Four Elements of the Best Non-Profit Websites

Four elements of the best non-profit websites

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but time and again I find these key elements on the best non-profit websites. If you are building a non profit website, don’t overlook these elements. Some, like a clear description of the organization’s mission, are not unique to non profits. Others, like reasons people should trust them, are especially crucial.

First, let’s define best non-profit websites

What do I mean by best non-profit websites? I’m not focused on websites that use the latest or trendiest design. Nor am I concerned what the photography budget was, or how many pages are on the site.

Here’s what I do mean. The best non-profit websites quickly communicate the purpose and heart of the organization. The website connects people to the story and cause, and compels them to act and become a partner in the mission.

With that in mind, here’s four things I’ve found on the best non-profit websites:

1. Clear and concise description of who they are and what they do

Visitors to the website should know right away the organization’s purpose. If it’s unclear, they won’t make a connection to the mission, and they may leave before they find out. If it’s complicated, they may not take the time to try to understand it.

A clear, concise description shares with visitors the heart and soul of the non profit. Consider distilling your mission statement into a shorter statement. Then, use supporting copy, images and pages to further explain your organization.

Examples:

World Wildlife fund non-profit websiteWorld Wildlife Fund
www.worldwildlife.org

Right on the homepage, below the main image, is the WWF mission:

“Our mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.”

Before reading this statement, I thought they only worked to save animals. But after reading it, I know they do a lot more. In fact, they list six areas right below that statement, and only one of them is wildlife. Because that mission resonates with me (who doesn’t want to save those cute little polar bears?), I am likely to learn more and get involved.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital non-profit websiteSt. Jude Children’s Hospital
www.stjude.org

Visiting St. Jude’s website presents the visitor with a large video overlaid with the following text:

Finding cures. Saving children.

They have a full mission statement on their About Us page, but I love the brevity and impact of those four words. In four words, I know a lot about this organization, even if I’m unfamiliar with what they do. I now know they research cures for diseases, focusing on childhood diseases.

The video that plays underneath the text gives a glimpse into the types of work they do. The video shows people conducting research, but also interacting with children.

Consider shortening your non profit’s mission statement on your homepage. This is especially useful if your mission statement is long, or takes a while to read through.

2. Powerful imagery

Studies have shown that faces in media and advertising affect the viewer’s emotions. Using photos of people’s faces creates empathy. This increases the likelihood a user will follow a call-to-action. I see this used consistently on the best non-profit websites.

The goal in using images of people is creating an emotional connection. Website visitors will feel a connection to the people your non-profit is helping. If the visitor needs services, they will see that you serve people like them.

It should be obvious, but don’t portray people as pitiful to manipulate emotions. This creates negative emotions, such as guilt. And that doesn’t build long-term, positive relationships between visitors and your organization. Instead, show the impact your organization has on people, animals, and communities. Show images of people transformed by your non profit. This will communicate to visitor’s on a deeper level.

A word about stock images: Use stock photos sparingly, as a last resort. They can work for concepts, or in situations where you don’t have photography. But don’t rely on them for the bulk of your website images. If people realize they are stock, you may lose trust if they see it as dishonest.

In our visual culture, photos are a key element to connecting with visitors. Use powerful imagery to increase engagement and drive conversions.

Examples:

Charity Water non-profit websiteCharity: Water
www.charitywater.org

The main photo on the homepage is two happy girls. One of them is drinking water. I realize at a glance that children receive life-giving water through this organization. As a result, I want to help make that happen.

Coreluv non-profit websiteCoreluv
www.coreluv.org

The featured image here is of a smiling boy, beaming with joy. I see Coreluv supports orphans, and I see what I assume is the transformation that occurs. I want to help children like the one pictured here.

3. Reasons to trust them

The vast majority of non profits are exemplary and trustworthy. It’s amazing what they accomplish through volunteers and donated resources. Sadly, there are non-profit organizations that mismanage resources, or are even unethical. The fact is that people are hesitant to invest in an organization they don’t trust.

