In this digital age, your website is more important than ever. While the emphasis on social media posting and outreach has been on-trend, we can’t forget about our organization’s website and the key role good website design plays in our online presence.
Websites remain the hub of our online activity, and in turn, our potential clients, supporters, donors, corporate partners, and volunteers look at our websites for the information they need to engage with us. This is why having a good nonprofit website is crucial.
As a critical component of our marketing efforts, our websites are often overlooked, or even worse they can be neglected. Without the proper planning and execution, we risk having a website that doesn’t represent our organization. This means we also risk clients not engaging with us, missed donations, or a general misunderstanding of our mission and purpose.
Here is a list of common nonprofit website mistakes and some actionable ways to get your website back on track.
Your Website Overlooks Your Nonprofit’s Goals
Have you ever come across a really nice-looking nonprofit website that is all flash and no substance? Yes, we have as well.
When websites are designed without proper planning and understanding of your goals we can end up with a site that looks good but fails to deliver on our actual goals. The site turns informational in content only. And while users may be able to read about what you do, they are left without actionable items to help them engage with your organization in a meaningful way.
There is also the risk that we focus on the wrong audience and make our website either too internal-facing or donor-facing when we really want to connect with clients and ensure that they engage us to participate in our programming and service offerings.
How to Fix This
Take a step back and do some planning before starting your redesign.
One challenge that can take place is having the wrong people lead the project. If the site is led by the fundraising department, of course, we are going to focus on fundraising. But what are the real goals we are trying to accomplish?
The organization’s leadership may not be involved in the final execution of redesigning the website, but they should be part of the conversation regarding the organization’s goals, and what we are trying to accomplish.
A well-planned and thought-out website project typically yields the best final results.
Your Website Doesn’t Communicate Your Purpose
If someone who hasn’t heard of your organization were to visit your website, would they be able to quickly get the gist of what your organization’s purpose is? Often this isn’t the case. We promote an event or single program at the top of the homepage and miss the opportunity to let people know why we even exist.
This isn’t to say that we need to copy and paste our mission to the top of the homepage, but having a clear statement and matching imagery helps your users understand what you do. The website for Pathways to Education does a great job of going high level with their purpose for users. The statement is strong, the images match, and in general, it is easy to figure out where their focus lays.
If your site doesn’t do this, you are missing the mark.
How to Fix This
Take a look at your site, and be honest. Does your website clearly communicate your purpose via messaging and images. If not, look at reworking your mission statement into a friendly statement for the top of the homepage.
Also, do a quick audit of your site in general. Do you rely too much on jargon or insider talk? Remember that your audience may not know who you are, understand your industry, or get why you exist. Your website needs to fill in the blanks for those visitors.
Your Website is Not Donor Friendly
There aren’t many things that are more frustrating than going to a website and being unable to find what you are looking for – this is doubly true if you are trying to make a donation to an organization with a cause that is important to you.
If we’re being realistic, websites aren’t magic donation machines. But they certainly need to be an easy conduit for your donors to use when they want to make a donation. The days of mailing cheques or dropping off a cash donation have passed. Of course, there are cases where long-time donors may be more comfortable visiting your office to drop off their donations in person, and larger donations are typically made via more traditional methods.
For a growing number of people, being able to visit an organization’s website and quickly make a donation via credit card, PayPal, or another online form from the comfort of their own home is the way of the future. I for one can’t remember the last time I mailed a cheque.
How to Fix This
All of the above having been said, it is imperative that it is really easy for your donors to be able to find the donation form on your website as quickly as possible. For websites we design, that usually means a clear “Donate Now” button in the header of the website.
Take a look at your site. Can you quickly find and navigate to your donation page?
Your donation forms need to be easy and clear as well. This means properly named forms, clear fields, and as few steps as required while still getting the necessary information to process the donation.
Your Website Only Uses Stock Images
We get it. You run a nonprofit, and sometimes it just doesn’t work to have photographs taken of your location or your clients. Privacy and respecting your clients should always be considered, and it should never feel like we are taking advantage of our clients in the name of marketing. If your organization falls into this category, stock images may be the way forward. In that case, take time and try to find images that reflect your organization, the work you do, and the people you serve.
Stock images serve their purpose, and we use them on our site. However, if you are able to engage with your volunteers, clients, staff, and community to take photographs it will take your website to another level.
The use of real photography personalizes your website. It makes the work you are doing real. Showing your clients and volunteers adds a level of intimacy and compassion that stock photos can’t capture.
