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What Makes a Great Nonprofit Website?

Your website acts both as a hub for activity and services and as a virtual front door to your nonprofit. It can be the central location used to gather your community, process donations, and get the word out to new supporters. Additionally, it's important that grantmakers, potential volunteers, and others interested in learning about your organization can easily find what they need.

drawing of a woman using a laptop with an arrow hitting a target and gold coins being added to a donation jar

Sounds simple, but it can be a challenge to build and maintain a nonprofit website that includes the full functionality needed without demanding a large budget and a team of developers. On December 6, 2022, Tapp Network's Jason Spangler and Melissa Stanley Pitts delivered a webinar on the important elements of a great nonprofit website. They gave some advice on how to make important decisions when starting your journey, and explained how their growth-driven design method can help you create a more effective and long-lasting site. Watch the full webinar and read the highlights below.

Scalability and Flexibility

Spangler and Pitts explain that making your website scalable and flexible in the face of your organization's growth and changing needs is extremely important. By ensuring that you can make edits to your site easily, and that it will grow with your organization, you'll save yourself time and money down the line.

Choose the Right Content Management System

There are a couple of key ways you can plan for growth at the very start of your website building process. First consider the platform you choose to build your site on, usually called a content management system. Types of CMS range from managed to open-source, with some sitting in the middle of the two.

A managed CMS, such as Wix, is the easiest-to-use option. You'll build and manage your site through an editing tool, importing your nonprofit's branding and content. Managed CMSes require very little coding or website building expertise, but they also offer limited flexibility. You'll have less control over all aspects of your site, including layout, design, and functionality. Integrations will be limited to those compatible with the CMS you are using. So, if there is a particular third-party app or service you want to integrate with your site, make sure the managed CMS you are using offers that integration.

An open-source CMS, like Drupal or Joomla, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. You'll have full control over every aspect of your website; however, coding and website development expertise is required.


Consider Site Architecture

Site architecture refers to the navigational structure of your website. Before you build the site, you should carefully consider the most intuitive way to navigate it. What should be easily accessible from the home page? What will people use your site for? What are the most important pages for people to notice?

There are a few standard pages that people will expect to find in your main navigation bar. A home page is a necessity. You should also include both an About Us and a What We Do tab. These allow people to find information about the mission and vision and the people behind your organization, as well as the day-to-day operations and programs you run. A blog is useful: It allows visitors to get a deeper insight into your work and helps new people discover your site through search engines. Two of the most important tabs to include in your navigation structure are a Get Involved page — or somewhere obvious for visitors to register their interest in volunteering or donating — and a clear way to contact you.

Updates and Changes

When designing your navigational structure, consider how it might change over time. Create ways to add content easily and craft the main tabs so that they remain evergreen. You'll want to consider your capacity for larger changes, which should also be factored into the CMS you choose. Consider the budget you have available for updating the site, the tools and expertise you have in-house, and the timeline you'll want changes made on.

The initial structure and build of your site should act as the foundation for everything you want from your website on an ongoing basis. This should be a key consideration in every stage of the design and implementation of your website.

User Experience

A second important factor to consider when building your site is user experience, often called UX. This includes the site's ease of use, as well as whether visitors can find what they are looking for. You'll want to map out the "customer journey" for different kinds of visitors. Personas can be very useful for this purpose.

To create a persona, consider each of your target audiences and represent them with a fictional person. Think about their values, the language they use, key influences, and what they might consider in a purchase decision. Pitts even recommends giving the persona details like a precise age, job, and location. For example, one target persona might be a 75-year-old woman, retired, not a digital native, who has an interest in volunteering. 

Once you have identified a few customer personas, consider the "touchpoints" each of these will need in order to navigate to the action you want them to take. This might be submitting a volunteer application form, donating online, or making an appointment to access your services. The list of information they'll need in order to make that decision should become the list of content you'll want your site to include. That doesn't mean that all of these points need to be covered at the time of launch, just that you have the capacity to add them over time.

Finally, you should test your site on a variety of devices. Optimization for mobile is especially important, and many managed CMSes will have this built into their templates.

Integration and Automation Opportunities

You should also consider the need for certain integrations and automation. This will be one of the factors involved in choosing your CMS, and it will be heavily dependent on the technology you already use. Whatever customer relationship management (CRM) tool you use, ensure that your website works in tandem with it. When someone fills in a contact form on your site, you want their details to be automatically added to your directory so that you can reach out to them. You'll also need to ensure that the site works with the software you use to process donations

In order to execute effective marketing automation, your site will need to be compatible with any CRM or automation tool you intend to use. Constant Contact, for example, offers marketing automation opportunities that can help you to engage new audiences. In order to streamline your use of the tool, you'll need to make sure it integrates effectively with your site and pulls contacts into the lists you create.


A Website Built with Growth in Mind

Tapp Network's growth-driven design method has continuous growth and change at the forefront, considering your initial published site a "launch pad" rather than a finished product.

You can learn more about growth-driven design and access support for building your own site through TechSoup. We offer consultations, security, maintenance, and web hosting, as well as a free website wellness tool that helps you understand where you can invest in and improve your organization's website.


Additionally, in April 2023, TechSoup will be launching a Nonprofit Website Strategy 301 course, which is available at a $100 early bird discount until March 8, 2023.

Additional Resources

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