Contributed article by DNL OmniMedia
A well-designed, robust website is one of the most valuable assets a nonprofit organization can have today. If your organization’s website could be doing more to help you further your mission, it might be time to update your digital strategies.
Not sure if your website is performing at its top capacity to reach and engage new supporters? Read on! We’ll cover the basics of web design and additional techniques for building stronger online engagement.
At DNL OmniMedia, we specialize in nonprofit tech consulting, and custom website design and strategy development is a huge part of what we do. We’ve seen the immense difference that an improved, integrated website can make for nonprofits.
“Web design” can be a fairly expansive topic. It covers a number of different elements, each of which plays an important role in providing both a positive experience for users and marketing ROI for your organization. In a big-picture sense, web design includes:
- How it looks – the visual layout and design of your website
- How it’s organized – the site’s navigational structure
- How it works – the underlying tech elements, integrated tools, and UX they provide
- How it engages users – the broader strategy for securing new online donors
That last element is key; attracting and engaging supporters is one of the most important functions of a nonprofit’s website. It brings together all the other visual, structural, and technical elements of web design around a central goal of boosting online engagement with donors.
There are a number of ways your nonprofit’s website can support your efforts to engage more members of your community and strengthen your relationships, including:
- Representing your brand and communicating your mission to potential donors
- Increasing awareness and visibility for your organization
- Serving as a central resource for your community of advocates or volunteers
- Anchoring your marketing strategies and online fundraising campaigns
- Serving as a space to promote your upcoming projects and events
These are all great ways to leverage your site to engage more donors, but how do you get there? Let’s walk through a few specific strategies that can help you lay a stronger foundation for your nonprofit’s website.
Tip #1: Review general best practices for web design.
There are a lot of technical, visual, and organizational elements that go into effective web design, so it can be surprisingly easy to take one or two of them for granted.
We’ve all been on a less-than-optimized website that made it difficult to find what we needed. Poor user experience, or UX, drives away new visitors before they engage deeply with your site. This means covering your bases with web design best practices is always a good idea.
Keep these in mind whenever you’re making updates to your website’s appearance and functionalities:
- Keep things simple. Each page or section should serve one clear purpose. Try to structure your site’s pages in an intuitive way that prevents you from cramming too much information onto a single page.
- Focus on load time. Regularly test your site to make sure it loads quickly. If your site loads too slowly, many (if not most) of your users will give up on trying to use it. Large image files are common culprits for slow loading.
- Make sure it is mobile-optimized. A majority of all web traffic comes from mobile devices today, so if your nonprofit’s site doesn’t work on smaller screens, you’ll lose out on a lot of engagement with donors.
- Ensure consistency. Your website should follow brand guidelines and look clean, coherent, and organized across every page. Branding reassures users that your organization is professional and that the site is legitimate.
- Clearly feature your donation button. Include a donate button that links to your donation page in a prominent location on the website’s header or main menu. It should be visible and clearly labeled on every page of your site.
- Focus on navigation. Ensure your website is organized, with every important page clearly labeled and easy to access from a top or side navigation bar. Brand-new visitors won’t have much patience if they can’t quickly find what they’re looking for.
These are just some general best practices for making sure your website pulls its weight. The main idea is to keep everything focused. Each design and structural element needs to contribute to the clarity and purpose of the page it’s on. Check out a few top nonprofit websites for examples of these best practices in action.
Tip #2: Take advantage of integrations whenever possible.
Tech integrations are connections developed to bridge two separate software platforms. They allow data to flow freely from one tool or platform to the other. A common example for nonprofits would be online donation processing tools; most nonprofits use one that integrates with their CRM, meaning new donation data is automatically saved in their database.
Integrations can be custom-developed for your nonprofit by technology consultants, or they can be specifically built into a tool or solution. Salesforce apps for nonprofits are a good example of the latter type. They add extra, nonprofit-specific functions to the Salesforce platform while making it easier to record and analyze all your data in one place.
Taking advantage of software integrations is a general best practice for any kind of new tech project. It’s especially useful for improving your website and online engagement strategies.
That’s because integrations give you a more comprehensive view of online engagement. Look for web tools, like donation forms, custom surveys, and email marketing platforms, that integrate with your CRM. This will give you the major benefit of real-time access to your online engagement data. Then, use these insights to monitor and adjust your strategies to better engage donors.
Depending on how you host and manage your website, the types of integrated options available to you could vary. One integrated tool that every nonprofit should be using is Google Analytics. It’s the best way to track how supporters are engaging with your website, plus it’s free.
