Design a Non-Profit Website That Works

It’s one thing to design a beautiful non-profit website. It’s another thing to design a non-profit website that engages donors and volunteers.

Non-profit websites should consider the same usability issues as their for-profit cousins and then some. BUT, the goals of the non-profit website are different compared to a corporate site, and so your site design should reflect this.

In today’s world, having a website is essential. For a nonprofit, it’s not only mandatory to have a website but to have a website that connects existing and potential supporters to your cause. In order to design a nonprofit website that drives donations and empowers supporters to be champions for your cause, you must:

  • Understand your audience
  • Provide an engaging experience
  • Deliver content that’s true to your brand
  • Use appropriate calls to action

Here are eight core design principles that will take the visitor experience on your nonprofit’s website from good to great, along with a few examples taken from 20 Best Nonprofit Websites by

1. Your Design is for your Audience. Not you.

Your audience is at the center of everything you do online. The design and content flow must cater to THEIR needs while being closely tied to YOUR organizational goals. It’s a delicate balance and not always easy to achieve, but this is the difference between websites that are good and websites that are great.

Amnesty International

2. Less is More.

Design is very subjective. It is the first thing that your audience experiences when they come to your website. You only have a few microseconds to impress them. Some like clean and modern, while others prefer traditional and more elaborate approaches to the design. Either way, there is always an elegant solution to the design challenge at hand. The way to arrive at this solution is to exercise the principle of ‘less is more’. Remember the old adage and Keep It Simple (S… you know how that ends). That includes your primary menu, which should have only a few options.

Conservation International

Conservation International


3. Be Clear.

This is closely tied with #2 above. If your website is cluttered and the navigation is confusing, then good luck getting your message across – if not driving your visitor away entirely. Your cause must be immediately obvious. How your visitor can help (by donating, volunteering, etc) needs to be just as obvious. Using infographics is an excellent way to deliver your message – and there are lots of design options available online these days – as well as clear calls-to-action such as “Donate” or “Volunteer”.


4. Give the media a break.

Media coverage is critical to spreading information about your non-profit and the cause. Making it easy for the media to find the information they need to cover your non-profit is in your best interest. Given that many nonprofits rely on volunteers, consider whether a media rep could quickly contact your volunteers – how soon can they actually get ahold of that person? Consider having a “Press” or “Media” page with your PSA and other relevant information right there in easy-to-access format.


5. Make key info easy to find.

Including quick links to more information about the non-profit and key figures in the non-profit. One of the most visited pages on any website is the “About” page and this goes double for a non-profit.

Nashville Zoo

nashville zoo

6. Brand Identity.

Every time an organization goes through a redesign effort, careful attention must be paid to how your brand will be perceived with your new design. Is the design evolutionary or revolutionary for your brand? Careful attention must be paid towards elements that defined your brand in the first place and ensure they are being refined – not redone. Try to make sure that the new brand and design still conveys the history of your organization while still being clear and effective. Be warned, this can be really difficult with the turnover of volunteers, which adds new voices to the conversation and therefore new opinions on how the brand should look.



7. Get the Word Out.

How are you sharing your information? Using a blog to get the word out and add your voice to the cause is one effective way. Your non-profit needs a voice; a blog can provide it.

Incorporate social media prominently. The causes that non-profits support spread easily across social media platforms. Non-profits should figure social media sharing capabilities more prominently into their design than their for-profit cousins.

Use an email newsletter to keep interested parties informed. Some of your site visitors will want more information but won’t be ready to donate time or money.  Give them the opportunity to engage further with your cause by joining an email newsletter.

And, remember #3 above: Be clear! Nobody wants a confusing message littering up an already-overflowing inbox.

8. Show your Successes.

Use text, video and images on your website that indicates that positive action is taking place. Donors and volunteers will want to know that their time and money is going to be well-spent. Your audience has to be “sold” on why they should do what you want them to do. So, let them know who you are, what you have done and then create a path for them to perform an action!

Natural Resources Defense Council