10 Website Design Best Practices for Nonprofits

This is the first post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!

Related Webinar: Website & Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits
Related Certificate Program: Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising

Your website is the foundation upon which your digital marketing and fundraising campaigns are built. How well your nonprofit’s email and social media campaigns perform depends upon how well your website is designed. Below are 10 website design best practices specifically for the nonprofit sector.

1) Study and implement modern design trends.

Large national and international nonprofits are often ahead of the curve. They have the resources to hire and consult highly-skilled website design firms and graphic designers. In the early stages of a website redesign for your nonprofit, spend a few hours studying the websites of large nonprofits similar to yours in mission and programs. Note what you like and dislike, take notice of the color scheme, how the navigation works, and what your eyes are first drawn to. Having a vision for your next website design is very important so that you can communicate your needs clearly to those involved in the redesign process.

A quick search of “website design trends 2023” will add an extra layer of creativity to your process and ensure that by the time of launch, your website will include innovative and forward-thinking design elements.

Also, for your website to be compatible with the growing number of devices that it is likely to be viewed on in the coming decades – personal computers, smartphones, Smart TVs and appliances, and internet-connected mirrors and car dashboards, ensure that your website utilizes responsive design.

Screenshot of the home page of American Forests featuring old trees

The American Forests’ website was recently redesigned and relaunched with new branding (completed by Constructive). With a focus on simplicity, vivid colors and imagery, and very clear calls to action, the new website exemplifies modern design trends for nonprofits.

Finally, according the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, only 22% of nonprofits have websites designed for those with visual and hearing disabilities. Nonprofits would be well-served to optimize their website for those with visual and hearing disabilities to expand their reach and where applicable, expand their website to include more than one language, especially those serving diverse communities or an international audience.

2) Use a top-rated Content Management System (CMS).

58% of nonprofits use WordPress.org as their content management system (CMS) for their website (7% use Wix, 6% use Squarespace, and 5% use Drupal), according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report. Released in 2003, WordPress is a free open-source software for websites and blogs that can be customized for nonprofits by using WordPress themes and plugins. Nonprofit Tech for Good is built on WordPress and in our 14 years of publication, there have been no problems with using the platform.

That said, most digital marketing professionals do not know how to build a website using WordPress or have the graphic design skills necessary, but there are freelancers available for hire and most website design agencies can and will build a website using WordPress. The cost ranges from $5,000 to $100,000 USD depending upon your graphic design needs, the complexity of the site, and how many work hours are required by your designer or agency. Use this Website cost calculator to get a better understanding of the cost for your nonprofit.

Screenshot of the WordPress home page - 2023

Other options include do-it-yourself website builders for those on a very small budget. A better option may be Wired Impact website templates built specifically for nonprofits using WordPress, or Morweb and FireSpring. If you’re looking for a website agency specifically for nonprofits, you can start your research by contacting Bureau for Good, Elevation, BCS Interactive, and Constructive.

Finally, during the process of hiring a designer or agency, it’s crucial that they understand how to integrate your new website with your customer relationship manager (CRM) and any other third-party services (MailChimp, PayPal, etc.) that your nonprofit uses.

3) Prominently feature your “Donate” button, newsletter opt-in, and social network icons.

According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, the top three communication tools that most inspire donors to give are email (26%), social media (25%), and an organization’s website (17%). At the very least, your “Donate” button should be integrated into your website’s primary navigation so that it is prominently featured on every page of your website. The button should be large and colorful so that it is obvious and not easily missed.

Email and social media also play a critical role in successful online fundraising, so your newsletter opt-in and social network icons should also be prominently featured.

Compassion in World Farming features all three in their website’s primary navigation bar and footer – both visible on every page of their website.

Primary Navigation Bar:

Compassion in World Farming Homepage


Footer of the Compassion in World Farming Website

Alternatively, if it is not possible to integrate all three into your primary navigation bar or above the fold on your homepage, follow the example of the Global Fund for Women which only features its “Donate” button in its primary navigation bar and all three in its website’s footer.

Primary Navigation Bar:

"Donate" button in the navigation of the Global Fund for Women website.


Footer in the Global Fund for Women website

4) Maximize your website’s sidebar.

Think of your website’s sidebar as free advertising space and utilize the space for important calls-to-action (CTAs). For example, the ASPCA features a call-to-donate and “Other Ways to Help” on the sidebar of their “News” section.

ASPCA blog featuring a right-bar with calls-to-actions

Then, throughout the ASPCA website, the sidebar alternates CTAs customized for that particular page. For example, on the ASPCA’s primary page for its “Advancing Horse Welfare” program, the right bar features an ad to “Urge Congress to Ban Horse Slaughter!” which links to an online petition.

ASPCA's primary page for its "Advancing Horse Welfare" program, the right bar features an ad to "Urge Congress to Ban Horse Slaughter!" which links to an online petition.

5) Prioritize easy-to-read text and CTAs, visually-compelling images, and provide ample white space.

