A Crash Course on Nonprofit Web Design

Murad Bushnaq • Apr 16, 2021

Your nonprofit’s website is one of your most valuable tools for engaging supporters online. If you accept virtual donations, your website is needed to educate supporters on your nonprofit’s work and guide them through the donation process. However, it’s not enough to simply have a donation page visible on your website to impress donors. 

Website design standards are constantly evolving, and users have certain expectations for modern websites. Poorly designed websites can come across as unprofessional or unsecure, which can cause visitors to abandon the site altogether. 

But what makes a website’s design stand out? Many of the best nonprofit websites follow similar design principles to attract and retain visitors’ attention. Many of us only passively notice these design elements, meaning we’re aware of what makes for quality web design but have trouble putting it into words and even more difficulty applying it to our designs. 

To help, this crash course will go over three key elements of nonprofit web design that you can implement when optimizing your website.

To help you fully grasp these integral web design concepts, each section will feature a straightforward definition, helpful examples, and the overall importance of each element. With the right content management system (CMS), you can incorporate many of these elements without help from a professional web developer.

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3 Key Nonprofit Website Design Elements

1. Navigation

Your website’s navigation helps visitors find their way around your website. Most websites use navigation bars that appear at the top of every page of their website, allowing visitors to quickly navigate to key pages in as few clicks as possible. 

Different websites prioritize different elements of their navigation based on what actions they want users to take. For example, nonprofit websites often feature a brightly colored donation button in their navigation bar to help it stand out. When a donation button is visible on every page, users can easily navigate to your donation page the moment they feel compelled to give. 

In addition to your navigation menu, effective navigation requires you to consider webpages’ layout and how it’ll drive users to engage further. For instance, you might embed forms or other calls-to-action on your homepage. Some organizations even skip the navigation menu on key pages (like their donation form) to eliminate distractions and help the user focus on the task at hand.

A clear, useful navigation system improves user experience by making essential information easy to find. Poorly designed navigation can cause your supporters to not complete an action not because they are uninterested, but because they couldn’t locate the appropriate page on your nonprofit’s website. 

You can review your current website’s navigation system and improve it by asking these questions: 

  • What pages are donors looking for? – Take a moment to decide what you most want users to interact with on your website, and craft your navigation menu to feature those pages. For nonprofits, your donation, volunteer, programs, and ‘About Us’ pages should likely be prioritized as they include opportunities to deepen supporters’ involvement and share information visitors are likely to look for. 
  • Will donors assume the correct pages are under each navigation title? – Users come to your website with certain expectations for how a website works. Ensure your nonprofit’s website meets these expectations by clearly labeling links so that most users will associate with the content it links to. For example, a page about your mission could be titled “What We Do,” “About Us,” or “Our Mission,” and users would likely find it without issue. On the other hand, a label like “New Horizons” might be creative and fit your brand but also confuse users. 
  • How many clicks does it take to reach important pages? – Practice navigating your website as if you were a new visitor. Time how long it takes you to find key pages on your website. Be sure to test your website on different devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Even when motivated, visitors will likely abandon a page if it takes too long to navigate to the content they’re looking for. Nestling content can be useful for organizational purposes, but ensure pages such as your donation form can also be reached with as few clicks as possible. 

A strong navigation system requires an understanding of how users interact with your website. As a nonprofit organization, you’ll want to prioritize your donation and volunteer forms, so consider how visitors find them on your website and what other content will drive them there. Analytics tools can help discover drop-offs at any part of the process—from first navigating to your website to filling out a form.

2. Visuals

Photos, icons, graphic design elements, and videos all make up the visual aspects of your website. Visual content tends to draw the eye before blocks of text, influencing your visitors’ first impression of your website. 

Your logo and other branding elements also count as visual elements. These elements create a sense of visual consistency and let visitors know they are on the same website as they navigate from page to page. As Morweb’s guide to association website best practices explains, “The presence of branding across your website—your donation and membership pages in particular—assures supporters that they are interacting with the right association.”

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Blocks of text are difficult to get through and can be overwhelming at first glance, and visuals provide breaks for the eye. Photos of your nonprofit in action can also communicate the value of your nonprofit’s mission more effectively than descriptions can. Images of your constituents allow visitors to identify with your nonprofit and make an emotional connection, which can motivate them to donate. 

Other key visual placements, such as a page’s hero image, also denote specific characteristics about your nonprofit to visitors, so choose these images wisely. A strong hero image can help convey your mission and brand, while a weak one might confuse visitors about your nonprofit’s purpose. 

Keep in mind that images and other visual media often slow down page loading times, which can frustrate visitors. Resize your images to fit your page’s dimensions, delete unnecessary duplicates, and compress them before adding them to your website.

3. Interactive Content

Interactive content includes any elements that respond to a user’s input. This can include: 

  • Forms
  • Petitions
  • Maps
  • Polls
  • Calculators 

When designing your nonprofit’s website, you can get creative about how your content will encourage visitors to engage. Content that moves, changes color, or otherwise reacts to users’ commands will draw attention to that element. 

Adding effective interactive content can be more of a technical challenge than other website elements, so consider seeking out nonprofit website builders that simplify the process. 

When it comes to web design, you only have so much time and space to attract visitors and direct them to your key content. Interactive elements encourage engagement and can cause visitors to perceive your mission in new ways. 

For example, an environmental group might create an infographic explaining different waste levels in local neighborhoods. By turning that still image into an interactive map, users will be more inclined to read the information as they find their specific location and compare it to others nearby. The interactive elements add an extra engagement level as users control and discover information that’s presented in the most creative way possible. 

Along with these more creative applications, your forms can also be considered interactive content. Even if your nonprofit is creating its website on a budget, these forms are vital for collecting and responding to user inputs. In your website maintenance, practice filling out and submitting your forms. 

Check to make sure that your forms: 

  • Are synced with your database. 
  • Accept multiple payment methods without failure. 
  • Are secure. 
  • Have multiple visual indicators (e.g., asterisks) for required information fields.
  • Display a thank you message upon submission.
  • Resizes for mobile, tablet, laptop, and desktop screens. 

If you encounter an error, prioritize fixing it, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your website provider’s support team if the problem is more complicated than your team can handle. Serious issues such as security vulnerabilities should be prioritized as they can discourage visitors from engaging with your nonprofit as a whole. 

Effective web design attracts visitors and allows them to navigate to the content they are looking for easily. Ensure your website enables interaction with your nonprofit rather than being an obstacle by continually practicing maintenance and updating your website to follow modern web design standards

By putting in the time to optimize your nonprofit’s website, you’ll drive more donors and supporters to your site, encourage them to explore your cause further, and contribute to your mission.

About the Author: 
Murad Bushnaq, Founder and CEO of Morweb

Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software, and strategic communication.