10 Keys to Effective Non-Profit Organization Websites

Non profit organizations tend to have limited budgets and limited involvement from members for planning, designing and maintaining websites. This often results in a site that doesn’t really achieve everything that it could for the organization and the people involved. In recent years there has been an increasing number of organizations that are doing great things with their websites and truly making them valuable and effective.

In this article we’ll look at the keys to an effective non-profit organization website, while showcasing some examples from specific sites.

If your organization is looking for an affordable and professional website, please see the free websites that we have to offer for non-profit organizations and churches.

1. Clear Description of the Organization’s Mission/Purpose

Many of the visitors that will be arriving at the website will not be familiar with the organization. Upon arriving, they should be able to quickly get an idea of why the organization exists and a basic picture of what they do.

The full mission statement or purpose statement is sometimes part of an About Us page, but first time visitors to the home page should have an idea of why the organization exists without even visiting another page. The About Us page can of course provide more details, but visitors should not need to navigate through the site in order to understand the basic purpose of the organization.

There are a number of different ways to help convey a message of mission or purpose on a home page. In some cases there will be a brief one or two sentence statement that is located in a prominent position. Photos and images can also help to communicate purpose.


2. Concise but Complete Information About the Organization’s Background and Basics

Once new visitors have arrived at the site and quickly determined that mission or purpose of the organization, if it is something that interests them, they may want to find out more details. Providing information about the history of the organization can be a great help for connecting on a deeper level with visitors. You may want to include details about when and why the organization was founded, and by whom. Important dates, milestones, achievements, and evidence of growth and impact should also be included.


3. Clear Idea of the Sites Visitors and the Organization’s Audience

One of the difficult aspects of working with non-profit websites is that they can have several different audiences, and the needs of each will vary. For example, one audience will include members, supporters, and volunteers who are all familiar with the organization and use the website to stay up-to-date.

Another audience includes individuals who are not familiar with the organization and are being introduced to it through the website. These people will generally be looking for information about what the organization does, why it exists, and hopefully how they can get involved.

A third audience may be the people that are being served by the organization. For example, an organization that helps low-income families with housing may have a website that attracts people who are looking for help from the organization. These people would be most interested in the details of the services that are provided and how they can apply or request assistance.

As you can see, a non-profit or charitable organization’s website must meet the needs of several different types of people, and all are equally important. The site must provide the necessary information and visitors will need to be able to easily find what they are looking for.

Manna Food Bank

4. Information for Donors

Most non-profit organizations rely heavily on donations in order to function. A growing number of organizations are accepting donations online, which makes it easy and convenient for donors. Whether an organization is accepting online donations or not, it should provide relevant information for donors. This may include how they can give, what specific programs or purposes they can give to, fundraising goals and progress, details about how the money is used or handled, and information about tax deductions.


5. Information for Volunteers

In addition to monetary gifts, volunteers who are offering their time and services are also critical to most non profits. The website should provide information that tells people how they can get involved, how it will make an impact, and provide them with an opportunity to express their interest in volunteering.

Housing Works

6. Photos of People Who are Impacted

Visitors like to see pictures of people that are being helped through their donations or volunteer efforts. By including photos of the people who are benefiting from the work of the organization, it will provide a much more personal experience for website visitors. In addition to photos, some organizations include stories or testimonials on their site about the impact that is being made. This is a great way to encourage people to get involved because it is easier to see the results and how it is impacting real people, as opposed to simply seeing statistics.

Africa Oasis Project

7. Contact Information

Some of the website visitors may wish to get in contact with the organization about volunteering, receiving assistance, employment opportunities, donations, or any number of things. The site should at least provide a contact form or email address, and in most cases a phone number and mailing address should also be included.

Memphis Zoo

8. Design that Fits with the Organization’s Culture

So far we haven’t discussed anything about the design or appearance of the site. Non profit organization websites should feature a design that is consistent with the message and culture of the organization, as it will help to communicate with visitors and to brand the organization. In many cases you can tell a lot about an organization’s culture by the style of design. Take for example church websites. Many churches appeal to young adults through a grunge-style design. You would not expect to see this type of design used by a church that has an older audience.

Genesis Church

9. Email Newsletter Signup

Regardless of the type of work that the organization does, it is important to stay in contact with people who are involved and to keep them up-to-date. Many organizations that have been around for a long time are still spending huge amounts of money each year that could be greatly reduced with better use of email newsletters. The website should offer visitors the option of opting in to receive updates from the organization. In some cases it may be just a single newsletter, and in other cases there may need to be multiple mailing lists for various purposes.


10. News and Events Sections

In order to help visitors to stay up-to-date, to make the website more useful, and to add some dynamic content to the site that is changed frequently, it is a good practice to include an event calendar and news items. This way people can check the website to see what is coming up and participation should be improved. News items could be displayed through a blog on the organizations site, or a separate blog could be used for the interaction between the organization and visitors.

Divide the Word

To see some examples of well-designed non-profit websites, see these posts from our archives:

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.

42 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Josh, January 21, 2011

    Thanks for the feedback Vandelay,

    We use drupal which is fine from a cost perspective but the time and energy required is daunting for someone with a decent amount of web design experience but not with drupal where something like fixing a broken primary link menu (top-navigation) or a bit of broken css code takes hours, not minutes like you could do with a “more traditional” CMS or even notepad and FTP!

    We’re probably stuck with what we’ve got for now since the big change happened just a couple of years ago but I’ll keep coming back to your sight for more ideas to build a case for the future! Maybe WP will look better to the powers that be then.

  • Tirso Serrano, January 21, 2011

    very clear and back to basics advise on building websites… the hard part is how to operationalize interactive features, especially for potential donors… maybe we could have more of these things…. thanks!

  • Josh, January 20, 2011

    Excellent post. So here’s a question. What have you, or your readers, found to be a good CSM to run a non-profit website through? Are CSM’s the answer or is straight up programming and uploading to the web server a better option?

    What have those who programmed the other sites used? Phil Franks, if you read this I love the simplicity and usability of your design. Well done?

    • Vandelay Website Design, January 21, 2011

      WordPress is popular for non-profits and that is one that we use a lot. A lot of non-profits are working with limited budgets, so open source options like WP or Drupal help to keep costs down and they can be hosted anywhere. ExpressionEngine is a quality CMS for those clients who are willing to pay a license fee. There are some others that target non-profits or churches specifically, like http://www.ekklesia360.com/, and they often have some extra features that are especially useful for these organizations.

  • Home Carpet, November 10, 2010

    Brilliant designs!

    I particularly liked the picture under #6 – Africa Oasis.

    I think the stylistic framing on this one is particularly effective.

    Good job!

  • Joycelyn, October 20, 2010

    I have really been struggling with making our website look like who we are. Thank You for the valuable info.

  • Adele, August 22, 2010

    Thanks so much for the valuable information. We are on the verge of upgrading our site and really needed this information. God bless!!

  • LW Creative, May 21, 2010

    For website photos I use two good sources:

    free – Microsoft clip art
    (to see photos only, type in the search words & then select “photos” from the drop down menu)

    low cost – http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php
    If using for the web only, select the smallest size which is only a couple of dollars. It has tons of highly professional photos to select from. Hint: you can download a “comp” to try in your design.

  • Virginie, May 19, 2010

    Thanks a lot for the post. I am volunteering for a non-profit organization and try to set-up a website for them. We are a fairly new and small group and of course funds are very limited. I am wondering, does anyone have any tip regarding picture content? Is there a way to get free pictures (and royalty free too) that I could use on the website? Thanks for any suggestion.

  • John Richards, April 1, 2010

    I am about to publish a website for an accounting for nonprofit organization and I came across this post. Thanks for the advice because we really need all the help we can get to let the people know about us.

  • Dan, March 9, 2010

    Great article and thank you for posting http://africaoasisproject.org/ . This is a project I designed and worked on a few years ago. A worthy organization, and a great project to have been involved in. Thanks again.

  • Phil Franks, February 24, 2010

    New site that we just launched here at dynamIt in Columbus, OH for a great non profit organization, check it out!


  • surrey carpet, February 20, 2010

    very good post I will try and put some of this knowledge to the test

  • Web Design Kent, February 20, 2010

    Good tips, its the same with all websites… let people find the information they want as quickly as possible

  • Cymberly, February 20, 2010

    I work for an interactive agency that specializes in nonprofits, and I have to say that the biggest thing that was missed was the opportunity to donate. If the goal is to fundraise, a clear donation opportunity should be prominent and present on every page of the site. You want to make it as easy as possible for your donors to give.

  • Mike, February 20, 2010

    I like the idea of keeping a running ticker on the site with how many dollars they need to meet their pledge goal.

  • TutsBot, February 19, 2010

    Great article

    I will put it in mind ;)

  • New York Web Designer, February 18, 2010

    Another Great article.. Well done

  • babloodmax, February 18, 2010

    Hi Buddy!!!

    You above mentioned all for good non-profit org.. websites i accept it is for really safety for all…thanks for sharing..meet again.

  • neha, February 18, 2010

    Amazingly well written article.

  • christian, February 18, 2010

    Excellent break down of what is important for non-profit organization websites. Well done.

  • Tommy Day, February 17, 2010

    Great timing, I’m in the process of designing a site for a non-profit right now!

  • Chris Thurman, February 17, 2010

    I’m the webmaster for a fairly large non-profit camp ministry and I also build a lot of sites for churches and other non-profits. It’s great to prioritize the purposes of the site because many times the budget doesn’t allow for everything, especially for smaller non-profits. This is a great reference to show potential clients as well as when I’m thinking about the needs for our own site. Great post!