7 Elements Every Nonprofit Website Must Have in 2017

…to reach more people, cultivate more supporters, and do more good.

Is your nonprofit website going to help or hurt your cause in 2017? These seven key elements can make or break your ability to reach your audience and convert visitors into active supporters.

The online landscape is constantly evolving; while you don’t have to waste resources keeping up with every single trend out there, there are some that have become vital to online success—which is increasingly tied to the overall success of your organization.

From responsive design, to simple email signup forms, to prominent calls to action, incorporating these seven must-have features will boost your nonprofit’s reach, engagement, and impact.

1. Responsive Design

In 2016, more than two thirds of all digital media time was spent on mobile devices (see 2016 Mobile Trends: What Non-Profits Need to Know and Do). Since that number is only likely to grow, incoporating “responsive design” is crucial to ensuring that visitors can properly see and navigate your site.

What is Responsive Design?

When a website is responsive, the layout and/or content automatically adapts to the size of the screen it’s presented on, regardless of whether the user is viewing it from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The responsive code (primarily CSS) is a set of instructions to the web browser that tells it how to behave based on its resolution. If done right, the site will look and function as if it was specifically designed for whichever screen or device someone is using.

How can you check if your site is responsive and looks good on multiple devices?

There are many websites and tools that can simulate how a page will appear on different size screens. Our favorite is a convenient (and free) tool built right into the Chrome browser that allows you to inspect how your website will be viewed on various devices. Simply right-click on the page you want to check and select “Inspect” from the pop-up menu, then select the screen size you want to preview it on from the dropdown menu above the content (see the screenshot in this section for help).

For more on the importance of mobile for nonprofits, check out our article: Mobile Fundraising 101: What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know

Responsive design optimizes layout for all platforms
Your content should look good and read well on every size screen.
Chrome inspect tool showing how our website appears on various platforms and screen sizes.

2. Email Signup Forms

Social media platforms like Facebook are great, but the rules change all the time, and you often have to pay to have your content seen—even to people who already said they want to see it. That’s why your email list is your most valuable digital asset.

Let’s assume that you’ve done the hard work of driving visitors to your site, and you’ve shown them that you’re doing great work that they’re interested in. Some might be ready to take action right away, like donate or volunteer. Others will need time to get on board. If you don’t capture a way to keep in touch with them, you have to start from scratch every time you want to share something—be it a new article or a fundraising campaign.

That’s why every page on your website should have an easy-to-find email signup form, with a clear call to action (more on this in the next section) and description of the value they’ll receive from your emails.

Not sure what to say? You don’t have to get overly creative. Here’s a simple formula:

Get the latest [alerts/articles/offers/opportunities] about [subject your audience cares about] every [how often you send out newsletters]!

Tip: The more info you ask for in your form, the less likely someone will fill out the form. Simple forms with just an the email address field are is enough to secure those engaged subscribers and build your list. When they’re ready to donate, volunteer, or do more, they’ll share more of their information.

Feel free to test it out by using our signup form in this section :)

Simple Email signup form
Email signup forms should be short and simple.

Get helpful articles like this right in your inbox!

This contact form is deactivated because you refused to accept Google reCaptcha service which is necessary to validate any messages sent by the form.

We hate spam and never share your email address—just great ideas to help your nonprofit do more good.

3. Prominent Calls to Action

Your nonprofit relies on its members and supporters to accomplish its goals. When your supporters act—whether donating, volunteering, signing a petition or sharing your content—your cause is furthered. But if they have to think about what they can do to help, you’ll likely lose people to their next distraction. That’s why your website must have a prominent call to action (CTA) on every page and every piece of content.

What Makes a Good Call to Action?

A good CTA should stand out (visually), include a clear and “actionable” headline and, when possible, provoke an emotional response.

Not all calls to action should be “DONATE NOW.” Give people alternatives like signing up for an email list, attending an event, signing a petition, following you on social media or sharing content with others. Most importantly, the call to action should resonate with the content found on the page. A great article may prompt someone to want to sign up for your newsletter. A great story about the impact your organization is making may be enough to solicit a donation or other ways to get involved.

Tip: Use “buttons” in your calls to action. We’re already trained to associate buttons with action. A simple link looks like a suggestion for more information, a button looks like an action trigger.

For more ways to ask for action without asking for money, take a look at: Online Tools Nonprofits Can Use to Create Social Change

Give your audience a chance to be a hero with a clear call to action
Give your audience a chance to be a hero with a clear call to action.
You can be our hero by sharing this article with others who might find it helpful.

4. Customized Social Media Sharing

Whether your organization regularly shares its content on social media, or your visitors and supporters occasionally do it themselves, how your content appears on the various social networks has a direct impact on engagement. For example, Facebook prefers post images with a 1.91:1 aspect ratio (1200px wide by 628px tall) and minimal text, and looks for additional meta data (called “open graph” or “og” tags) to help it display exactly what you want people to see. Make sure images, titles and descriptions fit the guidelines for each social network, and that they capture your audience’s attention.

Tools that Can Improve your Social Sharing

How content appears on various social networks
Your content should look good and read well on every social network.
Facebook Meta Inspector showing the Facebook data contained in the meta tags of our webpage.

5. Effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Similar to social media, customizing how your website appears on search engines is important for your rankings and for driving traffic to your site. Your meta tags (title, description, and content type) will dictate how Google and others display your page in search results, so they should provide a concise explanation of the contents of each page.

