When making over a nonprofit’s website, I get a lot of questions (and opinions) about how much and what types of content should be on the new site. Should content be scaled back so the site is light and fluffy and focuses in on important messages only? Should the site be as robust and deep in content as possible for people doing research or just need the details before making a buying decision? I think the site can do both, and more. These are the 4 main areas that I think a nonprofit website should be focused on:
Show your impact
This doesn’t mean asking for funds all the time; some nonprofits will turn their entire site into a fundraising vehicle during their end-of-year appeal but then they go back to an impact / informational site afterward. Showing your impact means reporting regularly on your programs and accomplishments – with lots of visual components – so that when people come to your website they see that you are active (programs are alive and well), progressive (doing something different than all the other nonprofits), and making progress (getting results).
This is where a lot of nonprofits struggle – information about the programs is easy and doesn’t necessarily change that often. Keeping people updated regularly about what is going on in those programs takes more staff time. And I’m talking about updating people on the website – not through social media alone; compare the number of fans you have on social media that you are actually reaching vs. the number of website visitors you have each month. Regular program updates (with photos) need to become part of a regular process for staff and committees.
For nonprofits that have active programs where clients come in and participate, they still need to provide all the info needed for those programs (including how to sign up) as a sales tool to get new people signed up AND giving current clients info they need like a calendar of events and activities, and important news and updates. For nonprofits that have advocacy as part of their mission, they need to have information on the topics they are advocating for.
The best way to keep a website “light” is to clean up the menu structure so it’s not so complicated to find stuff. And if you are heavy in content, to make that content easy to scan (with headers, bigger text, space between lines, and graphical relief) and if the content is really heavy, put it into a pdf format so people can download and/or print to read at their leisure.
United Way is a great example of a site with a clean menu – only 4 options for their main menu – Impact, Partners (showing credibility), Get Involved, and The Latest (a content-heavy area for news, resources, research, and publications all done in a blog format).
Donors and grantors need to know that you are a credible nonprofit that will take care of their hard-earned money once they give it. They need to know that you are well-connected through partnerships in the community (groups you belong to, collaborate with, supporters), that your board appears strong and robust (with people from a variety of positions and backgrounds), that you have real people working for you (photos and contact info for your staff), that you are a leader in your community (publishing or participating in reports/papers, sponsoring or hosting symposiums or some other way that shows you know your industry), and that you are financially sound (through annual reports and financials).
People need to feel like they know you before they become involved and although you really want them to get to know you in person, the reality is that your website is likely going to be the first place they go to check you out. It’s really your receptionist. So it has to be well-dressed, guide people quickly to where they want to go, and provide in-depth information when needed.
One of the benefits of the website is the ability to store important news and items that can be viewed at a later date by your constituents. Many nonprofits post all kinds of interesting materials on Facebook only, where they will literally be seen once by a small group of people and then never seen again as they get farther and farther down the Facebook timeline. This is why a website needs to include a blog / news area that can be categorized by topic; this way you post any important information on your website and THEN post it to Facebook – driving people from Facebook to your website, while archiving the news for others to view later.
A lot of smaller nonprofits spend more time curating other people’s news rather than posting their own news. It’s just easier. Curating news is an important function for all nonprofits – there is a lot of news and information out there that your constituents might be interested in. But instead of posting a link on social media to someone else’s site, try taking some of the outside news items and writing about them – adding your own commentary or information to it as an article on your website. Or have a collaborative partner or associate write an article (or repost a previous article) for your website. It’s essentially still curating other people’s news but creates content for your website.
Direct Relief International focuses on impact (earthquake recovery continues), information (El Nino health risks, and lots of news from their own blog) and credibility (Charity Navigator’s list and Fast Company as well as supporters)
Unicef – on the main page they focus more on impact and credibility and put their news/information on internal pages
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – Here is another organization that is focused on all the objectives: impact, information, credibility, and archiving through their blog.