Tip #3: Develop an integrated strategy.
By “integrated strategy,” we mean an online marketing strategy that’s integrated across multiple communication channels. Once you’ve implemented strong design and technical elements into your website, an overarching, integrated strategy is a great way to maximize your impact online.
The digital communication channels you might use include social media, email, online ads, and (most importantly) your website. Check out our guide to developing a digital communication plan for an idea of how different channels fit together and support one another.
Each outlet might be targeted to accomplish a specific task or engage a particular demographic, but each will direct readers or users to one specific place, like your donation page. By driving traffic from one channel to another and allowing you to more closely focus your efforts, integrated digital strategies help to generate more engagement.
The main idea is to think through how each marketing outlet will interact with and support the others, and then to focus all the energy and engagement to a single point: your website.
Tip #4: Create engaging digital content.
No matter how well your nonprofit’s site is designed, donors need a reason to engage.
Your fundraising and marketing campaigns will draw traffic to your donation page, but content is also critical to ensure your website is a valued resource that users will want to revisit.
An effective way is to have a blog that is housed on your website. A blog is a primary delivery vehicle for content, including:
- Important updates on your nonprofit’s projects
- Recaps of recent events and campaigns
- Useful resources that will interest your supporters
- Editorial pieces to spark new conversations in the community
Audio and video content can be very effective and simple, too. Create a podcast or grassroots video which can then be distributed through your blog. Interviews are a great example of engaging digital content. Try hosting local public figures to discuss your mission, then record and share your interview online.
Use your nonprofit’s blog as a dedicated channel in your nonprofit’s integrated communication strategy, as discussed above in Tip #3.
Developing authority as a thought leader in your space is a huge PR trend today, and for good reason. Supporters should be drawn to your website because they connect with your message and mission, not just because you’re currently promoting a fundraising campaign.
Tip #5: Host a unique online event to generate more traffic.
Planning in-person events can be major undertakings, so make the most of your website to supplement your organization’s event lineup.
Online events leverage the design and tech elements you’ve implemented to generate more traffic to your site and engage more supporters online. They’re also a great way to reach brand new audiences who’ll be interested in your mission. Consider these options:
- Live stream an important announcement or project. Social media platforms make it easy to stream video of your nonprofit’s events. You might even set up a dedicated video feed on your site; this strategy works well for animal-based missions and draws a lot of new traffic to these sites.
- Host an online fundraising auction. Charity auctions are complex events to plan, but taking it online can drastically simplify the logistics. If you’re already planning a live auction event, consider hosting an online element to reach wider audiences. Check out the OneCause guide to online auctions to learn more.
- Develop a webinar series. Your website can be a great educational resource for your supporters, especially if your mission revolves around very specific topics or important public concerns. Streamed webinars are a good way to share your message while expanding your audience. Use your website to promote them and funnel readers to a sign-up form.
Online-only events can’t replace in-person events in terms of face-to-face engagement, but they’re still a cost-effective way to fill out your calendar, reach new audiences, and strengthen bonds with your community.
Remember, more online engagement generates more data, showing you which web strategies work the best and which need refining. Online events are great ways to identify strengths and weaknesses in your digital strategies.
Tip #6: Offer new ways to have an impact online.
One last foolproof way to increase engagement with your mission is by simply offering new ways for donors to have an impact. Look for integrated, web-based tools that can deepen or enrich a user’s experience on your website.
Here are our favorite ways to encourage donors to get more involved:
- Promote matching gifts on your website. Matching gifts are an easy way to deepen your relationships with donors by doubling the impact of their donations via their employers. Use an integrated matching gifts database tool to help donors search for their eligibility, like how the ASPCA does on their matching gifts page.
- Host a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. These campaigns are highly engaging because they rely on your key supporters to fundraise on your behalf. Use dedicated peer-to-peer fundraising software to help manage the campaign, or consider integrating software into your website itself. This allows supporters to launch their own ‘DIY’ fundraising campaigns for their birthday or a memorial.
The main idea is that your website is a versatile tool used to deepen engagement with donors and supporters. Always be on the lookout for new ways to boost their impact or get them more involved in your work. Chances are they’ll appreciate it and will eagerly take advantage of the new opportunities!
Following a few web design best practices and then following through on new web-based engagement strategies can be a game changer for nonprofits.
There’s no reason why your nonprofit can’t thrive online, so get started exploring your options! There are tons of options when it comes to offering new tools to donors, honing your message, and promoting your work. So be sure to develop the strategy that works best for you.