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

Your website is the foundation upon which your digital communications 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. At the early stages of a redesign, 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.

Also, a quick search of “website design trends 2021” 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.

Finally, 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.

Intro to Coding’s website features animated geometric shapes in the hero area of their site (aka the “above the fold” area), in-line with geometric shape and animation trends.

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

According to the Global NGO Technology Report, 44% of nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide use WordPress.org as their content management system (CMS) for their website (7% use Drupal and 3% use Joomla). Released in 2003, WordPress is open-source software and free to use and fully-customizable using WordPress themes and plug-ins. Nonprofit Tech for Good is built on WordPress and in our 11 years of publication, there have been zero problems with using the platform.

That said, many digital communications 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 $50,000 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.

TechRadar rates WordPress.org the best CMS of 2021.

Other options include do-it-yourself website builders for those on a very small budget, however, you get what you pay for. A better option may be Wired Impact website templates built specifically for nonprofits using WordPress, or Morweb and FireSpring which have built their own CMSs. If you’re looking for a website agency specifically for nonprofits, you can start your research by contacting Bureau for Good, Elevation, Taoti, 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, e-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 social media (29%), email (27%), and an organization’s website (18%). At the very least, your “Donate” button should be integrated into your website’s primary navigation or header 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 play a critical role in successful online fundraising, so your e-newsletter opt-in and social network icons should also be prominently featured.

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

Primary Navigation Bar:


Alternatively, if it is not possible to work 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 their “Donate” button in their primary navigation bar, but all three in their website’s footer.

Primary Navigation Bar:


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) and to feature key content. For example, the ASPCA features a call-to-donate and “Other Ways to Help” on the sidebar of their blog.

Then, throughout the ASPCA website, the sidebar alternates CTAs customized for that particular page. For example, on the ASPCA’s primary page for its “Farm Animal Welfare” program, the right bar features an ad to sign up for a “Join the Detox” campaign and an ad that leads to an online petition.

5. Prioritize images and video over text and provide ample white space.

It’s essential that your website not contribute further to information overload. Concise messaging combined with large images and video and balanced by ample white space that gives your content room to breathe are the defining facets of modern website design.

The Tent Partnership for Refugees excels in its use of white space to focus a visitor’s attention on videos embedded in their site that best tell their story. Tent’s website design also immediately draws a visitor’s attention to images that provide an emotional context before they begin to read the website’s messaging. It takes great skill to know when less is more in terms of text and calls-to-action. Finally, it’s also worth noting that the videos do not play upon load thus avoiding a flight response in its visitors.

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 professional website design and strategic email marketing and fundraising.

6. Use a large font size and buttons for calls-to-action.

The most recent design of the Nature Conservancy’s website is excellent. Modern, visual, spacious, and their use of large font sizes, iconography, and buttons for CTAs and links are outstanding.

7. 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.

On Mobile:

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, they function as buttons, and the use of green helps users easily navigate their website.

On Mobile:

8) Use a social sharing app.

In truth, very few website visitors use social sharing buttons, especially on mobile devices. However, there are benefits to using a social sharing app, such as Social Snap, on your website. First, today’s social sharing apps allow you to customize the title, blurb, and photo that will be generated when posted on social media. Too often a nonprofit website will generate incorrect text and irrelevant images when posted on social media which decreases engagement and click-throughs. A good social sharing app gives you complete control over how your content looks on social media.

Social Snap Customization:

When Posted on Facebook:

A second benefit of using a social sharing app is that Facebook counts all engagements (likes, clicks, shares, comments) which are then reflected in share counts in share buttons. This can make your content appear popular to readers, thus they will take more notice of your content and CTAs.

9) Prioritize website security.

Cybercrime is skyrocketing. Your nonprofit must take website security seriously and be proactive. In 2021, it’s essential that your nonprofit upgrade to a website hosting service that includes increased security, automatic backups, and 24/7 customer service. For a decade, Nonprofit Tech for Good used a low-cost hosting service ($12 per month), but we updated to Flywheel in 2019 due to constant attacks on our website and sign-ups forms. It has improved our web page load speed (thus our SEO), our site hasn’t had any downtime since the switch, and our sign-up forms are no longer being swarmed by thousands of fake email sign-up bots. The cost of $105 per month is well worth the amount of time saved and the constant hassle.

Comparitech has compiled 300+ cybercrime and cybersecurity statistics.

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

The decline of email open rates and organic reach on social media makes SEO more important than ever and it requires consistent implementation. To begin, follow these steps:

  1. Install Google Analytics on your website so you have detailed information about your 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. According to the 2019 Global NGO Technology Report, 30% of nonprofit, NGO, and charity websites worldwide do not have an SSL Certificate.
  3. It’s also worth noting that if your website is not mobile-compatible, Google is no longer indexing your website for search results.
  4. Publish content on a regular basis, such as a blog or news section. Search engines crawl for fresh content and prioritize websites that produce new content regularly.
  5. Use your nonprofit’s keywords consistently in titles and in the body of blog posts and news articles.
  6. Subscribe to Backlinko and implement their SEO Best Practices ASAP.

101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits is a blog and webinar series (written and presented by Heather Mansfield) on website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media best practices for nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide. Those who register and attend all three webinars in the series will earn a Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.

10 Website Design Best Practices for Nonprofits
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