Your website is one of your nonprofit’s most powerful resources for engaging supporters and asking for donations. With the right technical knowledge and an intuitive content management system (CMS), you can theoretically design your website to include any design element you would like.
However, many nonprofit marketing professionals don’t allocate enough time to fully understand nonprofit and association website design best practices. People subconsciously understand and are attracted to well-designed websites, but it can be difficult to create them ourselves without the right tools and knowledge.
A strong website design influences how your site’s visitors interact with the content more than you might initially think. The language, visuals, and layout guide your visitors’ experiences, and when leveraged effectively, these design choices can lead to greater levels of supporter engagement.
To help your nonprofit’s team optimize your website’s design, this article will explore seven design elements you should account for in your design:
- Clear Navigation
- Donor-Centric Language
- Eye-Catching Visuals
- Consistent Branding
- Accessibility Options
- Mobile Optimization
While you can implement many of these design elements yourself, some strategies may end up being more technically complex than you’re able to handle. In those instances, reach out to your website provider’s support team or a professional web design agency to provide guidance. Your website is worth the effort, and a poorly designed one should be remedied as quickly as possible.
1. Clear Navigation
Prioritizing smooth navigation in your web design will result in a better user experience. Your navigation menu is one of the main elements that dictates how users navigate your website. The web pages you chose to link in your navigation menu will likely receive the most clicks (and thus the most attention) as users click on them to find the information they need.
Most nonprofits include links to informational and engagement pages such as those that contain their donation form, current program initiatives, organization’s history, and contact information. If you have more than four or five pages you want to be immediately accessible from your navigation menu, use dropdown menus with labels that clearly indicate the landing page’s content.
What makes a navigation label useful? Be deliberate in how you group your content pages together. Some groups might be obvious, such as placing a page with your mission statement under your “About” label. However, others have more room for creativity. For example, you might also group your current initiatives or testimonials under a general “What We Do” label with information about your organization’s history, or you could decide to create a separate label specifically for your current and past projects to draw more attention to them.
2. Donor-Centric Language
How you say something is often equally as important as what you say. When you initially write content for your website, you might not think about how it does (or does not) include your donors. Everything you write is framed a certain way, even if you didn’t deliberately attempt to apply framing.
You can improve your reports, fundraising appeals, and stories about your nonprofit by using donor-centric language. Donor-centric language means writing in a way that actively includes and relates to your donors, stating how and why they impact your cause. Here are a few ways you can refine the language on your website to include donors:
- Focus on “you” rather than “I.” When you write stories about your nonprofit, include donors in actions your nonprofit takes. For example, instead of saying “We constructed a new schoolhouse,” you can say, “Your generous support helped construct a new schoolhouse.”
- Convey donors’ impact. Tell donors what their donations accomplish using specific details. Some donors appreciate facts and statistics while others are moved by stories and thank yous from the individuals you helped thanks to those donations. Be sure to provide a variety of testimonials and donor impact reports on your nonprofit’s website for easy access.
- Be appreciative. You thank donors when they donate, volunteer, attend events, and interact with your nonprofit in any way. Preemptively thanking donors on your donation page or at the end of impact reports that both donors and non-donors alike will read helps convey your appreciation and can help convince those on the fence to chip in as well.
The language you use on your nonprofit’s website should be consistent with the tone set in the rest of your fundraising materials. Before you add new content to your website, evaluate whether or not it fits with the rest of your brand. Doing so will allow you to create and maintain a cohesive online image for your nonprofit.
3. Eye-Catching Visuals
While they may contain valuable information, blocks of text rarely attract attention over visual elements. This doesn’t mean that your visuals and textual elements are competing with one another. Rather, strategic use of eye-catching visuals can complement your text.
For example, if you’re telling a story about your nonprofit’s work, including before and after pictures or a photo of one of your constituents can help supporters connect with your cause and visualize how their donations make a difference. This is especially useful for digital marketing campaigns as visitors tend to scroll past stories very quickly until something catches their eye—and that thing is usually visually striking.
Visuals aren’t limited to photos either. You can also make your page more engaging by including visual elements such as:
- Graphic design elements
- Strategic use of color
- Interactive elements such as maps
Before implementing these elements, draft your website design to understand how each element will fit together and form a cohesive theme. Drawing out your design ideas can save you a lot of time when editing your CMS theme. If you find yourself short on inspiration, consider consulting a professional web designer, who already knows what makes a nonprofit website stand out.
4. Consistent Branding
Your nonprofit’s logo, colors, and brand should play a major role in your website’s design. Display your logo on every page and choose design visuals that help accent your brand’s style. Consistent branding not only makes your website more memorable, but it also helps visitors feel your nonprofit is secure.
