Keys to an Effective Non-Profit Website

Q: How important is it to have an effective website for your non-profit?

A: It’s mission critical!

While every element of your online presence is an important part of your storytelling strategy, most of the bigger actions (donations, registrations, etc.) are taken on your website. In marketing lingo, this is commonly referred to as “conversion”, because it converts a visitor into a supporter.

It’s where you control your story best, and where you drive traffic to most often. It’s where you should consistently be delivering much (if not most) of your value to your audience and, therefore, also making your most powerful calls to action.

That’s why we believe that a website is the most valuable digital platform you have. It’s often the only one you truly own, and it is definitely the most pivotal to your mission success. How your website looks, feels and performs will affect how your audience perceives your organization.

Functional Requirements for a Non-Profit Website

While all businesses are concerned with money and infrastructure, nonprofits have some particular constraints and goals when it comes to their websites. Very few non-profits have an in-house technology team that can implement the latest functionality quickly and at low additional cost. Similarly, working frequently with a designer to create new layouts and visuals every time can consume more resources than you can spare.

That’s why, for a nonprofit to be able to get the most out of their website, it needs to be:

  • Easy to maintain: Updates and security patches should be easy to apply, if they’re at all necessary. Backups should either be automatic or incredibly simple to perform.
  • Easy to update: Quickly change or create new pages and posts without requiring a designer or a developer
  • Great at converting visitors to actors: Give them calls to action that integrate with your donations platform, email platform, registration, sales, etc.
  • Fit within your budget: Low (or zero) ongoing costs of hosting and maintenance, including technical support.

To make sure that your audiences can discover and use the website from whatever device they’re on, your site must also:

  • Load quickly: Research says you have 8-15 seconds to capture attention on desktop, much less on mobile. When the page they’re interested in loads slowly, people’s patience is already running low before they even read a word.
  • Be search-engine optimized (SEO): If Google can’t properly crawl your site and understand what it’s about, how can it know when it should show it in search results, and to whom?
  • Integrate Social Media: Your target audiences (beneficiaries and benefactors alike) discover and share things on social media. Your site has to make it easy for them to share your content and for others to discover it. That includes creating good-looking preview images and descriptions that show up when shared on social platforms.
  • Be optimized for desktop, tablet and mobile: Crucial to user experience (UX), the user interface (UI) must respond to the screen size and look optimized on every device. Sites that use text too small to read on mobile, links that are too hard to click with a large finger on a small phone, etc. will frustrate users.
  • Perform well across most browsers: Modern browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and others) are complex tools that offer a lot of powerful options on desktop and mobile devices, but they don’t all work exactly the same way. If you’re still testing your site on Internet Explorer or even Safari, your audience may be getting a completely different (and worse) experience. Test your pages on each of the top browsers to ensure a consistent, quality experience.


Key Elements for Non-Profit Website Success

Beyond the core functionality and ease of use, non-profit websites need to focus their energies on different areas than for-profit sites that are selling a product. Non-profit sites must be able to provide value to their donors through stories.

In order to keep a website relevant and providing value to your benefactors and beneficiaries, a non-profit website must meet the following criteria:

Emotionally compelling

An emotional connection is the primary motivator in giving to a cause. You can cite stats and achievements all day long, but if people can’t connect to the cause and the impact, they’re not going care about “cold numbers.” Effective storytelling can make an emotionally compelling experience which numbers can then amplify.

Visually appealing

We do judge books by their cover, and we do judge things relative to similar experiences. If you want people to spend more time on your site, you have to make it pleasant on the eye and on the mind. For more on visual storytelling, take a look at Visuals: A Nonprofit Storytelling Superpower.

Timely (frequently updated)

We live in a constant news cycle. Whether it’s politics, entertainment or human interest, “trending” topics are everywhere. You don’t have to compete with CNN or Twitter, but the more timely your content, the more likely it will garner attention and resonate with the people who you want to reach. This makes “easy to update” (see above) even more important.

Bonus: Google likes to see frequent updates on a subject as an indicator of expertise and timely relevancy in search results.

Easy to navigate

This comes back to storytelling and the User Experience (UX). If it’s hard to find something on your site, people will look elsewhere. Make sure your most important content is quick and easy to get to. Give new users a way to find the things they’re interested in, and give returning users a quick way to get to the pages they visit often.

Tip: Review your analytics regularly to see what your most popular content is, and make that easier to get to on your site.

Have clear and easy-to-follow calls to action

What should your page visitors do when they’re done looking at the content on any given page? You can hope that they go to the main menu and find something else they like, or you can give them a clear suggestion of where to go and what to do next. This can include everything from reading another page or article, to making a donation.

How many of these keys is your organization’s site employing? Missing any one of them could mean you’re missing out on connecting with audiences, turning them into fans, raising more money, and increasing you impact.


This article was originally published at dotOrgStrategy.

The Power of Podcasting for Nonprofits

Originally published on

Podcasting is a powerful way to get a message out to millions of potential listeners. The potential rewards for a nonprofit are undeniable, and it’s not as resource-intensive or cost- prohibitive as it may seem.

Many businesses are already using podcasts effectively for marketing and income-generation. With its powerful reach, increasing popularity, and the relative ease with which podcasts can be established and produced, podcasting offers nonprofits a great way to:

  • Get their unique message out into the public sphere
  • Create an impact on a mass scale
  • Connect with more potential supporters
  • Supplement their donor revenue


Who Listens to Podcasts in 2017

A recently-released 2017 podcast study showed that podcast usage continues to rise in the United States. About 24% of the U.S. population above age 12—roughly 67 million Americans—listen to podcasts monthly; an increase of 10 million people, or 14% from last year. That means that more people in the U.S. regularly listen to podcasts than use Twitter (23%). More tellingly, the total percentage of listeners is up by 100% since 2013, doubling in just four years.

