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Four Steps to a More Engaging Website

March 12, 2013

When was the last time you asked a donor or volunteer how they felt about your website? Ever?

The biggest mistake non-profits make when planning their websites is imagining they are the target audience. Every day I see non-profit websites with navigation based on the organization’s departments and programs, overflowing with content written by the bossiest department/manager/staff who determine the priority – often their department or program.

Stop doing that.

Important element #1:  Figure out what your visitors are looking for and organize your site’s navigation with that in mind. Hint: ask them.

A website refresh needs to begin with a look from the perspective of your audience – your donors, supporters, activists, volunteers and people in the community who don’t yet know you.

Important element #2:  Determine what your visitors are interested in and develop content around that. Tell stories about how you’re making a difference.

Important element #3:  Simplify, simplify, simplify. Less is more.

Navigation should be intuitive and reflect what your audience expects to find. A visitor should know within an instant of landing on your homepage where to find what they’re looking for. Or they’ll leave.

Important element #4:  Be beautiful. Visual design is powerful. Use it effectively.

You have a split second to pique a visitor’s interest when they land on your site. Be compelling. Evoke an emotional response through images and stories.

Make it easy for your visitors to find what they’re looking for by providing clean, clear navigation and minimal text. How do you achieve that? Seth Godin said it best when he advised organizations to “fire the committee!”. A group of people cannot build a great website. Either hire a really, really talented professional or appoint someone in your organization with creative talent and organizational skills to be the “Official Website Coordinator”. They report back, ensure milestones are met, research and confirm content.

Here is a shortlist of what your non-profit landing page should have on it:

1.  Evidence of your organization’s passion. Share compelling stories about what you’re doing. You want them to care. Make people cry. Or make them laugh.

2.  Tell your visitors who you are and what you do. You have 10 seconds. Go!

3.  Clear opportunities for your visitors to engage with you—volunteer, attend an event, sign a petition, join the movement, take out membership, give.

4.  Social Links to your social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest—where visitors can connect with you.

5.  Lots of images showing how you’re helping, of your volunteers and staff in action and of how you engage with your community.

6.  A big, shiny donate button with clear reasons why they should. You have 10 seconds.

7.  Email sign up so you can communicate with people who are ASKING to be kept informed about your organization. They already like you, feed them!

8.  Show where the money goes.

Want a few more ideas? Check out my previous post on communicating your brand.

Here are a few sites doing it really, really well:

World Wildlife Fund:

Compelling, clear, image rich site.

Charity Water:

Well branded, compelling stories and ways to donate.

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research:

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

Think you can only do this with a huge budget? Think again. Allow these sites to inspire you to be creative within your budget. Here’s our local Safety Village site:

The Safety Village

What sites would you add?

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2 Comments
  1. Great post Lori, you hit the nail on the head, developing the website’s navigation and content based on your visitors / target market wants and needs. One of my biggest pet peeves is websites that are self centred and always talk about themselves… look what we did… look at our…. etc.

  2. Thanks Eric. The “look at me, aren’t we great!!!” sites are everywhere and it’s not just the non-profits.

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