A website is a nonprofit’s primary hub for communications—a space where they can tell their story and reach audiences on a global scale.
If the thought of building a nonprofit website from scratch seems intimidating, have no fear! There is a wealth of easy-to-use web-based platforms, tools, and resources that will help even the most novice web designer develop an excellent website that blows people away.
In this article, we will walk you through crucial steps in the web design process and connect you to the resources you will need to learn how to create a website for a nonprofit organization.
Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Website
If you are in the beginning stages of starting a nonprofit organization you might be wondering why having a website is so important.
Today, people primarily do their research online. Not being able to find a business, nonprofit, or other enterprise online can harm an organization’s legitimacy and credibility with the public.
Additionally, donors, volunteers, and other key nonprofit supporters are increasingly moving toward digital communications for their interactions with nonprofit organizations.
For example, while many nonprofits once relied on donations by mail or in person in the past, nonprofits are now seeing huge increases in online donations. According to a recent study from Nonprofit Source 54% of donors prefer to give online and as of 2017 online giving had increased by 23%.
To effectively sustain and grow their operations nonprofit organizations have adapted to these trends to meet supporters where they are.
A nonprofit website is effectively the primary online hub for the organization. A website will contain pages with key information that is crucial for the public to understand about the organization including:
Important news and updates, such as special events and fundraisers
Having a highly functional and well-designed website will help your organization reach its current audience more effectively and quickly build upon that audience by identifying new audiences that would be interested in supporting your nonprofit’s mission.
Moreover, a nonprofit website shows supporters that your organization is trustworthy.
Nonprofits can publish reports, tax forms, and other information on their websites that indicate they are a credible organization that deserves support and donations.
Websites also give nonprofit organizations the opportunity to align their work with inspiring visuals, literally showing donors how their support is impacting the community, nation, and the world.
For example, the YMCA of Greater Seattle use photographs of participants to show how their programs are improving the lives of children and families in their community.
6 Steps to Create a Website for Your Nonprofit Organization
Building a nonprofit website might sound like a daunting task, but with all the free and accessible web building tools, templates, and resources available on the market, you should be able to create your own nonprofit website in no time.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important steps to take when building your nonprofit’s website.
1. Identify Your Audience
The first step in building a functional and effective nonprofit website is identifying and researching who your audience is and who you want to reach.
Before getting a domain or creating content it is important to understand who your website is for. This will help you decide on how to design the site to optimize user experiences to best meet the needs of your audience.
Understanding your target audience’s demographics and digital preferences will make it easier for you to create a website that is relevant and engaging to them.
2. Choose Tools for Web-Building
One of the most important choices you will need to make when designing a nonprofit website is which web builder platform you will use.
Fortunately, there are several really great website builders to choose from with membership prices that are very reasonable. Some common choices are Wordpress, Wix, and Squarespace.
While all of these are excellent choices, each platform is unique and has key strengths and features. You will want to choose a platform that has templates and functions that will best serve you and your audience’s needs.
Wix is a great choice for a web builder, especially for nonprofit organizations. Wix features an easy to understand interface with functionality built to meet the needs of experienced web designers as well as templates and simple guides for individuals just learning how to build their own site. Wix sets itself apart by offering a curated gallery of website templates that are tailor-made for different types of nonprofits.
Squarespace, very similar in many ways to Wix, helps individuals create websites focused on growing their business or enterprise. Squarespace provides very easy to integrate e-commerce functions and tools that are great for small businesses and nonprofits alike. Squarespace might be an excellent choice if your nonprofit has a social enterprise component or if you want to include an online shop or store.
Wordpress is another very popular website builder and domain host. However it is a little more complex than platforms like Squarespace and Wix since it is made with designers and web builders in mind. Wordpress offers a variety of features and content that many of its competitors do not, but it will take some time to learn the interface and become familiar with some of the processes. Despite this, committed Wordpress users will come out the otherside with beautiful, well-designed websites that are unique and highly functional.
These are only a few of the many web builders on the market. Be sure to thoroughly research each of these options and others you may find. You will want to be certain you have chosen the option that best suits your nonprofit’s needs!
3. Choose a Domain Name and Host
One of the key aspects of creating a great nonprofit website is making sure it is easy to find online.
To this end, you will want to pick a domain name that best exemplifies your organization and work.
For individuals who are just becoming familiar with web design jargon and website infrastructure it is important to understand what a domain name is. A domain name is the website’s primary URL or unique identifier.
For example, Google’s domain is google.com, and the domain name for the American Red Cross is redcross.org.
There is a process to identify and choose a domain name as well as a process for choosing a platform to host the domain (we will get to that shortly). Individuals pay for and own a domain name meaning that if your nonprofit’s name is common enough someone may already own the right to that domain.
That means it might be time to get creative! You may consider hyphenating your nonprofits name (e.g. instead of mynonprofit.org you may need to choose my-nonprofit.org).
Several web builders (including the ones previously identified) offer the ability to register or host a domain directly through their platform. You will find that both Wix and Squarespace offer this feature. For web builders that do not offer in house domain hosting, you will have to go elsewhere.
