Take a look at these two websites: 

Website design comparison

Now ask yourself these questions:

  • Which website seems more credible?
  • Which site would you not mind making a payment on?

Surely, everyone would agree with website A as the answer. 

There is no doubt that your nonprofit needs a strong online presence in the internet age. However, the keyword here is “strong,” and only a well-designed and well-structured website can achieve that. 

Whether you want to build a new website or are looking to update your existing one, this step by step guide on planning and creating a fantastic nonprofit website will help you augment your online presence.

Step 1: Understanding the objective of your website (with example)

Before anything else, the first thing you need to know is defining the objective of the website. What purpose do you want it to serve? 

The most common objectives of a great nonprofit website are:

  • Getting donations
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Informing people/Generating awareness (about your cause)
  • Reaching out to people to help them

Knowing your objectives helps you answer questions like what information should you prioritize on each page, the structure of the website, where you want to lead visitors to, etc. 

A point to note here is that you may have multiple objectives for your website. In such cases, it’ll be vital for you to prioritize these objectives. That will help you plan the layout of the site to meet the primary purpose first, and the secondary (and all others) accordingly. 

To give you an example, here’s the homepage of Upstream, a global Christian nonprofit helping people overcome poverty. 

Source: Upstream 

Upstream’s primary objective is to reach out to people helping underprivileged communities and support them with resources. 

Hence, when you visit the homepage, the first thing you see is a video of a volunteer talking about how Upstream works. 

Upstream also accepts donations and volunteers, which are their secondary objectives. This is why they have the “Donate” and “Sponsor” buttons on the top right. However, visitors typically don’t notice them immediately as their attention is initially drawn to the video. 

Step 2: Choosing a domain name (with example)

After you’re clear about what your website must do, the next part is to decide on a domain name. 

Your domain name is the identity of your website. A common practice for domain names is to use your organization’s name. However, apart from the name, you will also have to ensure you use the right extension. 

The extension is the part of the domain that comes after the name and a period. For nonprofit websites, the most common ones are:

  • .ORG
  • .NGO
  • .COM
  • .NET
  • .INFO
  • .EDU
  • Country code domains like .AU; .UK; .CA

For example, the Danish Refugee Council uses the .NGO domain (www.drc.ngo) with an acronym of their name (to ensure it’s easy to remember).

Nonprofit website domain example

Studies suggest that donors are more likely to trust organizations with .ORG or .NGO as their extensions. Therefore, it’s recommended to prefer these above other options.

Step 3: Defining your branding

After having your domain locked down, the next step is to define your branding guidelines. These guidelines are what will help you choose the colors you want on your website, the theme, etc.

There are three steps to defining your branding:

1. Determine the story you want your brand to tell

The first thing you need to do is understand the story you want to tell and how. For instance, do you want to be known as a warm and compassionate organization trying to uplift people from poverty or a powerful, no-nonsense nonprofit fighting poverty? 

Both causes are the same, but the way you convey it is different. This is what differentiates you from the others. 

2. Pick colors and fonts for your brand.

Once you have clarity on how you wish to tell your story, the next step is to pick the colors that reflect it. Different colors represent different emotions, so you need to choose accordingly. 

Here’s a chart for your reference on the colors and their connotations:

Brand color reference chart
Source: Wild Apricot

The same goes for your fonts too. Some fonts come across as friendly and warm, whereas others may seem more authoritative. 

For example, Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization, font (and colors) convey power and energy. This conveys how they are an authoritative organization taking control of the front lines when a disaster occurs.  

Logo - Powerful text and color example

On the other hand, the Make a Wish foundation uses a font and color that is calming yet determined to fulfill wishes. 

Logo - Soft color and text example

3. Build your branding guidelines

Finally, it’s essential to put down your branding guidelines for your logos, colors, and tone of voice to be used on different platforms. For instance, your logo on your website might be slightly different than the one you use in your email signatures (at least in dimensions). 

Here’s are a few pages from the UNICEF branding guidelines book for reference: 

UNICEF branding guidelines
Source: UNICEF USA

Once you have all this mapped out, your development and design team can create your nonprofit website as per it.

Step 4: Planning out the crucial pages your website needs (with examples)

There are seven critical pages each nonprofit website must-have. These pages are essential to inform your visitors and drive home your messaging. Plan out the content of each of these pages based on the objective (or action) they are trying to achieve. 

