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Ideas that work: Effective nonprofit web design

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Raheel Gauba

Raheel Gauba

Raheel Gauba

[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

A website is the primary marketing tool for any nonprofit organization.

The beautiful thing about this particular mode of communication is that a nonprofit can continue to harvest long-term benefits by continuously learning and adjusting its approach to online fundraising.

The incremental cost of redesigns, re-architecture of information and usability tweaks is much lower than the initial investment in the platform itself.

The fact that most people have their first interaction with a nonprofit by visiting its website makes it even more critical that the organization is communicating its cause, passion, emotion and successes effectively.

This is where design comes into play.

No matter what technology is deployed on the back end, a user’s first interaction with a website is completely visual. Once you have struck an emotional chord by communicating your mission using good design and branding, they users are much more likely to trust and invest their time and money in your organization.

Here are some simple web-design principles you can use as a guideline for your next website redesign:

Design must be audience-centric

Your audience is at the center of everything you do online. The design and content flow must cater to their needs while being closely tied with your organizational goals.

It’s a delicate balance, and not easy to achieve. This is the difference between good websites that do a great job at retaining their audience and ones that don’t.

Less is always more

Design is subjective. Within the political chaos of personal preferences, remember there is always an elegant solution to the design challenge at hand.

An over-designed, over-affected website turns users away.

Instead, keeping it simple and incorporating only the necessary elements to communicate your goals in a tasteful manner is a gesture your audience will truly appreciate.

Purpose through intelligent design

Your audiences make decisions in seconds. Even when browsing a search-engine results page, users click on many websites within a few seconds to find the information we are looking for.

The website that wins their attention is usually the one that communicates its purpose and mission in a logical manner that is simple and easy to understand.
Make sure your mission and purpose are reflected in your branding, imagery, content and navigation.

Think outside the box – but keep it real

Approach your web design in a sophisticated manner that makes your audience feel comfortable and gain confidence in your organization.

Avoid gimmicks and the urge to over-design. As with all things creative, it’s easy for a web designer to get carried away with completely conceptual, avant-garde and non-practical look.

Ensure you maintain the spice of the conceptual domain but balance it with usability for the masses.

The key to success is making it easier for your audience to explore your website and understand your mission. This is how both you and your audience win.

Maximize your content-management system’s potential

Make sure that you are putting your content-management system to good use by maximizing its capabilities.

Choose a technology partner that has a deep understanding of the system you are using.

They will have extensive knowledge about how to utilize the tools available in the best possible way from a functional as well as a visual perspective.

First impressions are important for nonprofits. After all, your goal is to strike an emotional relationship with your constituencies, and when it comes to websites, the only way to achieve this is by taking a thoughtful approach to design.


Raheel Gauba is brand leader and creative director at Blackbaud.

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