Wed, August 14 2013

Is your nonprofit website open for business?

Caryn Stein's avatar

Director of Content Strategy, Network for Good

Filed under:   Websites and web usability •

Make this the sign you're showing to donors.

Is your nonprofit website sending the right message to potential donors? Year-end fundraising season will be here before you know it. Now is the time to clear away the cobwebs and roll out the welcome mat for prospective donors, volunteers, and those who may benefit from your work. If you haven’t updated your site in a while, you might give donors the impression that your organization is no longer active.

Worried your site may say “move along” instead of “come on in”? Here are the top issues that can scare visitors away from your nonprofit website (and how to fix them).

Broken links

They’re not just aggravating and confusing for your website visitors, broken links can also be a big red flag for search engines like Google. Having internal links that don’t work or that don’t point to real content can affect how your site shows up in search.

How to fix it: Most website platforms and content management systems have reporting that will show you the top pages that are returning an error. Taking a close look at your Google Analytics can help as well. Do some internal testing on your website to make sure all of your links are taking visitors where they should.

Stale content

Do you still have information about your “upcoming event” on your home page even though the “upcoming event” took place several months ago? Is the last post on your nonprofit’s blog from 2012? This is a surefire sign that no one in your organization is actually looking at your website. To your visitors, it says: we gave up.

How to fix it: Make it someone’s responsibility to frequently review your website and do regular housekeeping. If you have a news feed or blog that shows up on your home page, make sure you’re adding new content frequently. If you don’t have a plan to add new items, remove these feeds from your pages.

Dated design

This one is somewhat subjective, but there are certain hallmarks of an outdated web design: crazy animations, hard to read text (usually light text on dark background, or a veritable rainbow of font colors), randomly-placed images, to name a few. Geocities is dead. It’s time for your nonprofit website to move on to better things.

How to fix it:   A complete makeover would be nice, but if that’s not in the cards, focus on fixing the most egregious cosmetic issues within your current design and platform. Start with your key pages and branch out from there. Make it easy to read and remove anything that makes your site look like this.

No contact information

The lights may be on, but without obvious and current contact information, is anyone really home? Your contact details give people an easy way to ask questions and find out more, plus openly listing this information on your website is a sign of trust and transparency.

How to fix it: Add your physical address, phone number, and a way to email you to the footer of your website. Place clear links to your “Contact Us” page within your site’s global navigation.

No clear way to donate

This is the first thing I look for when I am asked to review an organization’s website, and it’s amazing how many nonprofits still don’t have a prominently placed donation button on every page of their website. Without a clear and highly visible way to donate, you’re effectively telling donors: we don’t need your money.

How to fix it: Make your donate button big, bold, and above the fold of your website. Make sure your donate button actually says “Donate Now”, “Donate”, or “Give”. Fuzzy language won’t cut it here.

Slow to load

One Mississippi, two Mississippi … by three Mississippi your website better be finished loading, or most visitors will simply leave. It may not be fair, but people are impatient. They have better things to do than to wait for your carousel of images or Flash presentation to load.

How to fix it: Start by confirming there are no technical problems with your website’s platform or hosting service. Then, take a hard look at your website’s key pages and see how you can streamline them by removing extraneous images, code, or other files that are bogging down your site. A reputable web developer can also provide suggestions for other improvements that can speed up your site. (Bonus: Decluttering your site will have a positive effect on potential donors, making it easy for them to figure out what it is you do and why they should care.)

Not mobile friendly

When your nonprofit website is difficult to load (or completely dead) on a mobile device, you may as well not exist for that smartphone user. 56% of US adults are smartphone users, and they’re becoming more and more likely to read your emails and social media outreach on a mobile device. If your links take them to a site that’s non-functional on their phone, you’ve missed out on another opportunity to connect.

How to fix it: You don’t need a complete overhaul to make your website more mobile friendly. Focus on a handful of key pages (think: home page, donation page, contact page, any other pages you point to regularly from emails or social media) and improve them with these 8 tips for making your nonprofit website mobile friendly. (Bonus: Most mobile-friendly website tweaks will improve usability overall.)

What are your biggest website challenges? Have you made a recent change to your site that’s made a big difference? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Comment: (15)   


For non-profit sites, I can’t imagine not having a fully functional website. If anything, a properly run and organized web site is HUGE “stamp of legitimacy”, I suppose you could say, and having broken links, outdated information, or anything that makes it seem like your organization isn’t really on the ball is guaranteed to scare away a lot of people. How many times have you donated money or wanted to work with an organization that, when you visit their website, looks like utter garbage? It doesn’t fill you with confidence, and I can’t imagine wanting to work them.