1. Homepage

This is the first page most of your visitors will land on, especially if they are searching for you on a search engine. Your homepage should be a reflection of all the crucial elements of your website. That includes:

  • Your main call to action (displayed prominently) 
  • The cause you are fighting for and what you do
  • Proof of impact
  • News/stories about your organization 

Your homepage can have some or all of these elements in a well-structured manner. Ensure that the information flows (transitions) are smooth but slightly distinct. 

Here’s an example of how ASPCA, an animal rescue organization, puts these elements together:

nonprofit website homepage example
Source: ASCPA

2. About us

The about us page of your website is where you tell your story. This is the page people will navigate to for more information about your organization. 

The “About Us” page of your nonprofit website should have: 

  • Your mission statement
  • Your history (or story of how you were founded)
  • The team/leadership of the organization (optional)
  • Your nonprofit’s values

All this information can be quite overwhelming to read, and the visitor may even lose interest. To avoid this, try to make the page more engaging with appealing images or even videos. 

Here’s an example of PAWS Chicago, an animal rescue organization’s about us page: 

Nonprofit website about page example
Source: PAWS Chicago

They make the page easy-to-navigate with an intuitive index feature. All the visitor has to do is to click the arrow keys on the sides to know more about the nonprofit. 

3. Join us

Your “Join Us” page, as the name suggests, has all the information a new supporter/volunteer may need. Typically, the page should have:

  • The process to join your organization (if any)
  • The benefits of becoming a member/volunteer
  • Everything the members/volunteers will have to/will be doing
  • A sign-up form

The “Get Involved” page of Generate Hope, an organization helping human trafficking victims, perfectly puts these elements in place.   

A tip for the “join us” page is that you shouldn’t stop promoting your organization in other ways. If you look at the page above, you can see how they are still driving people to subscribe to their newsletter too. 

Another great take away from here is that they link the sign-up form to another page. Since their form is quite long, they use this technique to keep the page clean and concise. 

4. Donate

This page should have all the information that a donor needs before donating. The page should be designed in a way to motivate people to take that final step. The key elements that your donation page must include are:

  • An overview of the impact a donation makes
  • A donation form (with the relevant fields)
  • Sharing page option (to boost donations by allowing people to spread the word) 
  • Donation sum options and a monthly giving option

UNICEF does a great job with their donation page. They split the page into two. The first one has all the information a donor could need, and they cover it in detail. 

UNICEF Donate page
Source: UNICEF

They make the “Donate” button really distinct. It leads them to the second page with the donation form. 

Unicef donation form
Source: UNICEF

They keep this page clean and with fewer distractions, which is a great way to boost donations. Moreover, they give the donor options to donate specific sums, enter a custom amount, and even enroll for a monthly program.

5. Events

The events page of your nonprofit website should have a minimalistic design. The best practice is to list out all the events without making the page too overwhelming and link each event to a landing page with more details.

Here’s an example of the Humane Society events page: 

The page includes information about upcoming and past events supported by powerful visuals. Moreover, they put the most recent upcoming event in the spotlight above to bring it to the user’s attention.

These events lead to the landing page that includes:

  • Details about the event (what it entails)
  • A registration form (and the process described briefly)
  • Sponsorship and donation opportunities
  • Contact details if they need more information

6. News/Blog

The news/blog page of your website is used to post important updates about your organization. This is where you can:

  • Showcase news articles about your organization or work
  • Special highlights, updates, milestones, etc.
  • Stories about your organization, teams, and the beneficiaries
  • Posts for general awareness and tips

Having a blog helps better engage your community. Blogging is also a great nonprofit marketing technique to reach out to new people through content marketing. 

The Peace Players International blog is the perfect example of this. 

The blog highlights the most recent post on the top and is followed by all the other posts with an intuitive index to filter them out regionally. 

They talk about success stories, their thoughts on various issues, their work, events, volunteer stories, etc.

7. Contact Us

Lastly, the Contact Us page serves as a way for people looking to get in touch with you to do so. This could be for any reason ranging from inquiries to sponsorships to support requests. 