For example, look at your donation form. Some nonprofits embed their forms into their site while others navigate users to an external form provided by their fundraising provider to enter their information. Both approaches work, but if leaving your website is part of your donation process, be sure to include brand elements such as your logo on that page.
Morweb’s article on donation page design tips provides a useful example of consistent branding:
Notice how this nonprofit’s donation page carries over its hero image from its homepage to let visitors know without a doubt that they are donating to the same organization. The strategic use of the nonprofit’s branded dark blue color on the donation amounts, headers, and image also creates a sense of unity.
Your nonprofit likely has a lot of content you want to share with visitors on your website. However, when it comes to web design, less is often more, because limiting your visual elements will draw more attention to the elements you do have on your page.
Double the Donation’s tips on nonprofit web design emphasize the often overlooked value of minimalism. Specifically, they advise building web pages that follow these best practices:
- Leave white space between content elements. White space simply refers to the empty space between design elements and helps make the content itself more digestible. It provides a visual buffer between content that allows our eyes to reset and our brain to process what we just viewed. Include space between elements like your headers, text, and pictures on each page.
- Only include essential information. Your visitors want to learn more about your nonprofit, but they don’t want to waste their time navigating through too much information. Consider the purpose of each page on your website, and if something isn’t necessary, cut it.
- Don’t overcrowd pages with too many elements. Avoid cluttering your pages with too many photos, bright colors, and other visual elements. While each of these elements may look perfectly fine independently, putting together too many design elements looks chaotic and can prevent visitors from fully taking in any one visual element.
- Limit blocks of text. Like the inclusion of white space, text design is often overlooked. Large blocks of text tend to be unappealing to readers, especially text with long line lengths which can be hard for our eyes to track. Break up your text with headers, pictures, and other visual elements to keep your visitors engaged and interested in reading about your work.
White space and other minimalist strategies also make your website easier to navigate. Links to other pages will stand out more if they’re the only brightly colored text on the page—likewise with images that link to other pages. If you’re not sure what makes for an effective minimalist design, check out some of the best nonprofit websites here or look at other nonprofits’ websites to identify their design strategies.
6. Accessibility Options
You may unintentionally be limiting your nonprofit’s audience. Not everyone navigates websites the same way, and supporters who use screen readers and other assistive technology may be unable to engage with your website if it’s not optimized for accessibility.
Accessible design improves the user experience for nearly everyone, and creating an accessible design is likely easier than you might first assume. Try out these common practices to make your website more accessible:
- Ensure pages and text have proper color contrast. Not everyone sees colors the same way, and poor contrast can make your website unreadable for those with vision impairments. If you have a colored background or place text over images, consider adding a black outline or drop shadow to your text to make it stand out.
- Add alt text to images and create transcripts for videos. Alt text and transcripts allow users who can’t see or interact with your images and videos to understand what your visual elements are meant to convey. Additionally, including alt text and transcripts also helps users who might have a poor connection and can’t load visuals.
- Add more than one visual indicator to forms. Your forms are one of the most vital parts of your website for collecting donations, acquiring volunteers, and collecting information for your CRM or nonprofit database. You can improve the usability of these forms by including additional indicators to required information fields, such as a different color and an asterisk.
Accessible design generally improves users’ ability to navigate your website as well, as you’ll clear away clutter and unnecessary elements to ensure everyone can properly interact with your site. Nearly all nonprofits and organizations are required to have accessible websites, but even if your organization isn’t required, it’s still a useful practice for engaging visitors.
7. Mobile Optimization
Mobile web browsing has increased in popularity over time, and limiting your website to desktop users can severely cut down your potential audience. A mobile-friendly website can also create new opportunities to engage with supporters while they’re on the go.
Even with several devices at their disposal, many of your supporters may still prefer viewing your website with their smartphones and tablets. To ensure mobile visitors have a positive experience, make sure your site is functional and looks appealing across any device. That means taking steps like minimizing the amount of content to decrease load times and ensuring all elements resize and work on different screen sizes.
Many content management systems come equipped with mobile optimization, automatically creating mobile-friendly versions of your pages. You can further edit these to reflect your nonprofit by strategically branding your pages and choosing which design elements to keep in the transition to a smaller screen.
Few nonprofit professionals are web design experts, but that doesn’t mean a well-designed website is out of reach. Choosing attractive visuals, creating effective layouts, and implementing accessible design practices are all within your organization’s reach when optimizing your website.
However, as you start redesigning, you might decide a bigger overhaul is in order. If that’s the case, consider reaching out to a professional nonprofit web design agency, so you can move forward in the direction you want without fear of breaking any important code.