Flickr Creative Commons

Indian Girlby luigi morante at Flickr Creative Commons

IMATS Vancouver 2011 by vancouverfilmschool at Flickr Creative Commons


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