How to Fix This
Simple answer – hire a photographer. Book them for a day, and be ready for them when they get to your organization. Have clients lined up, volunteers in action, and staff available for pictures in the office to make sure you get the best value and results.
One of our favorite website projects we’ve completed is www.communitysupportconnections.org. This project included a full refresh of their brand, messaging, and of course the website, but what really makes the entire project pop is the use of their actual staff, clients, and volunteers throughout the website and marketing collateral.
Your Website is Off Brand
One problem with nonprofit websites that we come across often is that the website stands alone in look and feel and isn’t consistent with the organization’s brand.
The challenge here can be two-fold. First, you need to ensure that the website designer is taking your brand guidelines into consideration and keeping it relevant to the brand and existing collateral. The second option is when we look at the website as an opportunity to give our brand a “refresh” by doing things differently or tweaking the logo, colours, or fonts.
This disjointed approach can confuse visitors. If they come from Facebook, or see your brochure, and both are styled in one way, visiting a website that stands alone in look and feel can be discomforting and potentially make users lose confidence.
How to Fix This
Keep your website reflective of your overall branding.
Your brand should look and feel the same across all platforms. This helps build trust and familiarity in your organization. Keep your logo intact. Keep your corporate colours. And follow your brand guidelines if you have that document in place.
Your Website is Difficult to Navigate
Easy navigation is critical in helping your audience find the information they are looking for. Burying important information in a poorly structured navigation menu puts you at risk of people not finding the pages of your website they need.
This can take place when we don’t properly plan our website structure and fail to think through our themes of content and how people can find things.
An overabundance of information on your homepage can also make it difficult for your users to find information. There’s an old saying that if everything is urgent then nothing is urgent, and this holds true for website design. If we fall into the trap of having everything top-level, it really means that nothing is top-level as everything competes for the user’s attention.
How to Fix This
Plan your navigation menu structure and follow standard website practices.
For clients, this could mean having a “Programs” or “Services” tab on the main navigation with a list of services in the dropdown below. For contact information, have a “Contact” menu item.
A typical navigation menu has a standard format. Home, Services, Resources, Blog, About, Contact – normally in that order. Ensure that you have a user-friendly menu and your site by default becomes easier to navigate.
Your Website Isn’t AODA Compliant
A website that isn’t fully accessible to all is a fail. If your site isn’t responsive (friendly for both desktop, tablets, and mobile), you are definitely missing being accessible. You are also limiting your visitors, clients, volunteers, and donors if you have a website that isn’t accessible in nature.
This is also the right thing to do legally and morally. The word accessibility literally means the “ability” to “access” your website. And broadly, it means that the site is intentionally designing the world to include everyone, regardless of disability. It’s working so others have access to more of a life because this accessibility matters. https://brailleworks.com/accessibility-matters/
How to Fix This
Building a fully AODA compliant website is difficult. There are a lot of factors, including content adjustments, colour and display adjustments, and navigation. And that doesn’t even speak to ensuring that your website is screen-reader and keyboard-navigation friendly. In short, there is just a lot to consider.
As a solution, we use AccessiBe on our website and have become partners in offering their solutions to our website clients. AccessiBe has an interface that is responsible for all the UI and design-related adjustments, and an AI-powered process that handles the optimization for screen-readers and keyboard navigation.
Check them out at accessibe.com.
Your Website is Difficult to Update
The first website that I had was built for the car dealership I ran with my brothers. It had a cool flash animation as a splash page, and the developer built it as a custom website with the list of needs and requirements we had in mind.
The difficulty was that we tired of the splash page, wanted to make ongoing updates to our content and images, and each time we desired those changes we had to go back to our developer. Which meant, we didn’t really make changes as often as we should have.
There is no reason today to have a website that is difficult to update. From something as simple as changing a few images out seasonally, to updating content on programs and services pages, your website should be easy to update.
How to Fix This
If you are starting a new project, look at the platforms available to you, and select one which will be easy for you to manage and update going forward. For some organizations, having an internal person with the ability to update the site may not be realistic. In that case, the website quote should also include an hourly update/maintenance rate from your design team to assist with changes going forward.
We like using WordPress. It is open-source, and there is no shortage of people who are able to help out. Other options include Squarespace and Wix, but they are proprietary platforms, so you may be more locked into their systems than you would like.
Do you have a nonprofit website that needs some help. We’re well versed in nonprofit marketing and would be happy to discuss your site and how it can be improved. Simply book some time in my calendar!