8 Best Practices for Nonprofit Websites

Website Design IllustrationNot far behind word-of-mouth referrals and email campaigns, websites rank high for growing members and revenue. A nonprofit’s website is the hub of your marketing efforts. This is where visitors come to learn about who you are, to:

  • Read about your mission and goals
  • Find out how to access your services
  • Find out how they can volunteer
  • Find out how to donate or become a member

You don’t need a million-dollar website design to attract and convert members. Instead, just focus on being clear and being authentic. Visitors come to your website from various places depending on your outreach efforts, but the goal is, when they arrive at your site, make it very easy for them to do what you want them to do.

1. Content Management System (CMS)

A CMS, or Content Management System is a platform on which a website is built. Choosing the proper CMS allows the site owner to make day-to-day changes to the site without having the expense of hiring a developer. WordPress is now the most-used CMS for nonprofits. Its functionality can be extended by using “plugins” to create a calendar, add e-commerce, or allow event registration to name a few.

Easy to use — If you can use Microsoft Word you can update your own WordPress website.

Free software — the database installation and program updates are all free.

Portability — Unlike SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix or GoDaddy’s Website Builder, WordPress websites can be moved from one host to another if necessary.

Extensive support —WordPress user forums provide valuable information. And there are many online video tutorials. WordPress designers often provide tutorials as a part of their development package.

2. Identify Your Audiences

As a nonprofit you will, undoubtedly, have multiple audiences:

  • Beneficiaries of your services
  • Donors
  • Volunteers
  • Partners of various types

Each will be looking for different information and people react to different clues – some prefer to read text and visually-oriented people will be drawn to photos. A good home page will provide various ways for each audience to reach their desired destination.

3. Clear Navigation

As with building a house, the first step to building a website is to have a blueprint. What are the top-level menu items? What are the drop-down pages? How do your defined audiences know where to go?

Techniques such as using a fixed header or footer are helpful, making the navigation visible no matter where the visitor is on the page. Slides and/or Boxes on the home page can click through to pages with more information. Buttons in bright colors create calls to action: Get News (sign up for their newsletter), Donate, Join/Renew, or Volunteer.

4. Tell Your Story

The story about a beneficiary who received your services will create an emotional connection with your website visitors. Pictures will amplify the message. And a well-produced video will do even more to make a human connection with potential donors or volunteers. Think through the story you want to tell, making sure it resonates with your mission and vision statements.

5. Render for Mobile

“Mobile-first indexing” by Google started July 1, 2019, (and is the default for all new websites) means that Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.
For older, existing websites, Google continues to monitor and evaluate pages based on its own best practices. Make sure that content is the same on desktop and mobile versions.

6. Make Site Accessible

There has been a recent rash of lawsuits against organizations whose websites are not optimized for people with disabilities. The majority of those claims have been by visually impaired individuals using screen readers to access websites. Though ADA-compliance for websites is still not fully defined, it is evolving and there are steps that can be taken to mitigate any non-compliance of existing websites and protect against lawsuits. UserWay.org provides a free “widget” that will alter how your website displays so that people with disabilities will have more choices about how to look at your content.

7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

There are a few basic best practices that will put your website on the Google map:

  • Create a Google My Business page.
  • Think about how potential beneficiaries, volunteers and donors might search for your sight and weave those phrases into your website page titles, subheads and text.
  • Make sure to use “alt” text when placing photos to describe what is in the photo (for Google and screen readers).
  • Since Google owns YouTube, placing videos on your site is helpful for SEO.

8. Website Security

Step one to making sure your website doesn’t get hacked is choosing a reputable hosting service that proactively monitors their servers for malware and unusual activity.

It is also possible to purchase a hosting package with a guarantee of free cleanup in the unlikely event that your site is hacked. Many disreputable companies will wait for a site to be hacked and then try to sell you expensive clean up and monitoring after the fact.

I recommend A2 Hosting, Bluehost, WP Engine or Flywheel. When shopping, ask for standard hosting features such as proactive scanning, a free SSL certificate, and good server speed. Also ask if their 24/7/365 support crew is based in the U.S.

Step two to ensuring the safety of your website is to make frequent backups. Backup your site to DropBox or Google Drive (off the main server) but also take advantage of any automatic backup services offered in your hosting package. I use UpdraftPlus for automatic backup of WordPress sites.

Step three: There are several security plugins that work with WordPress. Sucuri Security and WordFence are my recommendations. These plugins address the ways hackers might try to break into a WordPress site in particular.

Good planning, following these best practices and choosing a reputable developer who will be around to support you after the website is built are key to a worry-free, effective website.