Websites like GoDaddy offer domain search tools to help you find the right domain name for your website and allow you to purchase said domain and host it for a reasonable cost.
4. Create Content for the Website
Creating content for your nonprofit’s website is the heart of the development process. You will get to decide what to communicate to your audience and how to advocate for your mission and work.
Content across nonprofit websites will differ depending on the kind of services and programming your organization provides.
You may want to directly connect to the communities you serve and make it easier for them to access services. You might be more interested in finding more efficient ways to connect your donors to your mission and get involved. Or perhaps you want to encourage people to take political action. Maybe it is all of the above!
While you will certainly create content based on your nonprofit's specific mission and needs, here are few common webpages you will find on most nonprofit websites.
Every website has a homepage. Most nonprofit homepages will include key information about their work, including their mission and vision statements and core values. A homepage is also a place where you can update users on important news and upcoming events or fundraisers.
Habitat for Humanity is a great example of a well-executed homepage. The homepage features an accessible and easy to navigate banner where supporters can access information on volunteering, advocacy, and how to donate (juxtaposed with the rest of the homepage with a bright orange button).
The homepage also highlights where to find out more about the organization’s work and how to seek help and benefit from their services Look to great nonprofit websites like this for inspiration when designing an effective homepage for your nonprofit’s website.
As mentioned before online donations are becoming more and more ubiquitous.
According to Nonprofit Source, online donations are increasing exponentially with huge gains during key periods like Giving Tuesday. The most recent data available (calendar year 2018) indicates that online giving on Giving Tuesday went up by 38% with organizations raising over $380 million online on that day alone.
These trends should not be ignored by nonprofits. Donation pages and donation buttons should be prominently displayed on nonprofit websites and the user experience should be simplistic, quick, and easy.
Nonprofit websites are key for the public to get involved with the organization’s mission. Websites allow the community to directly get in touch with the nonprofit, sign up for events, or volunteer.
Frequently, nonprofit websites will include a “Get Involved” webpage where supporters can connect with staff and learn how to volunteer and support the organization beyond making donations.
News, Updates, and Events
Be sure to include a news and updates page on your website so supporters can stay up to date and aware of what your organization is up to.
Things like webinars, staff updates, and mentions of your nonprofit organization in the media should be noted and accessible on your website. Many nonprofits will even include a calendar so supporters can keep track of events and key dates.
5. Add Additional Features
Depending on your nonprofit’s mission, work, and the needs of your audience, you will want to consider adding additional features on your website that will improve the overall user experience.
For example, some nonprofits will add a store or shop feature, selling buttons, stickers, t-shirts and other merchandise with the organization’s branding. This is common for museums, theaters, and other arts and culture nonprofit organizations that operate in person gift shops or are funded by the sale of ticketed events and performances.
The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art features a separate e-commerce site for their gift shop where patrons can shop merchandise based on current shows and show support for local artists.
6. Test Your Site
Web design requires significant trial and error before getting your nonprofit’s website looking just right.
Testing your website prior to publishing it is key.
You can obtain real user reviews and incorporate their feedback by leveraging platforms like User Testing. User Testing will directly connect you with your audience and work with you to develop a set of questions to ask of them and allow you to watch them navigate and provide feedback on their experience using your website.
In fact, testing should be a perpetual process when maintaining your website—not just prior to publishing it the first time.
This process is called “iteration”. Iteration in web design is a methodology that leverages a cyclical design process. This means that testing is a feature of website maintenance. You will always be testing new features with audiences, prototyping new designs, and analyzing content to ensure that as your audience evolves so does your website.
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There are so many ways to create a beautiful and engaging nonprofit website. Before wrapping up the article, we will leave you with a few final tips for building an effective nonprofit website.
Be clear and concise: Do not drop in paragraph upon paragraph of block text on your website. Instead, create content that is pithy and eye-catching while capturing critical information you need your audience to know.
Your website should be working to get your audience excited about your mission and involved with your work!
Use inspiring images and visuals: One of the primary advantages of having a website for your nonprofit organization is the opportunity to use images, artwork, media, and beautiful design to illustrate the impact of your organization’s work.
Images of your staff at work, your participants, and supporters getting involved during special events can help inspire supporters to donate and become involved. The website for Minneapolis based nonprofit, The Real Minneapolis, does a great job of juxtaposing impactful imagery alongside a clear and concise banner, allowing supporters to easily learn more about their mission, work, and how to get involved.
Show your audience what makes your nonprofit unique: Every choice when building your website should contribute to a larger narrative about your nonprofit, why your efforts are important, and why investing in your organization is the right choice for donors. Make sure that your website tells your nonprofit’s unique story and what makes it different.
Wrapping Up: The Next Steps
Websites are a critical component of a nonprofit’s overall communication strategy. They help bolster the organization’s mission and make key connections with supporters and new audiences. Understanding how to create a nonprofit website will help you grow your organization so that you can carry out your mission for years and years to come.
Looking for more information about nonprofit best practices and management? Visit Instrumentl’s blog today!
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