Designing a Site That Connects With Your Nonprofit Audience

Ira Horowitz
Founder, Cornershop Creative

You know your nonprofit needs a website—it’s the 21st century, and the web is a great place for people to find charitable causes and get involved! But it’s not enough to just set up a site to reserve your corner of the internet and let it sit. 

Instead, your website needs to be carefully crafted to help you connect with your specific audience. When your website is designed with your community in mind, it becomes an effective tool for raising awareness about your work, promoting upcoming events, and pulling in fundraising dollars. 

In this short guide, we’ll cover four quick tips for building a website that resonates with your audience: 

  1. Understand Your Audience’s Needs
  2. Create a Clear, User-Friendly Navigation
  3. Tell Compelling Stories
  4. Offer Useful Tools and Resources

In addition to using these tips, you can take your website design efforts to the next level by working with a nonprofit web design company. Designers familiar with the nonprofit sector will understand your unique needs and work with you to create a great design that leads to lasting results for your cause and beneficiaries. Let’s begin! 

1. Understand Your Audience’s Needs  

Understanding who your audience is and what they want and need from your organization to get involved with your cause can guide your web design process. For example, if you review what you know about your donors and find that most of them would prefer to give to your organization online, you could prioritize building out an easy-to-use online donation page. 

Here are some strategies to begin reviewing your audience and its needs: 

  • Revisit your donor data. Chances are, your nonprofit has a wealth of information on hand about its supporters, especially if your organization has been in operation for many years. Take a look at your donor data to review your audience’s typical ages, locations, and other demographics that could inform your website design. You can also look into involvement and donation histories to better understand how you can encourage further engagement on your site.  
  • Leverage Google Analytics. If you already have a website, you can use analytics tools like Google Analytics to examine website visitors’ behavior to determine which parts of your website need to be improved. For instance, you might find that you need to optimize a landing page to improve click-through rates. Or, you might see that a blog post on a particular topic is extremely popular, leading you to create more educational resources about that subject. 
  • Use surveys or interviews to gather anecdotal insights. For an even deeper dive into your supporters and their website preferences, send out surveys or conduct interviews with small groups. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What online resources would you most like to see on our site?” or “What websites do you find the easiest to navigate?”  

Note that your beneficiaries may also be part of your online audience, depending on the nature of your work. Take their wants and needs into consideration, as well as how you can ensure your website design and content reflects them. For example, you may need to build out pages that allow your beneficiaries to apply for your services. 

2. Create a Clear, User-Friendly Navigation 

Regardless of your audience’s particular preferences or interests, there are some universal best practices for designing a strong nonprofit website. One of these best practices is creating clear and user-friendly navigation. Here are a few tips for creating a smooth website experience for all of your visitors: 

  • Create a sticky menu. A sticky menu is a fixed menu on a website that stays visible as a website visitor scrolls through the website. Having a clear “map” of your website visible at all times allows your visitors to easily move from page to page.  
  • Prioritize your most important pages. Of course, you can’t include everything in your navigation menu—it would quickly become cluttered and make it difficult for your visitors to parse through what is really important. Choose a few key pages to feature in your menu, like your donation page, “About Us” page, and your blog. 
  • Craft a clear website journey. According to Cornershop Creative, you can proactively guide your website visitors through your site by adding internal links across your site, calls-to-action (CTAs), and reading suggestions. 
  • Design CTAs with care. You want your website visitors to be more than passive passersby—you want them to take some sort of action toward supporting your cause. Create button CTAs and clickable CTA images with short, compelling phrases that encourage them to act. For example, phrases like “Donate now to fight cancer” or “Download our ebook on the benefits of STEM education” can inspire and encourage people to make a move. 

Use visual cues to guide visitors.

You can also use visual elements to show your website visitors what to pay attention to and where they should go next when exploring your site.

For example, you might choose a bold color for the “Donate” tab in your menu or animate your email newsletter sign-up box. The more you do to direct your visitors’ attention to what matters most, the better results you’ll see from your site. 

3. Tell Compelling Stories 

Stories have the power to unite us as we find common ground and discover the humanity in each other. This is why storytelling can be an excellent strategy for engaging your online audience. 

To tell great stories on your website that inspire support for your cause, make sure you have all the right elements in place. For instance, every story you tell should have characters who your audience wants to root for, problems that need solving, and satisfying resolutions that involve your nonprofit and its services. Take your stories to the next level by including details that contribute to a sense of setting and appeal to the senses. 

One of the best places to tell compelling stories on your website is your blog. Here are a few examples of what storytelling might look like in different blog posts: 

  • Volunteer or donor spotlights 
  • Success stories of individuals who have benefited from your programs or services
  • Behind-the-scenes stories that show what your team does in the day-to-day to move your mission forward 
  • Event recaps that share the memories you and your attendees made together  
  • Project updates on ongoing initiatives that show the progress you’re making 

No matter what stories you decide to share with your website visitors, remember to incorporate strong visuals. High-quality photos and graphics can break up long blocks of text and help your visitors experience your stories in different ways.

Videos can also be powerful storytelling tools. According to Double the Donation, a well-crafted video will “leave viewers with a clear understanding of your organization, an impactful message that inspires them to support your work, and actionable next steps.”

4. Offer Useful Tools and Resources 

Make your website a place that your visitors want to turn to again and again because of how useful and informative it is. You can do this by offering high-quality tools and resources for learning about your cause and getting involved. 

Here are a few tools and resources to consider including on your website: 

  • Donation page 
  • Volunteer registration form
  • Members-only portal (if you have a membership program)
  • Downloadable resources and how-to guides
  • Blog roll
  • Live chatbot for assistance in website navigation 
  • Event calendar
  • Event registration page 
  • Website search bar 
  • Advocacy action tools
  • Resource library
  • Contact information 
  • Accessibility tools

When you offer the right tools and resources on your website, it will be top-of-mind when a supporter thinks about your cause, and it will become the first place they go for information or tools to take action. Step into your audience’s shoes and consider what tools and resources would be most useful for them, and then ensure they’re added to your website. 

Creating a nonprofit website involves much more than just setting up a web page with a donation form. In order to really connect with the people who care about your mission and want to see your organization succeed, you have to design (or optimize) your website with those people in mind. Use these tips to get started, and remember to turn to a nonprofit website design company for more help if you need it. You can do this!

Ira Horowitz
Founder, Cornershop Creative

With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations.

Ira oversees our project management team and works with clients to provide our clients with the best possible final product. He also manages all of our strategic engagements and helps guide nonprofits to determine their long-term strategy goals for online communications.

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