After auditing a mass number of charity websites recently, one thing became painfully clear: nonprofits and charitable organizations have a lot of catching up to do in the digital sphere. For every truly good nonprofit website you find, there are at least a dozen other examples of what NOT to do.

And bigger is not necessarily better in this case. If you want your nonprofit to stand out among the rest, don’t look for inspiration from the big charities, where decisions about websites are slow and arduous and usually back-of-mind.

Instead, here are some best practices for nonprofit websites with examples pulled from some charities that are more or less getting it right.

 Look Beyond the Homepage

The homepage is becoming less and less relevant. Sure, it serves many functions. It represents your brand/organization, and in many cases it’s the first introduction to your brand for people who search for your organization by name or navigate directly to your URL.

It is also the most unfocused page, because it has to consider the needs and motivations of every potential audience member, as well as introducing your organization and explaining why someone should care.

In contrast, interior pages on the website are usually much more focused on a particular aspect of your nonprofit’s mission. They therefore show up in search engine results more, and are also more likely to get a user to take an action, such as “donating” or “starting a fundraiser.”

The fact is, if your website is serving up fresh content and has a lot of useful, focused interior pages, then many of your first-time visitors are entering your website on an interior page – not your homepage.

Take a look at your web analytics information about your most-visited pages. You may be surprised. In a lot of cases, your homepage may not be in the top 10. If this is the case for your organization, you may want to adjust your focus off of your homepage and look more closely at the user experience on your interior pages.

 Quickly Communicate Your Core Purpose and Communicate it on Every Page

Once your page loads, users form an opinion in 0.5 seconds. You have 10 seconds to leave an impression and tell them what they’ll get out of your website and company. After this time (and oftentimes before), they’ll leave. – NN Group

A very clear, simple, and understandable mission is essential for helping people understand the ultimate value your nonprofit brings. Not all users will be introduced to your site via the homepage, so make sure your audience knows what you do no matter what page they land on.

Quickly Communicate Your Core Purpose

Core Purpose 2

 Tell a Story

Consumers want to be told a story. According to survey conducted by Adobe & research firm Edelman Berland, 73% agreed that brands should tell a unique story.

There are always opportunities to tell stories. It makes content so much more compelling when it is presented in the context of a story. Make sure your organization is taking advantage of the stories behind how your nonprofit began, why your cause matters, and who your organization is helping, and make sure that content is communicated on your website.

Tell A Story - Invisible Children

Invisible Children tells the story of their organization and cause in a compelling and bold way. It is also the first call-to-action on their homepage.

Tell A Story - LINK

Liberty in North Korea tells the stories of the refugees they have rescued, and includes those stories in numerous places on their website.

 Site Architecture Matters

Well-planned site architecture not only informs search engine bots of the importance of pages in rankings, but it is also important to user experience. Is it easy to find the expected information? What are the real goals of your website? Does the architecture of your site support those goals?

Site Architecture Matters - BCRF

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation has a very clear navigational structure that has sufficient content on their impact as well as organization.

 Each Page is a Journey That Leads to a Goal

What is the ideal outcome for a visitor on each page of the website? Whatever the content is, giving the user a next step will make them stay on the site longer and ultimately convert them to accomplish a goal.

The relevancy of your goals to the content on each page is important. If you have too many goals or calls to action presented to a user on a single page, you’ll be cluttering up your design as well as introducing the paradox of choice. Having too many options can cause visitors to choose “none of the above” and pass up taking any action, simply because it’s too much visual information to digest.

Understand the purpose of each page and narrow down what goals make the most sense to point the visitor towards.

 Be Transparent

According to a study in The Chronicle of Philanthropy,

1 in 3 Americans lack confidence in charities. In deciding where they will donate, 50% of survey respondents said it was “very important” for them to know that charities spend a low amount on salaries, administration, and fundraising; another 34% said it was “somewhat important.”

Transparency - Liberty In North Korea

Liberty In North Korea does a great job of quantifying their impact into real numbers, no matter how small they are. Anywhere you can put a number to something your nonprofit has done, you can better communicate your impact to a potential donor or sponsor. The more transparent your organization is about this, the more trust you will gain with your visitors.

Transparency - Charity WaterTransparency - Charity Water

Another way to put transparency at the forefront is to design your financial/impact reports into something more enjoyable to read. This goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. Utilize storytelling even when you’re presenting financial data and always emphasize the impact of your efforts.

Transparency - Impact Reports - Charity Water

Charity Water’s dynamic annual report is enjoyable to read and also gives you an idea of the culture and people that work at the organization.

Transparency - Impact Reports - Liberty In North Korea

Liberty In North Korea’s 2014 Impact Report quickly emphasizes not only impact numbers but also the stories of the individuals that they have helped.

 Highlight CTAs in Site Navigation

Visually highlight your most significant call to action within your navigation menu. On any page, that goal will be prominent and easily accessible. Secondary CTAs can be a more muted color but still be visually prominent.

Calls to Action in Navigation - Barbells for Boobs

 Make it Mobile-Friendly

Mobile traffic now makes up 50% of all internet traffic. People today expect a great mobile experience. It’s imperative to make mobile content not just passable or functional, but truly seamless and easy.

At this point, this should go without saying. If your website is not mobile optimized, then you are really missing the boat. Unfortunately, looking at many nonprofit websites, the importance of mobile still needs to be emphasized.

Charity Water - Mobile Donate

Charity Water makes it easy to donate on your mobile device.

 Optimize Donation Pages

Let’s be frank: getting donations is the main reason many nonprofit websites exist. Since that’s the case, there are a number of things you should do to optimize your donation page:

  • Make it EASY to donate. One-step conversion is becoming increasingly important, because it lowers the barrier to donating. Would you rather fill out a form with 10 fields, or just 4? If more than a few information fields are required, instead of displaying one long form, break it into easily digestible steps with each step on a new page. This “chunking” method is shown to decrease form drop-off rates, and is generally a better user experience.

Make it Easy to Donate - BarackObama.com

  • Use trust indicators. These are things like badges, independent ratings, and financial information displayed for quick reference on the donation page.
  • Make an emotional appeal. For instance, use authentic photography of who you are impacting, as seen below with the Invisible Children donation landing page.

Emotional Appeal - Invisible Children

  • Translate donation amounts into impact made. Translating the value of a donation will help your donors see what kind of impact a certain dollar amount can actually make.

Donations to Impact - LINK

  • Position monthly donations as exclusive programs. Everyone wants to receive recurring donations, because they give you a steady stream of funds without constantly having to recruit new donors. To encourage this, position your monthly donation option as an exclusive program. By playing up exclusivity, community, and recognition, you can help a donor feel more connected to the cause and more appreciated for their support.

Monthly Giving - Possible HealthMonthly Giving - Possible Health

  • Don’t forget about the post-donation experience. Just because you’ve reached your goal of getting a donation doesn’t mean you can just love ‘em and leave ‘em. If you stop the user experience at the donation, you’ll leave people feeling under-appreciated and used. So, after a person has donated, make sure the thank you page shows them your appreciation. Then, make them feel valued with a tailored thank you email, including further steps on how they can continue to support your nonprofit’s mission and cause.

Put these best practices into practice, and your nonprofit organization’s website will start to stand out from the crowd – in a good way. Does your non-profit need a partner to help implement strategies like these for your website? Then drop us a line!

BuzzShift friend and UX Designer, Sarah Sloan, penned this post.