Websites for Nonprofits: Clarity Is Essential

Why should a nonprofit even have a website? We pretty much assume that an organization will have one, but what would the purpose of it be? I guess, inherent in the questions above is the idea that websites lend at least some form of legitimacy to a group. Like a business card for an entrepreneur, the website says in some small way that this nonprofit is worth your time. The design and functionality of that website may not reinforce that message, but the intention is there.

What's Your Website Do?

One of the first questions you'll hear when a kid gets a new toy is "What does it do?" We should be asking a similar question of nonprofit websites.

Okay, it's there, now what is it for? What does it do? Here are some possibilities:

  • collect donations
  • keep volunteers informed of their schedules
  • convey information to the community the nonprofit serves
  • attract new volunteers
  • reach out to attract new people to serve

There are lots of options, so nonprofits need to make a decision about the public-facing portion of their website: Will the website serve the community or the nonprofit? From a marketing perspective, the answer would seem to be to always push towards attracting new members to the community. But growth may not be the most pressing need of an organization.

Your nonprofit may be so well-known in the community that the most pressing thing you could do is keep the community informed. Consider library websites. You probably already know if you have a library or not in your community. When you visit the library's website, you're looking for information. Maybe you need to renew a book. Maybe you need to see what time the closest branch closes.

Consider how different the library's site might be from a student group looking for volunteers to help pick up trash on the beach. You may not know that students even cared about taking care of the beach. Additionally, those students would need to do some convincing in order to get you to want to help them. Their entire web presence is about attracting, while the library's presence is about informing.

The Multipurpose Website

Websites can get a bit tricky when a nonprofit has several communication needs. If the student group mentioned above needs to post the newsletter for current members, post the schedule, and keep attracting new candidates, then the website is going to need a clear plan. We'll talk tomorrow about the ways this can go wrong, but a good information architecture can help avoid those issues.

Here are some thoughts on solving these issues.

Create a section of the site that requires users to login. Not everyone will need access to the same amount of information - especially if you're giving info to donors.

When your main objective is to attract new members but you still need to keep your current members informed, then it's time to get creative. Throw links in the footer for your current volunteers. Create a Facebook group and add your volunteers. Send them an email.

The point is, there are lots of ways to communicate that don't involve cluttering up the main message of your nonprofit.

Clear communication is one of the most valuable assets you can add to your nonprofit. When your message is clear, then you can mobilize volunteers. Mobilizing volunteers helps get stuff done.

What Do You Think?

Have you worked (or are your working) with a nonprofit? What were the online communication challenges you saw?

Featured Image by Fellowship of the Rich