Podcasting Stats at a Glance:

Source: The Podcast Consumer 2017 from Edison Research

Nonprofit Podcasting Benefits

Supplemental Revenue

Studies have also revealed that, not only are listeners not averse to hearing an advertisement read by the host of the podcast, almost two thirds of them will actually remember it the next day. This is a large and steadily-growing audience that likes to pay close attention to complex topics.

Combined with the fact that podcast listeners tend to be significantly more affluent and better-educated than the average U.S. consumer, sponsorships and advertising become an attractive proposition for businesses, and a very real possibility for additional sources of revenue for an organization.

Attracting New Donors

In addition to the higher education and income levels of podcast listeners, 44% of them are age 18–24, and 33% are age 35–54, capturing a disproportionately younger population versus the overall U.S. demographics (28% and 31%, respectively). At a time when many nonprofits are interested in attracting the next generation of philanthropists, this cannot be overstated.

Many podcasts are close to an hour in length, which makes them great for presenting information that listeners may not take the time to actually read, and gives them the ability to consume that information at times that would otherwise be inconvenient or impractical. It’s an ideal format to tell stories about the work the nonprofit organization is doing, both in terms of results and of continuing needs for their services.

A podcast run by a nonprofit organization, therefore, has the possibility to reach new benefactors, and give them useful information with engaging stories in a way that was previously reserved for broadcast radio shows, with the added convenience factor of being able to listen on demand, not on a set schedule.

Building Authority for Your Organization

By using them as an ongoing communication tool, podcasts are also an excellent way for any organization to build up the level of authority they carry within their field, as well as among interested listeners outside the field. That authority is key to building up an organization that relies on donations. People won’t give to a cause if they don’t feel confident about the expertise and ability of the organization behind it to deliver what it promises. A well-produced podcast that thoroughly covers the topics your organization deals with, and which features already authoritative guest speakers carries strong indicators of authority.

Engaging Current Supporters

How many of your supporters would take up to an hour each week to read one of your newsletters, blog posts, or other updates? Over 86% of podcast subscribers listen to at least most, if not the entirety of each episode; and 82% will listen to it within a week of downloading it. Keeping current donors connected to your work is paramount to getting them to keep supporting you, and even increasing their donations.

Expanding Your Mission

With the increasing prevalence of mobile devices and internet accessibility, nonprofits can use podcasts to provide value to the very people they are focused on serving. Whether through educational content, giving a voice to an under-served community, or engaging an audience that can become advocates and champions for the cause, a podcast recorded in your office can reach—and impact—millions of people.

Costs and Tools of Creating a Podcast

Fortunately for nonprofits, producing a podcast with high production values is fairly inexpensive. There is a bit of work to be done, though. The best podcasts are carefully planned, recorded, edited, and hosted online before each episode is made available for download.

Planning and Coordination Tools

Everything starts with a plan that you can follow. For team communication, I love free apps like Slack and Workplace by Facebook, both of which I reviewed in the Nonprofit Tools section. While you’re there, take a look at our favorite project management system, Asana, for scheduling and assigning tasks.

Tools for Producing Your Podcast

Besides the content of the show, the number one factor in the final quality of a podcast is going to be the recorded audio, for which some basic equipment is needed.

The first tool you’ll need will be a good microphone that captures clear sound. A built-in laptop or webcam mic can do in a pinch, but will be hard to listen to for 30–60 minutes at a time, especially if the listener is on the move.

Several prominent podcasters have recommended the Audio-Technica ATR2100 as a decent-quality option on a modest budget. It’s actually what I use for recording audio at dotOrgStrategy, and I’m very happy with the results. Higher-end options exist and you may want to experiment based on your budget, but I recommend sticking to powered USB microphones like the ATR2100 or one of the ones from Blue, as many professional microphones require the use of a sound mixing board in order to work with a computer.

Second, you’ll need recording and mixing (editing) software for capturing and editing the show. You don’t need a dedicated recording studio, but you’ll want to check that your editing software includes a good noise reduction filter to eliminate background noises like air conditioners, computer hum, etc.

Once again, price is not a deterring factor, with two free products among the best ways to go: Apple’s Garage Band for MacOS, and Audacity for Windows (which has a great noise cancellation function built in). To record phone conversations, producers might consider free apps like Callnote and Amolto.

Finishing Touches for Your Podcast

To put a little “professional” touch on the podcast, you’ll probably want to use some intro and outro music, which can either be downloaded from low-cost or free stock music libraries, or commissioned from local artists or online freelancers at whatever level your budget allows.

TIP: I love mobygratis, which is an extensive library of background tracks created by Moby that are free to use for non-commercial uses.

Finally, each podcast needs a little bit of graphic design for its cover art. The importance of the cover art can’t be overstated, since it has to be eye-catching and explanatory to potential listeners. There are a number of ways to get inexpensive graphic design jobs like this done online, such as through Fiverr and 99designs.

Sharing Your Podcast with the World

The finished product file then needs to be shared online via a hosting service. Before you can list it on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere the audio files have to be uploaded to a server. Buzzsprout hosts podcasts for free, but deletes old episodes after 90 days. Libsyn is popular, versatile and reliable, but comes at a cost starting at $5 per month. Amazon Web Services’ S3 is even more flexible and powerful, but may be confusing for beginners. Soundcloud is another favorite that is free, easy to use and easy to embed as a player on your website.

Need some inspiration? Want to see how some of the pros run their shows? I recently rounded up some examples of great podcasts for nonprofits. These aren’t run by nonprofits, but can give you ideas for how to structure yours.