What Makes Nonprofit Websites Stand Out?
Your website is the face of your nonprofit and one of your strongest marketing tools. Standing out from the crowd requires not just a sophisticated design, but also a design that actively promotes what makes your nonprofit unique. After all, the content on your website drives your entire digital fundraising and outreach efforts. This means your website needs to be both functional and immediately identifiable with your nonprofit’s brand.
The best way to learn about design is to study positive examples and discuss why they work. This article will explore two examples of websites in the nonprofit sector:
• Child Development Services of Fremont County
• Mark Ridley-Thomas for Los Angeles City Council
The strategies used on these websites can be applicable to any type of nonprofit, regardless of mission or overall objectives.
Example: Child Development Services of Fremont County
Child Development Services of Fremont County (CDSFC) aims to make a strong first impression. As a nonprofit that serves children, its hero image is as kid-friendly as possible. While many websites use photographs for their hero images, graphic designs like the CDSFC’s work just as well. In the case of an organization meant to help children, they can convey the organization’s brand better than a photograph could.
For first-time visitors, CDSFC’s homepage captures attention and gives users a strong sense of the nonprofit behind the page with minimal scrolling. Someone new to CDSFC’s website will likely come away with the following impressions:
• CDSFC serves young children. This one is a bit obvious, but it’s still good practice to let your visitors know who your services are for right away. With the cartoon children and brightly colored objects, you don’t even need to read their content to know that the CDSFC caters to children attending preschool and younger.
• CDSFC prides itself on being fun. Your logo and colors aren’t the only elements on your homepage that establish your brand. Images like the CDSFC’s communicate the overall tone and approach of the nonprofit behind the website. In this case, the bright colors and smiling cartoon children indicate that CDSFC values fun and engagement.
• CDSFC is innovative. If you navigate through CDSFC’s website, you’ll notice that the graphic elements are not static. The graphics move as a user scrolls, immediately catching the eye and drawing attention toward the hero image. Compared to static nonprofit websites, this choice makes CDSFC appear technologically proficient, further indicating they are a professional and innovative organization.
The CDSFC’s homepage also encourages users to reach out through the Contact Us button located in the center of their hero image. Similar to brightly colored donate buttons, overlaying action buttons or forms on top of your hero image leads visitors to the highest priority calls to action. This doesn’t mean supporters won’t donate or volunteer if you highlight your subscription page, but it will signal that your subscription page is the primary way to get involved.
What you can do for your website
Place yourself in the shoes of a first-time visitor to your website. What stands out first? What would you assume about your nonprofit from a first glance? It can be difficult to answer these questions if you’re intimately familiar with every aspect of your website, which is why user testing is useful.
User testing is a design testing process that involves bringing in people who have never used your website and asking them their thoughts and having them complete specific tasks. This will show you how new users envision the organization behind your website, as well as how users are naturally inclined to navigate your website.
If you find yourself in need of design help to create a first impression more in line with your association’s mission, try seeking out a web design consultant. Resources like this one can provide a starting point for finding experts with a variety of specialties, including web design.
Example: Mark Ridley-Thomas for Los Angeles City Council
Political and advocacy websites like Mark Ridley-Thomas’ follow many of the same principles of traditional nonprofit organizations. However, there are a few additional needs that campaign website design have to meet that will sometimes apply to your nonprofit, too, including:
• Adhering to time-sensitive timelines. Political campaigns end when voting does, which means these websites need to engage visitors fast. Creating deadlines can also encourage excitement as it motivates supporters to accomplish certain tasks before time runs out. Ridley-Thomas’ website assists visitors by placing an embedded volunteer form on top of the hero image, telling them exactly what action they should take and encouraging them to do so as soon as the homepage loads.
• Creating a connection to a specific figure. Political websites want visitors to connect to a specific figure. In the example, we see the candidate clearly in the hero image next to an even more identifiable person, Vice President Kamala Harris. Sometimes placing more than one person on your hero image can confuse visitors, but in this case, it’s extremely unlikely anyone would mistake Harris for a city council candidate! Harris’s presence also provides a clue to Ridley-Thomas’ politics for visitors, indicating that he likely has politics and traits in common with her.
• Targeting visitors based on their location. Political campaign websites are only useful for visitors who live in a locality where they can take action. While any visitor can spread your website further, your nonprofit may benefit more from reaching out to local supporters who can volunteer, attend events, and participate in face-to-face activities.
This website also has embedded the candidate’s Twitter feed directly into the homepage below the hero image. This allows visitors to receive updates almost immediately while also showing with regular social posts that the candidate is active.
What you can do for your website
Nonprofits can benefit from running their website like a political campaign page in many ways. For example, your nonprofit can also create a sense of urgency by placing deadlines on campaigns, even if you will accept donations afterwards. Doing so builds excitement and can help fund large projects quickly.
Keeping a news page or embedding your social media profiles into your news page can also help your nonprofit appear active and show supporters that you are continually working toward your mission. Plus, regularly adding new, valuable content to your website shows that your website is well maintained, making it look better to search engines.
De’Yonté’ Young is a late-80s baby who found his passion for web design and development during MySpace’s heyday, when he helped his friends create awesome profiles. He’s spent the last three years specializing in WordPress and conversion optimization and is an active proponent of coding guidelines. In his down time he enjoys cooking, Rugby and hanging out with his wife.