How to Build a Nonprofit Website That Works

This article is sponsored by Firespring.

Technology is useful…until it’s not. Every new mobile app, gadget, online tool or piece of software can leave us asking ourselves, “Wait, if I don’t use that one new thing, will I be missing out on something that will change my life?”

It’s exhausting.

That said, tools and technology can truly simplify our lives if we narrow it down to what can actually make a difference for us, either by streamlining our workflow, saving us resources or making things run more efficiently. When technology is working for you and not against you, life can be very good. And the best place to start? Your website.

Your website is the hub of your online presence (dare I say, world), and with the right software and tools, it can simplify your life in ways you can’t even imagine. One of the keys to building a website that works is to create it with the end user in mind, which is the opposite of what many organizations do. Too often, a nonprofit’s website is designed from the inside out. I’ll talk about why that’s a problem later.

For now, the following five elements are your building blocks for creating a viable, professional-looking website that’s able to meet the needs of everyone who lands on it. If you keep these components in mind, you’re well on your way to building a website that works as the hub of your universe.


A well-structured website will provide options, including several navigation tools such as a pull-down menu,  search tool and site map. The most important question to ask regarding structure is: Who is going to visit your site? You have several types of end users, including supporters, volunteers, board members and prospects. These people will come to your site expecting to find what they’re looking for in a clear, easy manner.

However, too many nonprofits structure their website from the point of view of an insider—how they see their organization internally. Your target audience will likely approach your website differently. And if it’s not designed with them in mind, they’ll get confused or frustrated and leave (hello, high bounce rates!). Put yourself in their shoes and ask, “What information is valuable and relevant?” Then make sure that information is easily accessible.


Great design isn’t about creating a “wow” factor, blowing people away with artistic skills or even keeping up with the latest design trends. Ultimately, good web design is all about telling your story well. If people come to your website and understand your mission and your cause because you’ve communicated it clearly through images, text and other elements, then your design is working. A good test for your nonprofit’s website: Have a friend who’s not familiar with your organization check it out. Does it tell your story? If visitors can’t discern your mission when they hit the homepage, your site’s design may need some refreshing.


Of course, it’s not enough for your website to look awesome; it needs to serve a purpose. If your online visitors can’t do what they need to, they’ll move on. That’s why your website should include tools that allow people to donate, view an event calendar, register for events, sign up to volunteer—all without leaving your site. Tools like these work together to create a comprehensive site that meets the needs of everyone who engages with you. People may hear about your organization and think, “I want to volunteer for them,” and then look on your website for a way to sign up. The ability to view an event calendar is important so prospective volunteers can see what opportunities are available.

Others will want to donate, or maybe register and pay for an event. And still others who want to be on your email list. If your website’s functionality is limited, you’ll watch donations and potential event attendees walk away. Great functionality and essential website tools are not a cost—they’re an investment. What you can reap far outweighs what you may spend. You actually can’t afford to do without them. And creating your own website that works for everyone involved isn’t as expensive as you might think.


Your website also showcases the impact you’re making in the world. When your web content connects with your audience, they’re more likely to join the cause—through donations, attending events or volunteering. For successful engagement, make sure your articles, blog posts, videos and resources clearly identify the issues you stand for and the obstacles you’re trying to overcome. Saying you combat hunger in your city is less engaging than a story about providing groceries for a struggling family of four.

A quick note about content: Don’t let it grow stagnant. To keep it fresh, you should be able to update and change it with point-and-click simplicity. If your website is not built with a content management system that’s easy to use and accessible, seriously think about changing it. For example, Firespring’s nonprofit websites come with a CMS called the Springboard, a user-friendly platform that allows you to make changes to content as needed without the aid of a web developer or programmer. In 2019, that’s how every website should work.


Simply put, vitality is the perception of fresh content. This means when people come to your website, they sense that it’s current and evolving, giving them the impression that your organization is alive and active. One of the best ways to improve your site’s vitality is with a blog. It’s the single most effective way to add fresh content on a continual basis. Updating your homepage content is enough to give visitors the sense that your organization is working to make the world a better place.

Did you know that the average user decides in less than five seconds if they’re going to click past your homepage and/or bookmark your site? This decision is based almost entirely upon that person’s perception of vitality. Our brains tell us subconsciously whether or not a website is worth revisiting. A website that feels fresh will cover up many other mistakes, and implementing a content strategy (as well as an easy-to-use content management system) to increase your site’s vitality has a huge ROI.

A few quick tips for this ensuring vitality:

  •      Delegate writing responsibilities to a team of people who are passionate about your cause.
  •      Implement a user-friendly content management system so updating content is easy.
  •      Create a content calendar so you have a plan for regularly publishing content.

Other resources

Your site is the central nervous system of your brand and all of your marketing and fundraising efforts. Honing in on these five elements will help you build a website that works for you and your visitors.

Beyond this, though, are other tools. Landing pages. Listening tools. Apps that allow you to streamline your workflow and manage your entire online presence in less than 15 minutes a day. That’s right: You can effectively manage your online presence in less time than it takes for you to grab a few groceries from the store.

To learn more, take a break and check out my on-demand video, “Tools Every Nonprofit Needs to Simplify Their Lives.” Learn how to better manage your time, whenever you have time, with this video that can truly change your workflow and approach to your online presence.

website that works

Angie Kubicek

Angie Kubicek is a strategic, multidisciplinary marketing professional with an eye for innovation. She has worked for notable companies like Smart Chicken, Hayneedle, Yahoo!, Bailey Lauerman and Complete Nutrition, giving her diverse experience and unique opportunities to experience both client and agency workflows.

June 11, 2019

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