The Purpose of Design for Nonprofits and How to Maximize Your Impact
Why design and storytelling can be used by nonprofits to increase their impact, and how you can achieve this in simple steps.
Feb 5, 2024
What's your nonprofit's strategy of attracting potential donors and partners? Are you raising funds via a phone call, mail, or at a fundraiser event? What if I told you that your website can help you further your impact and ensure financial sustainability?
There are two main reasons why websites facilitate things for you:
People get to really know you - as a nonprofit you have a purpose, you work on solving some of the biggest problems society and the environment deal with. These problems affect people in many ways, but especially in an emotional way. Therefore, your story and what you do moves people, and depending on how well you tell your story on your website, it can become a driving machine for change that happens to have a donation "box". According to Patrick J. Liddy, Digital Marketing Specialist at VegFund, "stories are the currency of the nonprofit world."
A website is highly shareable - as a nonprofit, the donation page is one of the most important elements on your website, and it will be shared a lot which makes it ideal for increasing your reach, and therefore the number of donations.
Any website has these two elements, but if it is disorganized, difficult to navigate, overwhelming, or confusing, and your story is poorly worded, has a confusing layout, and the photos or illustrations are unrelated to the story, it defeats its purpose, which as a nonprofit that is: increasing donations, getting people's involvement, and attracting partners.
Let's explore some of the ways you can maximize your mission and impact by focusing on your website's design and storytelling.
Increasing Donations & Getting People Involved
Focus On "Why" They Should Donate
If you ask for donations, one of the main goals of your website is to persuade people to donate to your cause. But people don't take action if they don't have clear steps of how to do that, and most importantly the reason - "why?". As human beings, we make decisions based on our emotional connection with a certain idea that aligns with our core values.
You have to make it obvious to them why they should donate to your organization. Ask yourself, what's your story and how did you start? Why do you do what you do? What are your plans for the future? How will you put them into practice? Touch on these ideas everywhere on your website, and dive deep on your about page. Your potential donors would like to be informed of the impact they'll have once they donate and to feel like they're a part of something great.
charity: water's website is a great example of how to focus on "why" through your messaging
A great idea would be to display different donation amounts on the donation page and explain in a short description what effect each of them will have. Donors need to understand how their money is being used and shared inside your organization to reach the goal.
Keep the Same Design on Every Page
It is very important on every page, especially on the donation page, to have the same design and brand. It shouldn't look like a completely different page. Otherwise, donors will ask themselves if they're donating to the same organization or their money will go somewhere else.
Imagine you're buying something online and right when to pay for it, the page looks completely different and all of a sudden you're worried your money will be stolen, or at least go somewhere else. It's the same for people when they donate, and you really don't want this to happen.
Custom-branded donation pages on a nonprofit’s website help raise up to 6 times as much money on average.
charity: water's donation page is a very good example
Make the Donation an Emergency
Most people don't know why they should donate to your cause right now. What happens if they don't donate? Why should they donate? Highlight these things, and make it seem like it should be accomplished now. Explain to visitors what would be the scenario if they don't donate at this moment, and consider including a deadline for that.
Save the Children's website is a great example of how to show that donating is an emergency
Focus on Simplicity
The most common mistake that nonprofits do on their website is to add multiple links in their menu (the bar at the top). It's a huge mistake! If you have a donation button as most nonprofits do, people will get distracted by all the other options they could click on, and won't see the donation button as importantly as they'll do if there were just a few. There should be 5-7 links at max in the menu, including the buttons.
What happens with all the other links? Add them in the footer (the repeating bottom section of every page) and group them.
The colors also matter a lot. The one that you use on the links and buttons shouldn't be found anywhere else on your website. This is a repeating mistake that I see on nonprofits' websites.
When you first visit a website, your eyes should lend directly to the donate button due to its distinct color. It is called a call-to-action button for a reason. If you want people to donate to you, the button really does need to stand out. The call-to-action button's sole purpose is to share with people very fast what action you want them to take on your website, to donate in your case.
It should be a color that stands out and has enough contrast from the background. For example, if you use red for the buttons and links, don't use similar colors like orange or pink anywhere else.
Human Rights Campaign's website is a great example of color usage and simplicity
One other common mistake is having "main" pages that contain nothing but links to other pages. For example, the about page has almost nothing but links to the team page, mission & vision page, story page, and our impact page.
People feel overwhelmed when they have too many options and have to make decisions, and they might just abandon websites, or at least, what they were searching for.
Keep just one simple page, in this example, just the about page and add everything in there, but limit the info you share. You don't need to add every team member, just the ones with the most important functions that people might contact.
Provide Multiple Ways to Get Involved
Offer alternate ways for people to get involved. This could be by volunteering, buying from your shop, helping raise funds via peer-to-peer fundraising, corporate giving, membership programs, or by getting involved in your other initiatives.
Depending on your website and your goals, you can either add them on your home page, about page, or donation page (at the bottom). Another good place to add them is on the "thank you" page after someone donates. Why? Because you already converted them into a supporter and they'll be more willing to support you now as they believe in your story.
Human Rights Campaign's "Get Involved" page is a great example of showing the ways people can support you
Bonus: Use Your Brand
Your brand also extends to the other parts of your business where your audience interacts with you. This can be your social media, newsletter, videos, and so on. We call these brand touchpoints.
If the donors will come from social media, they should recognize your website from your posts' design and your unique tone of voice due to their similarity. Speaking of which, many young adults come from social media and 75% of them are turned off by outdated websites. Having an updated design and the same brand everywhere creates trust and decreases friction, things that are very important when you ask for donations.
charity: water's Instagram profile respects their brand
Attracting Corporate Partners & Donors
If you followed the steps outlined till now, you'll have a good chance to attract donors and people to support you, while also attracting corporate partners and donors, but some things will particularly interest the last ones mentioned.
Provide Social Proof
Corporate partners are interested a lot more in the impact you have and your experience, and the best way to earn their trust is to provide social proof.
Don't know how to earn their trust? Show them that other organizations trust you by adding your partners' logos on the website. Show what happens with the donations by sharing news about what you do or statistics of the impact you have.
charity: water does a great job at showing social proof
Show Ways You Can Support One Another
And the final step is to show them how they can support you and how you can support them. This will ensure they'll contact you and have an idea of how the partnership will look like.
You should have a separate page with all of this information only for partners.
A great example for partner's page comes from International Rescue Committee
While there are many ways to maximize your mission and impact, and many other elements are involved, one thing is clear: your website will make it easier for you to reach more people, convert them into supporters, and ensure financial sustainability.
Focusing on your story and having a well-designed website to communicate it compellingly, is an investment worth making that will boost your fundraising efforts.
Implementing the tips above will ensure the donations will increase, more partners will contact you, and more people will support you.
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