The good news is that there are many ways to build trust on a non-profit website. A few examples:

  • List ratings with independent organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, and US News
  • List affiliations with industry organizations or other non profits to lend credibility
  • Share concrete numbers that show the difference your organization is making

  • Share financial records and/or annual reports to show exactly where donations go

  • Share stories from real people who have benefitted from your programs. Consider video that allows beneficiaries to tell it in their own words.


 

Examples:

Boys & Girls Clubs of America non-profit website
Boys & Girls Clubs of America non-profit website footerBoys & Girls Clubs of America
www.bgca.org

Boys & Girls Clubs of America lists program statistics on their homepage. This shows the impact these programs have. In the footer of the website, they list that they are a Better Business Bureau accredited charity. They are also a highly rated charity with Charity Navigator. And they are the official charity of Major League Baseball (MLB). These affiliations give credibility. They speak to the integrity and success of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. As a result, my impression of the organization is much higher.

Food for the Poor non-profit websiteFood for the Poor
www.foodforthepoor.org

On their website homepage, Food for the Poor shares the year-to-date impact of their organization. They list the exact number of housing units, shipping containers, and meals they have provided just this year. This gives a good sense of the size and scale of their organization. It also motivates me to be part of what they are doing.

4. Clear call-to-action

This is one of the most important elements on a non-profit website. A clear call-to-action guides visitors on a direct path to the next step you want them to take. It may be making a donation, signing up for your email newsletter, or volunteering.

The vast majority of non profits will have more than one call-to-action. In the brief time visitors spend on your website, you must drive them to action. But it’s crucial to limit the number as much as possible. Decision paralysis is real. Studies have shown that increasing options leads to less conversions. If you have several calls to action, are there any combine or cut?

Don’t be afraid to repeat your call-to-action several times on your site. Put it in your navigation, page content, and footer. Repetition is good when it comes to a call-to-action.

Remember, less is more when it comes to motivating visitors to take action.

Examples:

Feeding America non-profit website
Feeding America non-profit website 2Feeding America
www.feedingamerica.org

Like most non profits, Feeding America has many calls to action on their homepage. For people in need, there is a large headline that says “Find Your Local Food Bank.” Beside that is a search box and a button labeled “Go.” Above that is a slider with buttons urging visitors to “Join Us,” “Give Now,” or “Learn More.” Farther down the page is a box encouraging visitors to sign up for an email newsletter. The button says “Subscribe.” But the primary call-to-action, “Donate,” is in the top navigation, and stays at the top as you scroll down the page. While all the rest of the calls to action are in yellow, the main call to action is red.

One improvement I would make is in the section labeled “Help Solve Hunger Today.” It lists four options for partnering with Feeding America: Give Today, Give Monthly, Set the Table, and Volunteer. Instead of four options, I would combine the two giving options into one link labeled “Give.” On the new combined “Give” page, I would list options for one-time or monthly gifts. This would decrease the number of options to three, and increase conversions. Before making this change, I would test this with a simple A/B test to prove it improved click-through rates (CTR).

United Way non-profit websiteUnited Way
www.unitedway.org

The calls to action on the United Way homepage aren’t immediately clear. They don’t stand out very much from the page design for two reasons. First, the heavy use of red in the design draws focus. Second, the small size of the calls to action relative to other elements in the design. But after looking around a little bit I realize the calls to action are “Find Your United Way” and “Donate.”

There are links on the page to learn more about volunteering and to sign up for the email list. But those are not primary calls to action. Every non-profit organization is different in its structure, primary needs, and goals. Based on the United Way’s website, their primary objectives are twofold. They are driving people to connect with a local United Way chapter, or make a donation.

Not every visitor will want to engage in your primary call-to-action. They may browse site content, or be visiting with a specific task. But most people are glad for guidance as they interact with your website. Define your calls to action and drive people to the goals for your specific organization.

Conclusion

I hope you found these insights valuable, and are able to use them on your non profit’s website. None of these are hard fast rules, but they are important to consider.

Did I miss anything? Have insights to share? Let me know in the comments!

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