A good description lets searchers know whether your page is what they’re looking for, helps improve the click-through rate, and should ideally be between 150-160 characters long, while your title should be less than 65 characters to avoid being truncated in results. To maximize click-through rates on search engine result pages (SERPs), you should use relevant keywords that searchers are most likely to use in their search query. Lastly, be sure your titles are not too long or else they will be cut off.

Another element that Google and other search engines look at when they index your page is the content structure. Using proper headings (as marked by heading tags in your content) is critical to helping these crawlers (indexing programs) understand what the most relevant themes of the page are.

Tip: If you’re on WordPress, we recommend Yoast SEO for customizing how your pages will appear on search engines and on social media (the free version does more than most orgs will need): https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/#features

SEO results on a laptop
Using relevant keywords can have a direct impact on whether people find your site.

6. Insightful Analytics

You’re adding articles, sharing things on email and social media, running ad campaigns, and doing what you can to get your message out. But how do you know if your online strategy is working?

Tracking your website’s performance with can give you valuable insight, such as how much traffic your site gets, which pages are most popular, and where the traffic is coming from—including email campaigns, social media sharing, and search engines.

How Analytics Works

Most analytics platforms will run a script (a bit of Javascript code) on every page of your site that drops a “cookie” on your visitor’s device the first time they access your site. Then, every time that same user visits a page on your site, the analytics platform tracks their movement, gathering data such as the amount of time they spent on the page, where they came from and where they went next. No personal information is revealed to you or to advertisers (on sites that use advertising) at any time.

Google’s Analytics is free and incredibly powerful. Adding it to your site can tell you how visitors interact with your website, with useful information such as the total time a visitor spends on your site, the time a user spends on each page and in what order those pages were visited, and what internal links were clicked. You can also learn some things about your visitors, such as their geographic location, what type of device (mobile or desktop) they’re using, and even what browser and operating system they’re on.

Tip: You can set up “goals” to monitor how many people complete a registration form, reach your donation “thank you” page after starting the process, or hit “share” from your content.

This data can help you get an understanding of what your audience is (and is not responding to), which marketing efforts are working, and how many people are taking the actions you want them to take.

If you don’t have it yet, learn how to get started with Google Analytics here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1008015?hl=en

Tracking Analytics
Tracking your data with Google Analytics can give you some useful insight into your audience.

7. Rich, Engaging Visuals

It’s no secret that humans are visual creatures. Images attract our attention, stir up our emotions, and incite reactions. We process images at a far greater rate than text, and are more likely to remember them. It’s a large part of the reason platforms like Instagram are so popular today.

But bold visuals shouldn’t just be relegated to social media or photo galleries. Consider how your website utilizes visual content on every page. No matter how well-written your articles or even “informational” pages like your mission statement, images can communicate much more than 1,000 words, employing an additional learning modality and reaching your visitors on a whole new different level.

The right visual inspires the right reaction
Don’t underestimate the power of the right visual.

Some Visual Content Statistics

94%

increase in view rates for content with images

180%

increase in engagement for posts with images

40%

of people respond better to images than text

90%

of information transmitted to our brain is visual

50%

of our brain is active in visual processing

60,000x

faster processing by our brains of visuals than text

Finding the right image for each page and post of your site can be challenging. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and paid sources to find just the right photo.

  • Your own library of photos taken by staff, volunteers and beneficiaries is always going to tell your story best, so start here!
  • There are several great free photo sites you can download from. Just be sure to check the license and attribution requirements before you download:
    • Pixabay collects user-contributed, license-free photos from around the world. (See more about Pixabay in our tools section.)
    • Creative Commons has a large collection of “use and remix” images, allowing you to edit them to your heart’s (or your content’s) desire.
    • Library of Congress Pictures offers “more than 14 million” government-owned and public domain images.
    • Flickr users can and frequently do offer their photos under Creative Commons licenses (often free to use with proper attribution).
  • Consider hiring a professional photographer for your next event. A trained photographer knows how to tell a story with each shot, and frees your participants to focus on the occasion.
  • Stock photo sites like Shutterstock and Getty Images can be expensive, but look around. Sites like 123rf and DepositPhotos often have the same or similar images for lower rates. (Tip: if you’re going to be using them often, a bulk pack or subscription may save you a lot of money in the long run.)

Action Steps: Prepare your Nonprofit Website for 2017

  1. Responsive Design: Check to see how your site appears on various platforms/screen sizes using the Chrome inspect tool.
  2. Email Signup Forms: Make sure they are easily found on every page, and remove as many fields as possible.
  3. Calls to Action: Check that each page has a relevant “next step” to take and that it corresponds with the content on the page.
  4. Social Media: Use the Facebook inspector, Twitter validator and other tools to see and customize how your content will appear.
  5. SEO: Craft keyword-rich, relevant titles, descriptions, and headings for all pages and posts.
  6. Analytics: Connect with Google Analytics (if you haven’t already) and make sure you’re tracking how visitors are interacting with your site.
  7. Visuals: Select at least one engaging visual for each page that helps tell the story, highlighting your nonprofit’s work and impact on the world.

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Want help with these strategies or other ways of increasing your impact? We’re happy to help.

Our course offers a great way to think about (and execute on) your online goals.