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Nonprofit Websites

Our ‘Six Canons’ explain best practices

Online marketing offers nonprofits an economical way to share stories that engage a large audience of potential supporters and convert those who are interested into donors, members, volunteers and advocates.

The hub of every online marketing effort is a website. While there are many other possible touchpoints – or places where potential supporters can gain awareness of your nonprofit – all touchpoints are (or should be) driving traffic to the website.

An effective website has content that engages current friends of the organization, former friends and new acquaintances. But engagement is not enough. You have to convert some of those people into supporters who will give your nonprofit their time and/or money. Conversions are more likely if your website follows best practices to prompt action from those who are ready to support the cause.

We explain best practices below in our Six Canons of an Effective Nonprofit Site. You can implement all six immediately to improve your current website, or use them to guide the design of a new site. Each can be implemented individually if your nonprofit doesn’t have the resources to implement all six right away.

Canon 1: Make ‘The Ask’ on every page

You can’t predict the moment when a prospective supporter will be ready to convert to a donor, member, volunteer or advocate, so you must be constantly prompting website visitors to take action. A common example of an Ask is a “donate now” button placed in the website’s header, in a sidebar or in the top navigation menu.

The Ask should be prominent without being pushy, distracting or obnoxious. Keep it in the same place on every page so that prospects will know exactly where to find it once they’re ready to act.

Canon 2: Open with who, what, why and how

Don’t open your home page text with “Welcome to our website.” It tells visitors nothing about who you are, what you do, why you do it and how they can help. Make your case for support early and often, starting with the text on your home page, which is the most read on your site.

Once you believe you have great home page text, test it. Show the text to people who know nothing about your organization. After they read it, ask if they can recall the who, what and why of your organization, and know how they can help. Don’t stop revising until multiple people pass this test.

Canon 3: Give each group an entry door

People like communications that speak directly to their wants and needs. Thus, your website should cater to the different audiences that might come visit. Known as segmentation, this is a proven way to improve visitor engagement.

If your visitors can be logically divided into audience segments — for example, those funding the services, those providing the services and those receiving the services — provide an entry point for each segment.

Within the pages devoted to an audience segment, speak directly to those people about the things they want or need from your organization.

Canon 4: People, personality, positivity

Nonprofits do serious work, and often tackle subjects or issues that don’t lend themselves to fun text or funky colors. But visitors on all websites respond to the three P’s: people, personality, and positivity.

People’s faces are engaging. That’s why they’re on movie posters and magazine covers. Throughout your site, use pictures of the actual people who do the work of the nonprofit, and if possible, those who benefit from it. It will draw your audience in and lend authenticity to your cause.

Personalities are engaging. Your organization should be expressing its personality through the design and content of your website. You don’t have to ham it up. Be real — unless your organization’s personality is really bland, boring or listless. If that’s the case, a personality makeover is in order.

Positivity is engaging. However dire the situation your nonprofit is addressing, your website must provide hope. People want to help if they feel they can make things better.

Canon 5: Engage through multiple media

People engage in different ways. Some want to watch a video, while others want to read a newsletter, view a photo album, respond to a blog post, follow you on Facebook or retweet your Twitter posts.

But don’t stretch yourself too thin across these media. Do only what you can do well, as content of poor quality will be a turnoff to your prospects. If you stop paying attention to your blog, Facebook or Twitter page, your audience will, too.

Canon 6: Offer multiple ways to convert

Few people will make a big commitment right at the start. Instead of going for the home run, offer a hierarchy of conversion options and highlight any low-commitment options you offer.

Be specific in your call to action. “We need volunteers” will not convert nearly as many visitors as stating, “We need volunteers to do ‘blank’ at ‘blank’ time.” Offering specifics makes it easier for visitors to picture themselves doing the activity, and removes concerns they’ll be asked to volunteer for a burdensome task at an inconvenient time.

Once your visitors have converted, it’s time to heap on the public praise. Post stories and photos on your website that show people who have joined, donated, volunteered or advocated on behalf of your nonprofit. It validates their decision and encourages others to do the same.

Does your nonprofit need help to implement best practices on its website? Call Kim Landry at 484.829.0021 or email [email protected]

Does your nonprofit need help to implement best practices on its website? Call Kim Landry at 484.829.0021 or email [email protected]

Want some help with your nonprofit website?

Call Kim Landry at 484.829.0021 or

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