There are thousands upon thousands of nonprofit websites on the internet today.
They vary widely in design, layout, functionality, and purpose. But despite their differences, there are some elements which effective websites tend to have in common. These elements are instrumental to the website’s success as a great marketing tool, donor and patron engagement tool, and informational tool.
Before I go any further into the details of these elements, let me tell you who this article will help the most. If any of the following bullet points apply to your nonprofit’s website, then this article is tailor-made for you….
- No one visits the website
- It hasn’t been updated or redesigned in 5-10 years
- It isn’t updated every year to reflect new program info, staff changes, forms, events, etc.
- It isn’t a major source of donations
- It isn’t a major source of ticket sales/event RSVPs/class registrations
- You don’t direct patrons and community members to it regularly
With that out of the way, I want to tell you that a great website is like a great cake. Baking requires quality ingredients and precise measurements in order for the finished product to be amazing. Websites are exactly the same.
And the most effective arts nonprofit websites definitely share some traits. In no particular order, here they are:
1. Modern layout
A modern layout is essential as data shows that you have only a few seconds to grab the attention of your website visitor before they decide that your site isn’t worth their time and leave. To do this, I recommend a simple layout with branded colors and fonts, great imagery and videos, and not too much clutter.
2. Free of clutter, lots of whitespace
Speaking of clutter, it’s worth it’s own bullet point. When you have tons and tons of text and images all on one page, you overwhelm your site visitors. Because they aren’t sure what to focus on first, many will leave your site altogether. Those who stay may miss the most important elements to which you wanted to draw their attention.
My advice is to keep it simple. Organize your pages in a logical manner. If you find yourself including lots of information on a single page, then you probably need to break the content up into separate pages. Use headings, subheadings, and imagery to break up the page and give user’s eyes a break. And don’t forget: white space is your friend. It creates a nice, clean look, makes your content easier to read and consume, and makes it more likely that your users will stick around long enough to actually read it.
3. Great copywriting
As mentioned in previous blog posts, copywriting matters. It can convince someone to take an action or fall in love with your org. Or it can bore them to tears. Your choice.
My advice is to set a goal for each page of your website. Also have an exact person in mind to whom you are writing. Then, and only then, write the copy for that page. Keep it conversational, not academic. Ask yourself if it’s compelling enough that people would want to share it with friends. And finally, edit your copy several times until it’s clear, concise, and only as long as it absolutely must be.
4. Compelling imagery and modern graphics
A picture is worth a thousand words and in many cases, they tell a story better than words. So it makes sense that the best websites have put thought and effort into the imagery they’ve chosen and how those images are used throughout their sites.
My advice? If you can tell a story with a photo, video, or graphic, do it. If you can add to your copy with imagery to drive your point home, do it. Don’t overload your pages with images just for the sake of having them, but do make sure that when you use them they make sense, are high-quality, and pack an emotional punch.
5. Prominent donation button
Great nonprofit websites bring in lots of online donations. And it isn’t just because they have a wonderful mission and a dynamite development director (although those things may be true). It’s because they’ve designed their website to be a donation-generating machine.
My advice is to put a prominent donation button in the menu of the site. Also place donation forms in places on the website that make sense, such as on a page referring to your programming or planned capital improvements. Also include “Calls to Action” to donate throughout your site in relevant spots.
6. Events calendar
All arts nonprofits have events. Maybe for you those events are fundraisers, or gallery openings, or concerts, or outreach events. It doesn’t really matter. Great arts nonprofit websites have interactive events calendars on their websites that it make it super easy for patrons to find all the relevant information and then quickly RSVP or buy a ticket.
My advice is to integrate a calendar into your website and then make sure it always has the latest info about your events. Always include the what, when, why, who, and how about your events. Include ticket pricing, dress code, parking information, and anything else an attendee would need to know. And don’t send them through 2 other pages or to an outside website for them to buy a ticket or save their seat. Make it simple and quick for them to do it.
7. Dynamic Content
A static website is one where it always contains the same information. You cannot interact with it, nothing changes from one day to another, and there’s not much reason for anyone to check it more than once. Great arts nonprofit websites are not static. They are dynamic, with new information, updates, and interactive content coming out all the time.
My advice to is create a blog and update it at least a few times a month so that people have a reason to check back and see what’s new. Make sure they can comment on blog posts, share information or pages from the site, and download information that might be useful to them (like season brochures).
8. Easy navigation
A website with a million pages, thousands of links, no clear way to find what you’re looking for, and no search function is not a great website. It’s a nightmare. And most website visitors will show how much they agree with that statement by promptly leaving the website and never coming back.
My advice is to emulate the great arts nonprofit websites and keep things simple. Use only the amount of pages needed to organize information vital and current to your org. Organize these in a menu, with submenu items as needed. Include relevant links on relevant pages. Make sure your site has a search bar so people can easily look for exactly what they need.
9. Up-to-Date information
Great arts nonprofit websites update their content regularly. They don’t let out-of-date information, images, or dates to stay up because they understand that doing so gives the impression that the website isn’t maintained and isn’t worth coming back to.
My advice is to promptly update your site each time anything changes within your org. You should be regularly updating staff names and contact info, event dates, season info, 990s and annual reports, and more. If you don’t currently have a way to update your site, hire someone to make one-time updates or hire a developer who can put your site on a platform which you can easily update yourself.
10. Everything is easy and frustration-free
Above all, great arts nonprofit websites do not frustrate their visitors. This means that everything should be simple, easy to understand, fast, and appealing to the eye.
My advice is to send some people to your website who have never seen it before and ask them for their honest feedback. Based upon that feedback, you should be able to identify which parts of your site are frustrating or needlessly convoluted. Once you know, take steps to change those portions!
If your arts nonprofit’s website can check all the boxes detailed above, then you’re doing pretty darn good! If not, then it’s time to do some revamping. Call your web developer, learn the skills needed to do it in-house, or hire someone to help out with this as a one-time project. Just make sure you make it a priority, because a great website will pay for itself many times over if you get the ingredients correct.
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I would also love to know what website challenges your nonprofit is facing. Leave a comment below to tell me!