Nonprofit websites have a job to do like no other website—convincing users to help you achieve your goals and accomplish something good in the world. Unlike a typical online store, you’re selling change. And that’s very difficult to do. But if you’re starting a nonprofit, or revamping your organization’s website, we’ve figured out some essential stepping stones to create a website that will bring in donations, volunteers, and more support.
Step 1. Know What You’re Up Against
Content is Your Opportunity
More than any other feature, the content you create will assure your users that real change is happening. And, the stories you tell will help bring more interest, attention, and investment in your organization. This requires work outside of creating your website—you’ll need to catalogue everything your nonprofit does, and create stories from it. A great example of nonprofit content done right is the World Wildlife Fund.
They do a great job of telling the story of the animals they care for with donations. This is immensely powerful in bringing an appeal to emotion and sympathy in the user, and connects them with the reality of each animal’s situation. It also demonstrates the value the organization provides with real examples.
This content feed is full of rich, engaging news, insights, and stories about the impact of the organization. Creating content is hard work, but for a nonprofit, this is essential to maximize the potential of your website to bring in support.
Clear Mission and Definition of Scope
Another thing that great nonprofit websites nail is their mission statement. An important part of that is conveying the scope of your organization, in addition to the goals you hope to achieve. This is an opportunity to research your audience, and write focused, precise copy that get’s at the heart of your goals.
WWF’s mission statement is up front, and is beautifully precise. But at the same time, they’ve left it broad enough to encompass a wide range of areas for nature conservation. Making a fullwidth callout box or section like this is a good idea, because it makes it easy to find the mission statement among the other content.
Even if you have shown your best accomplishments and reeled in your audience with beautiful, emotional stories, they’re still going to look for your accountability. Unfortunately, all nonprofits go under scrutiny for this. The answer is to make your numbers transparent and translate them in a way your general audience can understand.
A straightforward visual breakdown of your spending will be a huge assurance. Putting a simple graphic like this on your home page will put your potential donors and volunteers at ease, and convey a sense of transparency.
Calls to Action in Navigation
One last feature, and one of the most important, is your call to action. If you’re goal is getting donations and volunteers, make accessing that information or feature as easy and apparent as possible.
Place your calls to action in your header navigation, and consider using a sticky header (one that stays at the top of the screen as you scroll down) so that users can always access these buttons as they read your site.
These are the biggest trends we’ve noticed in successful nonprofit websites. But for your own research, you should search for and compare the features, design, and content of nonprofit websites that are similar to yours, and imagine you’re an unbiased user. Note anything that seems to really work—or doesn’t work—and use those ideas to make your design choices.
Step 2. Build Your Nonprofit Website Yourself
Nonprofits stand to gain a lot by going the DIY route. Instead of paying a developer to create a site that you can’t manage without their assistance, using a CMS, or content management software, such as WordPress enables you to customize the look and feel, add features, and publish content on your own. We always recommend WordPress because of it’s flexibility and the hugely supportive community that has developed around it. With free resources, plugins that build upon your site with custom features, and a continuously improving interface for editing your website without code, it’s a perfect choice for a new nonprofit, or for upgrading an existing site that needs some love.
Follow these steps to get started with WordPress.
Website Hosting and Domain Name
One of the more confusing aspects of creating your own website is hosting and domains. Essentially, your website hosting company stores your website on secure servers and connects it to the internet, to be accessed by your users. Your domain name is the address that connects users to your site. Choosing a great domain name is as important as the rest of your branding, such as your name and logo, but it also needs to be memorable and easy to type. When you set up hosting, you can typically get a discounted or free domain name with your plan.
Install WordPress to Your Domain
After securing a domain name and a hosting plan, you’ll need to install WordPress. The WordPress core software enables you to create a website and edit it through WordPress’s admin dashboard. Using a WordPress theme and plugins, you can accomplish nearly anything a developer could, including responsive design, dynamic content and animations, and look and feel changes for your brand.
To install WordPress, all you need to do is access your hosting control panel, or cPanel, and locate the one-click WordPress installation button. Your host will handle the details, and will send you an email or notification with login credentials for your website’s WordPress dashboard. To access this dashboard any time, simply type in your domain address with /wp-admin added to the end of the url. For example: yoursite.com/wp-admin. Then enter the username and password, and you’re cooking with gas!
Choose a WordPress Theme
The next step requires you to choose a WordPress theme, or template. This piece of software gives you a baseline of features, styles, and layouts to customize without writing code. It’s kind of like using a Word document template, but much more in-depth and feature-rich. There are two basic types of WordPress themes: free and premium. Free themes are great for getting started, but if your goal is to have a professional website with up-to-date technology and design practices, you need to choose a premium theme. Most premium WordPress themes run around $59, which is a one-time fee and includes support and theme updates over time.
Premium themes also tend to be more focused in their set up and design, meaning that you can find a nonprofit specific theme with some great designs and features built-in.
Install Your WordPress Theme and Import a Demo
Now, when you choose a WordPress theme, the next step is to install it on your website. So log in to your WordPress admin dashboard again, and follow this guide:
Most niche themes for nonprofits feature a great demo design that follows the best practices for marketing your organization. These designs can be imported, and then all you have left is customizing your brand and content, and tweaking the design to meet your specific goals.
Customize, Write, Refine
Once you’ve imported a demo, or created your own design using the theme’s features, you can now begin customizing colors, images, layouts, and writing copy for your site. Before too long, you’ll probably want to start adding some features with WordPress plugins (there are many free plugins that will help you add features and optimizations). In addition to the front-end marketing, you also need to consider the security and performance of your site, and set up some ways to track interactions. Here are some additional resources and guides to help you get started: