What makes a great nonprofit website?

Written by Emily Owen on 17th August 2022

(Last updated 8th November 2023)

Although there is no prescriptive format for ‘good design’ (your colour scheme, fonts, tone of voice and fucntionality will all be dependant on your brand identity and your audience requirements) there are, nonetheless, some baseline best-practices to consider when developing an NGO website:

Ensure the design is easy to navigate 

Let’s start with one of the most staple requirements. Before getting preoccupied with design trends or features you’ve seen other NGO websites using, you need to ensure that your website architecture and navigation are logical so that your core content and messages are easy to find. Start by listing all of the pages or pieces of content that you want to include on your site, then group these pages into “buckets” or parent labels to organise them. For example, “Mission”, “History” and “Careers” pages could be grouped under “About Us”, whereas “Campaigns” and “Projects Map” could sit under “Our Work”. This is the beginning of what’s called a sitemap and will form the basis for your website navigation menu. There will be numerous different ways to group your site content so it is essential to think out the options and get a final version clearly laid out in a sitemap before you begin any development work.  

Think about accessibility and mobile requirements now, not later

For many charities, NGOs and nonprofits, accessibility and inclusivity are at the heart of their mission statement. Unfortunately, this isn’t always reflected in their online presence, with a number of websites still failing to meet basic accessibility requirements. Along with accessibility, the mobile responsiveness of a page or piece of content is something that is too frequently an afterthought. This combination can lead to a very poor experience for a significant percentage of users (mobile users make up 54% of nonprofit web traffic). Some common but easy-to-resolve pitfalls we see include: 

  • Not adapting brand guidelines for web use. For example, the pastel yellow in your logo may stand out on printed materials but the shade could need adjusting for it to have enough contrast to be used as a button on your website. Low contrast text is actually the most commonly detected accessibility issue on the world's top 1 million websites. Be better than them by utilising this free colour contrast checker to give your colours a test.
  • Using text inside images. Text inside an image is not accessible, unlikely to be readable on mobile, and very likely to look rubbish (pass me a megaphone for those at the back!). Take the text out of your image and use a text and image component instead or take the icons and text out of your infographic and format them into a list or custom animation
  • Not using descriptive anchor text for links. Read this. Click here. Learn more. This kind of non-descriptive link text does not provide any sort of information about the linked item, meaning the link will not have any context for a user with a screen reader or for a search engine. 

Provide fast pagespeeds – including for users in low-bandwidth areas

Having a fast-loading website is the expected standard, not only by users but also by search engines, which will now take pagespeeds into consideration as a ranking factor. Bear in mind that your site needs to be quick to load for all users, including any of your target audience who may be in rural or low-bandwidth areas. In order to achieve this, some of the simplest things you can control which do not involve a developer are: 

  • Choosing a performance-focused hosting company; 
  • Ensuring all images are optimised for web use before you even think about uploading them; 
  • Using Google Tag Manager to load third-party scripts, widgets and popups, and keeping these to an absolutely-necessary minimum.

Write rich, informative, and captivating copy 

Too often, we see just a few short bullet points on a page. Although it is important to stay focused on your message and get to the point, this type of content is unlikely to be enough to persuade your audience to get involved with your cause or to allow any sense of personality to come through. From a user’s point of view, this is quite boring. From an SEO point of view, too-low a word count means search engines are unlikely to identify your page as unique and authoritative among the billions of others online.

An ideal page length is at least 300 words or more. If you’re struggling to think of what to say, then draw on a mixture of the qualitative and quantitative information you have available to bring a page to life. Tell your story as if speaking directly to your audience and avoid using internally focused jargon that won’t mean anything to them. If writing really isn’t your strong point, then look at budgeting for a copywriter with experience in writing nonprofit website content. 

Include strong calls to action on every page 

What do you want your audience to do once they’ve read your page? It could be to make a donation, watch a video, sign a petition, subscribe to a newsletter or to get in touch about a nonprofit website design. This is the call to action. Make sure every page has one, even news articles. At the very least, include a “Donate” button or contact option in your site header/footer and make it a dominant colour. Preferably though, each page would have a contextual call to action for a hand-flourished and personal feel. Write calls to action in an active voice to encourage engagement and place them in a banner or highlight box to increase visibility. There’s nothing wrong with repeating calls to action throughout a long page, just avoid being spammy and overdoing it.

Keep content fresh and share your impact

Whether this content comes in the form of news articles, blog posts, case studies or research findings, publishing regular updates about your impact and successes serves two key purposes. Firstly, this kind of content is important to your audience, both internal or external. For regular donors or stakeholders it validates your efforts and proves your value, whereas new users can see what they will be contributing to by getting involved. Secondly, fresh website content is vital for SEO, and smaller pieces of content like this are easier to produce on a regular basis. One thing to be wary of though is repeating page titles / article headlines, try to keep them unique. 

Choose a suitable Content Management System (CMS) that can handle your functionality requirements

There are many CMS platforms to choose from but going for the cheapest option may not prove most cost-effective in the long term, if it cannot accommodate all of your functionality requirements and support your website and organisation as you grow. Some of the common requirements of our NGO clients are: 

  • An intuitive and user friendly interface, making it easy to train new starters and fellow team members
  • The option to create new pages, with flexible content layouts, without the need to use a developer 
  • Open source, to avoid yearly license fees and allow for adaptation and integrations 
  • Built in on-page and technical SEO capabilities, giving every user easy control over optimisation

The requirements above are just a few of the reasons we choose the TYPO3 CMS for developing our NGO and nonprofit websites.

Conclusion

Clear navigation, accessible and performant, with well-written content, all supported by a suitable CMS. This is the core combination for a great nonprofit website and having these basics covered will go a surprisingly long way to helping your organisation to stand out online.

We hope this summary guide helps you to stay focused on the simpler side of things but if you're going through the website planning process and struggling to define your mission statement or you've lost track of your audience needs, then do get in touch.

This article was posted in Nonprofit, Development by Emily Owen

  • Emily Owen

    Emily Owen

    Emily is a Senior Account Manager & Business Development Strategist. When she's not consulting on digital strategy for Liquid Light and our clients, she's usually travelling around in her campervan with Poppy, our resident sheepdog.