4 Dos and Don’ts of Nonprofit Website Design

Caryn Stein is as passionate about the need for a powerful nonprofit website design as she is for her other loves: singing karaoke and protecting animals.

As VP of Communication and Content for Network for Good, Caryn advises nonprofits on how to turn their websites into a magnet for visitors and donations.

With all the online options people have, it’s easy for nonprofits to believe that nonprofit website design isn’t important anymore.

But like that time she chose Paradise By The Dashboard Light for karaoke, Caryn is sure you’re not thinking clearly.

“Everyone talks about social media, but 55% of online donations still come through a nonprofit’s website,” said Caryn. “You need to make your web site a priority.”

The Do’s & Don’ts of Nonprofit Website Design

1. Keep it simple

  • Do: Engaging visitors emotionally is key.
  • Don’t: Overcomplicate your site by forcing people to think.

Timing is critical. “You only have a few seconds to engage a website visitor,” said Caryn. “If you don’t engage them emotionally you’ll lose them.”

As an animal lover, Caryn likes this example from LEWA Wildlife Conservancy:

Website design - LEWA Wildlife Conservancy

2. Stay on message

  • Do: Make it easy for visitors to understand what your nonprofit does.
  • Don’t: Fill your site with useless widgets and visual clutter.

Have you ever been to a website and been overwhelmed with all the buttons, widgets and images? There’s a name for that.

“‘Cognitive load’ refers to the amount of energy someone has to expend to understand your web site,” explained Caryn. “If they have to spend too much time figuring you out they may leave with the wrong message – or leave before they find one.”

A Washington D. C. native, Caryn likes this example from the local chapter of the Legal Aid Society.

Website design - Legal Aid Society

3. Invite visitors to take action

  • Do: Your website should have a clear call to action.
  • Don’t: Your CTA doesn’t always have to be a donation request.

“Yes, every website should have a “donate” button,” said Caryn. “But there are other ways to get visitors to donate, like buying t-shirts.”

A recent call to action on the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) home- page invited visitors to share their email for a “miracle band” and to buy a t-shirt via the social fundraising platform Booster.

CMN saw a jump in website conversions. “In less than month, CMN sold almost 1,000 shirts,” said Andrew Moss, president of Booster. “People get asked all the time to donate. But Booster tee allows supporters to donate and wear their support.”

Mobile website design booster

4. Make it easy for mobile users

Do: Get lots of feedback on your website from supporters, donors, creative types, colleagues, techies and strangers.

Don’t: Assume that everyone is looking at your nonprofit website design on a desktop.

“Nonprofits need a mobile-mindset,” said Caryn. “More people than ever are viewing your web site on tablets and smartphones, especially Millennials.”

An example of an organization getting mobile right is Curerett.org.


Interested in learning more about how your your nonprofit’s website and donation page can convert more donors? Watch Caryn’s webinar Nonprofit Website Hotline at Network for Good.

Joe Waters blogs at Selfishgiving.com and is an evangelist for Booster.


John Haydon