It’s essential that your website does not overwhelm visitors. Easy-to-read text and CTAs combined with visually compelling images that are balanced by ample white space are defining traits of modern website design.

The Nature Conservancy excels in its use of white space to focus a visitor’s attention on new stories and important CTAs. It takes great skill to know when less is more in terms of website design.

Example of good nonprofit website design - the Nature Conservancy

On a side note, website pop-up CTAs also work well at converting website visitors into newsletter subscribers and donor, but top bars can often outperform pop-ups and are much less obtrusive.

Top bar featured at the top of the Nature Conservancy website

Packed with practical advice and customized for small nonprofits on a limited budget, the Website & Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar stresses the importance of modern website design and email marketing for fundraising.

The webinar is the first in a series of three to earn a Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.

Promo graphic for Nonprofit Tech for Good's Website and Email Marketing Webinar Best Practices for Nonprofits.

6) Embrace simplicity in navigation.

Simplicity is essential for effective navigation of your website, especially on mobile devices. Feeding America is an excellent example of a website with well-structured and simple navigation. Their website is divided into five primary sections and does not use drop-down menus.

Home page of the nonprofit Feeding America

On Mobile:

Feeding America website on a mobile device

If your nonprofit wants to use drop-down menus, the National Wildlife Federation is a good example to follow. Drop-down links are in a single column and the use of dark green helps users easily navigate their website.

National Wildlife Federation home page - 2023

On Mobile:National Wildlife Federation website on mobile device

7) Use a social sharing app to customize how your website content appears on social media.

Very few website visitors actually use social sharing buttons to share content on social media and having the buttons embedded on your website can slow page load time, but using a social sharing app such as Social Snap allows website admins and editors to easily customize the title, message, and photo that is generated when a post or page ion your website is posted on social media.

Too often, a nonprofit website post or page will generate incorrect text and irrelevant images when posted on social media which then decreases engagement and click-throughs. A good social sharing app provides complete control over how your content looks on social media – and if do not want social sharing buttons on your website, they can be disabled.

Social Snap Customization:

Example of customizing default image and text for social media

When Posted on LinkedIn:

Example of nonprofit content optimized for maximum social sharing

8) Invest in premium website hosting.

According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 27% of nonprofits worldwide have experienced a cyberattack (email phishing, website hacking, ransomware, etc.). For nonprofits, upgrading to a premium website hosting service that includes increased security and automatic backups is becoming non-negotiable. Budget website hosting is tempting for small nonprofits on a limited budget, but eventually, the high price of low-cost website hosting becomes evident and problematic.

For many years Nonprofit Tech for Good used a budget website hosting company for $12 a month, but by 2020 our website downtime became significant and our email opt-in forms were so overrun with spam bot subscribers, that we had to make the shift to a Flywheel. We upgraded to a $96 per month plan and since then, our site has experienced no downtime, no more bot email subscribers, and customer service is exceptional. The new website hosting also improved our website load time as evidenced by our performance score in Google PageSpeed Insights which went from 64 to 98.

Screenshot of 98 score in Google PageSpeed Insights

9) Add a cookie banner to your website, if applicable.

Nonprofit Tech for Good is not in the position to offer legal advice, but if your nonprofit uses cookies (such as Google Analytics, the Facebook Pixel, autofill for donation forms, etc.), then you need to add a cookie banner and policy to your website as soon as possible. For example, visit the UNICEF website and notice the cookie banner on the bottom of their website that links to their cookie policy.

Example of a cookie opt-in on the UNICEF website

Google announced it would phase out third-party cookies in late 2023, but that move has been pushed back to 2024, and even so, data privacy laws are expanding worldwide and banners and opt-ins related to data privacy are likely to become the norm in a post-cookie internet. For your reference, the National Law Review has a good introduction to four different types of cookie banners.

If your nonprofit uses WordPress as your CMS, then you are in luck. The Cookie Notice & Compliance for GDPR / CCPA plugin helps you easily add a cookie banner to your website that is legally compliant with numerous data privacy laws worldwide.

10) Optimize your website for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

As email engagement and organic reach on social media continue to decrease, SEO is more important than ever. To begin, follow these steps:

  1. Install Google Analytics on your website so you have detailed information about your website traffic and where it is coming from.
  2. Install an SSL Certificate on your website. Google began classifying websites without an SSL Certificate as “Not Safe” on July 1, 2019 ad no longer displays them in search results.
  3. Publish content on a regular basis, such as a blog or news section. Search engines crawl for fresh content 24/7 and prioritize websites that publish new content regularly.
  4. Use your nonprofit’s keywords consistently in titles and in the body of blog posts and news articles.
  5. Subscribe to Backlinko and implement their SEO Best Practices ASAP.

Post Updated: February 7, 2023

Our Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising program covers the fundamentals of website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media for nonprofits.

The program requires the completion of three webinars and costs a total of $100 USD. You can attend the webinars live or view the recordings. Learn more & register!

Certificate in Digital Marketing and Fundraising for Nonprofit Professionals