What Do Donors Want in a Nonprofit Website?

Mary Novokhovsky

In today’s Internet age, your nonprofit’s website is often the first impression potential donors get about your organization. That’s why, now more than ever, it’s important to make sure that you’re building a nonprofit website with donor experience in mind. In order to build the best site: it’s important to look at general research, conduct organization specific research, and come up with a preliminary architecture. 

Skipping steps in this crucial process, often leads to a sub par experience for users and donors alike.

Common Nonprofit Websites Fumbles

According to the Nielsen Norman Group Report, most nonprofit websites suffer from three major mistakes.

Surveyed users identified the following as those 3 major issues:

  • 50% of nonprofit websites suffer from usability problems (i.e. cluttered pages, confusing workflow, hard to find donation button)
  • 43% of nonprofit websites are missing vital information, or the information presented is unclear
  • 8% of users simply didn’t agree with organization’s approach

The report identifies that the greatest website problems dissuading users from becoming donors, are completely fixable. However, it’s important to note that donors don’t blindly give online. For the most part, some kind of familiarity with the organization prior to visiting the website is still best to help seal the deal.

However, prior familiarity or not-  if you’re hoping to make the online conversion from user to donor you have to provide them with information they’re looking for, as well as, remember to avoid those common donor turnoffs.

Here is a breakdown from the Nielsen Norman Group Report that helps outline what type of information is most important for users when viewing a nonprofit website:

  • 62% wanted to know the mission, goals, and objectives of the nonprofit’s work
    • Remember to clearly state your mission throughout the website
  • 57% wanted to know how donations and contributions would be used
    • Adding 990s and other pertinent financial information helps foster trust
  • 57% wanted to be assured of legitimacy and reputation
    • Adding testimonials and endorsements to your website helps build credibility
  • 19% wanted to know about the organization’s local presence
    • Are you particularly active in the local community? Highlight that in development section
  • 15% wanted to know the site was secure
    • Make sure that your payment processing is secure, also add a verified seal to the page to confirm

Conducting Internal Research

When it comes to building the best nonprofit website it’s important to rely on valid research. At Neon, our web studio builds sites based on the most up to date research and industry standards. However, simply executing general best practices may not be enough to ensure an amazing website. It’s important to make sure that your site is built with your audience in mind.

Prior to hitting the ground running, it’s important for everybody involved in the website project to be on the same page. One way to gather everybody’s thoughts and ideas without a rambunctious meeting, is to create a simple survey. One our favorite tools to do that is SurveyMonkey. You should also deploy a survey to get a more objective opinion on how your current website is doing by sending it out to your constituent database. We’ve found that both of these kinds of feedback together can really help organizations zero in on what their primary focuses should be.

Once you’ve identified all stakeholders’ wants and obtained current user feedback, you can move forward with creating your ideal user profile. This part can be a lot of fun! Try and zoom in on your ideal donor. What are their interests? What would they find important in a nonprofit website? You should use your survey research findings and review your donor database to help build the best profile possible.

Now that you’ve got your preliminary research completed, it’s time to work on a website architecture.

Building a Website Architecture

This part can get a little tricky. If you haven’t worked with information architecture before, you may want to enlist the help of a professional web developer at this point. However, this can be a useful exercise to try and tackle before you give anybody a call.

Information architecture is key to creating an easy-to-use website. Think about your favorite websites and how they’ve made their experience seamless. Personally, I do lots of my shopping on Amazon. I always know where to go to login to my account and view my cart. Their promotions and new arrivals are clearly laid out on the landing page. I know I can rely on the search bar and filters to effectively guide me to the right product.

You’ve already figured out what your website needs to have. The architecture is all about piecing it together in the most easy-to-use fashion. A common mistake I see on nonprofit websites is hidden donation buttons. At this point, all of the best nonprofit sites have a static donation button on the upper right hand side of the site. So, don’t reinvent the wheel with basic architecture like this. Try and think about the main menu categories and what type of information you want to live within them.

A great tool for getting started with architecture is SlickPlan. It’s an easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor with collaborative features.

What’s Next

Now, that you’ve got your basics down, it’s time for development. If your nonprofit does not have a web developer on staff, this may be a good time to look for professional help. A good web studio will help you understand whether your needs can be met by a template (Neon provides a nonprofit focused WordPress template) or whether you need a custom solution (Neon also does custom website work). No matter who you choose to go with, by completing the outlined planning process in-house, you should be able to considerably cut costs on the project. You’re now steps ahead of most people who embark on building a new website.


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