Design & Branding

The challenges of nonprofit website design

on July 23, 2018
This is a guest post written by Emma Wolfe, Content Marketing Growth Manager at Elevation, a full-service nonprofit web design agency.

Rehauling your nonprofit’s website can be a scary undertaking, and while it might seem advantageous to cut budget corners and DIY the whole thing, we want everyone to first take a deep breath and wait.

Web design and development is a tricky business, and often complications pop up along the way that only the experts can handle. Plus, your nonprofit's website is your digital home and the first online impression of your organization, so it’s extra important to ensure that it’s done right.

This begs the question, what do you need to focus on to make sure that your site really sings, and why are these essentials better left to the professionals? We’re glad you asked.

User Experience: What is it and why is it important?

You might have heard the phrase “UX” tossed out there once or twice without realizing what it meant. UX (user experience) is the relationship that a website user has while navigating your site. It’s holistic in that it includes everything from ease of navigability to the overall feeling a user has while visiting a website.

Before you embark on designing your new or updated nonprofit website, you will first need to consider the different groups of users visiting your website and what they require. It’s not uncommon that you may have a few major groups of site visitors and you want them each to perform different actions on your website. For example, a potential donor will need to go down a different path from someone looking for volunteer information.

Hiring an expert to create a UX report with detailed user groups and navigation paths for your organization’s website is fundamental for creating a page that will function effectively for your organization. Not properly considering your user groups and their paths will lead to lost donations and confused site visitors.

Content First: Why custom design is the way to go

Your content is the driving force behind your nonprofit’s website design and tackling this mammoth first is essential. Your web design should be based on the content (both written and visual) that your organization wants to show.pedal revolution good content example

Pedal Revolution, a seriously cool nonprofit bike shop in San Francisco, nails their web copy. Their voice is casual and gives off the vibe that you are just chatting with their employees in the shop. However, they remain grounded by their overall mission of changing communities by aiding at-risk youth, adding a level of seriousness.  They back up their mission with some awesome visuals as well, most notably a professionally made impact video.

Like Pedal Revolution shows, awesome content really is about personalization and the sharing of human experience. Many times drag-and-drop or templated options just don’t cut it for nonprofits because the mission of a nonprofit is so personal, so one-size-fits-all messaging will leave your supporters disengaged, rather than touched by your cause. Instead, working with a professional to create a custom approach based off the content of your organization will yield infinitely better results in terms of longer time spent on your pages, and even more donations.

The Importance of Branding: How do you brand a website?

Your website sets the tone for your digital presence and needs to be properly branded to do so effectively. This means things like color choice (beyond just using your brand’s colors), saturation, and tone. In addition, typography, logo design, and icon choices become small details that can yield big results.

All of these aspects together establish your brand identity, and getting it right is essential for consistency, coherence, and trust building among your audience. Working with someone to establish your website’s brand will also help as you embark into the world of social fundraising pages and other digital platforms.

abta homepage

A brief glance at the American Brain Tumor Association’s home page reveals a strong brand identity. The cool color palette and lack of icons indicate seriousness, but coupled with the the photograph indicates human connection and family.

abta twitter

This brand is carried into ABTA’s Twitter account. The same filter is used in the banner image, and the same shade of purple is used as an accent throughout their profile. The brand also informs the image content choices, again relying heavily on family-focused and human-centric imagery.

The Tech Side: What goes into development?

The code that your website is built on is a completely different language, and not all of us speak it. When redesigning your site, these technical coding details need to be done well or you risk losing your site credibility if something goes wrong. Things like mobile and browser responsiveness and complex integrations require the help of developers who speak code fluently.

These developers are also essential when it comes to your donation experience. We are past the age of the PayPal button and, instead, best UX principals keep the user on your site while donating. This could require integrations (if you want your CRM to collect donor information), form building and SSL certificates. That’s why it’s essential to leave this responsibility only in the hands of someone with the proper know-how, or look to companies, like our friends at CrowdRise, who offer plug-and-play donate buttons that are already fully compliant and optimized for donor experience and donation conversion.

There are so many online tools that promise the sky when it comes to web design, but your website is too big an asset to not be handled with care. It’s worth it to do some research as to which vendor or web developer is right for your budget and organization. Accepting a helping hand from a code-savvy volunteer or patron can seem like a welcoming and budget-friendly option, but things like donations, member information, and custom design are items for the experts to handle.

Emma Wolfe

Emma Wolfe is the Content Marketing Growth Manager at Elevation, a full-service nonprofit web design agency. Emma has been involved in the nonprofit world for years, working at multiple NGOs located both in the United States and abroad. Her experience ranges from refugee occupation counseling to empowerment programs for youth in West Africa. When she isn’t traveling, Emma loves doing yoga and trying new food.