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 newsletter to be alerted of new posts and resources related to the series. Thank you!
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 communicates your mission and programs and whether it is optimized to capture leads and inspire action.
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 agencies 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 Google search of “website design trends 2024” adds an extra layer of creativity to your process and ensures 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 internet-enabled devices – Smart TVs and appliances, mirrors, car dashboards, and PCs and smartphones, your nonprofit’s website must be built using responsive design.
The website for The Sentencing Project was recently redesigned and with a focus on simplicity, powerful imagery, and clear calls to action, the new website exemplifies modern design trends for nonprofits.
Finally, according to the 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 when relevant, expand their website to include more than one language.
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 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. The website for Nonprofit Tech for Good is built on WordPress and in our 15 years of publication, the performance of WordPress has been excellent.
That said, most nonprofit marketing professionals do not know how to build a website using WordPress, nor do they have the graphic design skills necessary to redesign a website, but there are freelancers available for hire and most website design agencies have WordPress expertise. 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.
Other options include do-it-yourself website builders for those on a very small budget. A better option is website template platforms built specifically for nonprofits, such as Wired Impact, FireSpring, and RaiseMore. If you’re looking for a website design agency specifically for nonprofits, you can start your research by contacting CONCAT, Constructive, BCS Interactive, and Elevation.
Finally, during the process of hiring a freelance website designer or agency, ensure that they have the skill set to integrate your website with your customer relationship manager (CRM) and any other third-party services (MailerLite, PayPal, etc.) that your nonprofit uses.
3) Prominently feature your “Donate” button and newsletter on every page of your website.
During social media’s rise over the last decade, many nonprofits have deprioritized using their website to grow their email list and that was a mistake. Organic reach on social media is at an all-time pitiful low, so it no longer makes sense to prominently feature social media icons on your website.
First and foremost, your “Donate” button should be included in 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.
Next, add a newsletter call-to-action to your website. Some nonprofits include a “Subscribe” button in the primary navigation, but most nonprofits feature their primary newsletter CTA in the footer of their website so that it is visible on every page of their website.
That said, one newsletter call-to-action on your website is not enough. You should also experiment with pop-ups and embedded forms in news and blog content. For Nonprofit Tech for Good, the newsletter call-to-action in our footer results in the smallest number of new subscribers to our newsletter. Our pop-ups outperform our footer 7-to-1!
Finally, it’s worth noting the very small social media icons featured in the lower right of the Surfrider Foundation‘s footer ↑. Their placement speaks to the decrease in the power of social media for nonprofits. Most large national and international nonprofits no longer prominently feature social media icons on their website.
4) Maximize your website’s sidebar.
Nonprofit Tech for Good receives more internal website traffic from our sidebar than from our primary navigation bar, yet most nonprofits underutilize their sidebars. In fact, many are left empty.
Think of your website’s sidebar as free advertising space and utilize the space for important calls to action. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network excels in its use of a sidebar in its “News” section and features a support line, a newsletter opt-in, and call to follow on social media.
5) Prioritize easy-to-read text and CTAs, visually compelling images, and provide ample white space.
It’s important that your website does not overwhelm visitors. Easy-to-read text and CTAs combined with visually compelling images that are padded with white space are defining traits of modern website design.
The Nature Conservancy uses white space in order to focus a visitor’s attention on news and important CTAs. It is an acquired skill to know when less content is more in terms of website design.
Packed with practical advice and customized for nonprofits with limited time and financial resources, the Website & Email Marketing for Nonprofits webinar stresses the importance owebsite 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.
6) Embrace simplicity in navigation.
Simplicity is essential for effective navigation of your website, especially on mobile devices. The Lunchbox Fund has a simple website with simple navigation. Their website is divided into six sections with only the “About” content utilizing a pop-down.
If your nonprofit needs to use drop-down menus to organize a large amount of website content, CARE is a good example to follow. Drop-down links are in a single column and the use of dark blue helps users quickly focus and easily navigate their website.
7) Use a social sharing app to customize how your website content appears on social media.
Social sharing buttons are rarely used and they can slow your website, so it’s a best practice to not add social sharing buttons to your website. However, using a social sharing app, such as Social Snap, allows website editors to easily customize the title, description, and image that is auto generated when a page on your website is posted on social media.
Too often, website pages on a nonprofit’s website auto generate incorrect text and irrelevant images when posted on social media which decreases engagement and click-throughs. A good social sharing app provides complete control over how your website content posts on social media without having to add social sharing buttons to your website.
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8) Invest in premium website hosting.
According to the Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 27% of nonprofits worldwide have experienced a cyberattack, such as email phishing, website hacking, ransomware, etc.. For nonprofits, upgrading to a premium website hosting service that offers 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 using low-cost website hosting becomes painfully obvious.
For many years Nonprofit Tech for Good used budget website hosting 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.
9) Add a cookie banner to your website, if applicable.
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:
- Install Google Analytics on your website so you have detailed information about your website traffic and where it is coming from.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use your nonprofit’s keywords consistently in titles and in the body of blog posts and news articles.
- 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. To earn the certificate, you can attend the webinars live or view the recordings – or a combination of both. Learn more & register!