11 Website Design Best Practices for Nonprofits

By: BigTech
Tue, 01/11/2011 - 09:48


The rise of social media and mobile technology has changed the way  people process  information. The 24/7 news cycle is overwhelming to many people. Websites that are burdened with too much text or too many images without consistency in size and color scheme can immediately lead to an exit response. Whether we like it or not, information overload  is a part of our culture now, and the design and tone of your nonprofit’s website need to take this shift in communication seriously and present your website accordingly. Simplicity is the key.Your supporters also now expect a more social experiences from your website, or you may simply need to tweak your current design, but make no mistake: the general priciples and design aesthetics that ruled during the era of Web 1.0 are no longer applicable. 

Have a Simple, Visually Powerful Web 2.0 Home Page Design

The home page of today should have
large, powerful images and minimal text. Navigation should be bold, bright, and
obvious. The upper right-hand corner is the most valuable  section of your website—use it to plug your
e-newsletter and group text messaging campaigns, donate now functionality, and
social networking communities. Overall, avoid clutter. Text and multiple links
to choose from can easily overwhelm readers to the point where more than
anything they just want to leave your website.

Have a Consistent Design throughout All Secondary Navigation and Content Pages

A good Content management System (CMS) will take care of this for you.
All content pages should be the same size and should be consistent in their
layout and color scheme. Use the Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, or Georgia
font. Text should be black, the background of content pages should be white,
and the color of the links should be coordinated with the website’s color
scheme. In general, limit the use of colors to three or four.

Format Text for Easy Reading

Write for Web 2.0! Limit
paragraphs to two to four sentences, with link breaks between paragraphs. Use  bold for headlines. Keep bullet-pointed
content short. Most important, avoid long pages that require excessive

Limit the Layout to Two columns

Web 1.0 websites tried to pack in
as much content as possible through a three- and sometimes four-column design
structure. No longer! Today, a good design structure for a website will have
two columns. One column will take up two-thirds of the page layout (or a little
more) for content stories, and the other third is for secondary navigation and
graphics for special campaigns.

Write Page Titles That Increase Your Search Engine Optimization

Every page of your website should
have a unique title. Make sure your home page has your organization’s name and
tagline. Secondary pages should have your organization’s name and a unique
title for each page. If you use your website to publish news stories or press
releases, make sure that the titles of the press releases and articles include
words and phrases that people who may be interested in your mission and
programs are likely to type into Google, Bing, or Yahoo

Subscribe to E-newsletter and Text Alert functionality

The ability to subscribe to your
nonprofit’s e-newsletter and group text messaging campaigns should be featured
prominently on every page of your website. “Subscribe” buttons should be
embedded on your home page (ideally in the upper right-hand corner), and also
on every secondary page within your website. Also, it’s important that you keep
the subscription process as simple as possible.

Include Social media Icons or Graphics

A good number of your Facebook fans,
Twitter followers, and Flickr, YouTube, and Foursquare friends will come
directly from clicks on social media icons placed on your website with “Follow
Us” pitches.

Have a Donate Now button on every page

A large, colorful “Donate Now”
button should be featured on your home page and on every secondary page
thereafter. Ideally, the button should be in close proximity to your social
media icons and “Subscribe” buttons, and should be custom-designed to match
your website’s branding. The easiest way to integrate donate now, subscribe, and
follow us pitches into all pages on your website is to include them in your top
or sidebar navigation. Make sure that your “Donate Now” button links directly
to a page that asks for contact and credit card information, not to a general
“Support Us” page. Online donors are often impulsive and don’t want to navigate
through numerous pages and fundraising requests to make a donation. Make the
process as effortless and clutter-free as possible.

Integrate Social Media into Secondary Pages

Articles and information pages
that are text-only tend to overwhelm visitors. An embedded video or slide show
can add value to your text if it is relevant and well produced. Videos and
photos help tell your organization’s story better, and often inspire donors and
supporters to give and take action in a way that text by itself simply cannot.

Use third party widgets only if they add value

The Web has become overrun with
widgets! Some are useful and well designed (such as the Facebook like box and
the Twitter profile widget), but the majority add clutter and inconsistency to
your website. Though you may be tempted to embrace widgets because of their
simplicity of use and the shiny new tool factor, choose wisely and with
caution. Too many widgets of various sizes and colors will confuse your
visitors as to what they are supposed to focus on or do and most likely will
send them the unintentional message that your website is managed by an amateur.
As a general rule of thumb, keep widgets off your home page.

Host your blog inside your website

Depending upon your budget and the CMS you use for your website, the
best way to optimize your online brand and search engine optimization(SEO) is
to host your blog inside your nonprofit’s website. The obvious benefit is that
every time you publish and then promote a blog post on a social networking site
or in your e-newsletter, the blog post drives traffic to your website. Less
obvious, but just as important, the more content you publish under your URL
(www.nrdc.org, for example), the higher your nonprofit will rank in search
engine results, since Google, Bing, and Yahoo! are increasingly giving fresh
blog content priority over static Web pages. The power of blogging for SEO
should not be underestimated.