The page must detail multiple ways to connect with you providing information like:

  • Email ids (of relevant personnel and departments)
  • Phone numbers (and the suitable time and days you are available)
  • Physical mailing address
  • Organization’s address (preferably with a map and directions)
  • Social media profiles (where they can connect with and message you)
  • An embedded contact us form

The Contact Us page of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has all these elements in place. They even put up a picture of their headquarters in the hero image.

Contact us page example
Source: CFS Sarasota

After having the design and content elements for the pages in place, the next step is to get key tools in order. These integrations will be essential for your website’s functionality and performance.

Step 5: Key integrations for your website (with examples for tools)

Integrations for website performance

1. CMS 

A content management system (CMS) is an application that lets you create, manage, modify, and publish content in a user-friendly interface. It reduces your dependency on coding. A CMS helps you:

  • Create, manage, and edit content dynamically
  • Optimize your content for SEO (with the help of in-built extensions)
  • Support multiple user accounts with different permissions (making collaboration easy)

For your nonprofit website, here are a few recommendations for CMS:

2. CRM 

A CRM, or customer relationship management system, refers to software that helps you track and manage interactions with prospects and customers. Having a CRM helps you by:

  • Collecting and organizing supporter data in a central repository (this data could be from anywhere, newsletter sign-ups to text opt-ins)
  • Automating generic marketing and other communications (like emails, even texts if you are using a mass texting software)
  • Track prospect interactions, build profiles and target them better

Some recommendations for CRMs are:

3. Payment gateway 

A payment gateway handles all the backend operations to take funds from your donors’ accounts and deposit them into your account. Whether you’re collecting a membership fee, selling tickets (or other merchandise), or just taking donations, you need a payment gateway to:

  • Provide multiple options to collect money (credit/debit cards, wire transfers, etc.)
  • Ensure that the transfers are safe and the data is secure
  • Maintain compliance with money transfer regulations (PCI compliance)

Here are a few payment processors that are specifically created for nonprofits:

4. Analytics tool 

An analytics tool tracks various performance metrics of your nonprofit website, and it’s pages. With an analytics dashboard, you will be able to:

  • Track website traffic and it’s sources
  • Get insights into how your pages are performing in terms of SEO/SEM
  • Keep track of metrics like conversions, page sessions, average time spent, etc.

Each of these metrics will help you refine your website and perform better. Nonprofits will find the following analytics tools incredibly intuitive: 

Integrations to promote action

These integrations will be constant on all (or most) pages of your nonprofit website. Each of them will promote a different action that can benefit your organization. 

You won’t need any extra software for them. Most of these integrations may be in-built in your website framework or might be available as an add-on with the tools mentioned above.  

1. Social profile buttons

The social sharing buttons will enable the following functions: 

  • Link your social media accounts to help people connect with you
  • Enable visitors to share your resources (blogs or other posts) on personal handles

These buttons can be placed at the header or footer of the page. Some websites even put them on the sides. 

2. Newsletter subscription form

A newsletter sign-up form helps you build your subscriber base by prompting visitors to sign up. This, in turn, helps you engage with the community and even bring repeat traffic to your site (if you share blogs and news posts).

To get the best results, here are a few key areas where you can place the form:

  • The top sidebar of your website or main blog page 
  • In the top navigation bar
  • The footer of your site
  • The end of every blog post
Logo - Soft color and text example

Source: Humane Society

3. Donate button

Finally, the donation/support us button should be available on all pages of your website. No matter what your organization’s objectives are, fundraising is always going to make the list. 

To ensure more conversions, you have to make sure that no visitor misses the button under any circumstance. You can avoid this by:

  • Using distinct colors for the button that make it stand out
  • Leveraging a sticky button that scrolls up and down the page as the user does
  • Having the button appear as a pop-up once when the user visits
Donate button examples

Source: American Cancer Society

What Next?

Take some inspiration from the fantastic websites above and start off with creating a plan. If the technicalities seem disconcerting, you can hire developers to help you out.

A point to note here is that website development comes with many costs (cost for a domain name, key tools, developer costs, etc.) and can become a fairly expensive process. 

If it gets overwhelming, stick to only the strict necessities and expand later. 

For instance, you can settle with a lower subscription level of a CRM with lesser automation features when starting out. You’ll only need more features later as your visitors and subscribers grow. Similarly, you can use a free theme/website template instead of designing it from scratch to save on development hours. 

If you want more clarity on setting up or updating your nonprofit website, let us know in the comments. 

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