In my hometown, I have done work with local nonprofits that, for virtue of lack of resources, do not have a website that serves a functional purpose beyond providing contact information and a depository of forms online (it is a scholarship foundation). In that case, even their website is simple, efficient, and professional looking, it’s just not the most important aspect of the org.

Good post! Thanks for the read, I look forward to more blog posts in the future.

Posted by Jon Klokov  on  08/14  at  11:47 PM

Your information is good for us for continual resources and no proper information to upload our activity, being a small NGO. Hence the info creats inspiration and accountable for development of Jeevan Sagar Trust.
May you keep us in mind and fix thing to give to the needy their dues.

Posted by Paul -- Ponniah  on  08/15  at  02:17 AM

One of the forgotten elements that people “set it and forget it” is website copy. Revisit your website copy once a year to answer these questions: does it make sense to someone who’s never heard of my organization? If someone skims my website, will they get the main points? Is it clear what we do, and why? Look at it from the perspective of someone outside the organization.

How to fix: Simple is always better. Eliminate all jargon, and re-write the copy as if you were speaking. In fact, try saying it out loud as you would to a friend, and typing at the same time. You’ll find that it’s simpler, clearer and easier to understand.

Posted by Leah Neaderthal  on  08/15  at  02:35 PM

Wow, we need to evaluate and implement changes!

Posted by Greggory Miller miller  on  08/15  at  06:38 PM

One of the biggest struggles I see with nonprofit websites is that identity content. So few nonprofits clearly communicate what they’re about on the home page. That one improvement makes a huge difference!
Here’s a page that explains it further:

Posted by Kathy Widenhouse  on  08/21  at  05:15 PM

This confused me at first. I wondered why a “nonprofit” website should be open for business but I understood what you meant as I read along. I agree, the content of your website should always be updated so potential donors wouldn’t think that the website had long been abandoned. You need to show that it is active and well-maintained.

Posted by Rob Pinkman  on  08/27  at  11:40 PM

Hi Caryn, Great article! Many nonprofits either still don’t have a large, prominent “Donate Now” button, or their donate link is hidden. Thank you for encouraging nonprofits to stop leaving money on the table.

Posted by Kirt Manecke  on  08/28  at  08:06 AM

These changes can really help develop nonprofit websites operates well online. Thanks for sharing some ideas.

Posted by Bob Chase  on  08/30  at  01:40 AM

Great Post - Thank you. One of your points that really hit home was the “broken links” within the webpage. Most people (including myself) didn’t even realize that their site had broken links until many visitors had already clicked on them. Another task I found beneficial was to create a good “404” page for when visitors either click on a broken link or “fat finger” part of a site’s URL.

Thanks for the useful information - I will be referencing this list as I update my website.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/05  at  02:32 PM

Hi, Caryn. I appreciate all the points but i think that you should mention about blog. I mean to say that having a blog for your non-profit website is an excellent idea. Blog plays an ideal role to create an impact on people. The blog helps people to experience the real power of a non-profit. Thanks for good article.

Posted by Michelle Hummel  on  01/03  at  01:59 AM

Thanks for posting, broken link checkers should be a industry standard!

Posted by James  on  01/04  at  07:10 PM

Excellent post Caryn. Nice blueprint to follow when setting up a site and all very valid and important points to take into

Posted by Peter Tenerife  on  01/06  at  04:52 AM

Great post. I see these all the time for non-profits. Another common non-profit mistake: too many fonts, too many font colors, random font sizing, and unprofessional use of bold text.

I’m seeing more non-profits (and more need to follow) that have someone on the board whose jobs is the website, or they’re a Communications Director and have another volunteer staffer they work with to update the site.

For non-profits that tend to forget their sites: when a new board starts their term, the website should always be on the agenda.

Posted by Janice Schwarz  on  02/27  at  05:34 PM

Spot on about contact information, always needed! Great article.

Posted by Max  on  02/27  at  07:29 PM

Broken links are some of the biggest repellent for the visitors, imagine a potential donor going through your site and wants to check out some of the stuff you are claiming you have done. And Bam!! they click the link which is broken. Big time mistake with those broken links.
Janice also makes a great point with unrelated font size.

Posted by Samual  on  03/06  at  03:55 AM

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