Launching your website is a lot of work -- but too many nonprofits make the initial push, then allow the site to go stale. Unless your website appears current and up to date, you'll turn off the very people you were hoping to attract.
Interesting and timely content can make your website a regular stop for people tracking or researching the issue you cover, thus turning anonymous Web visitors into eventual donors. If that's too much to hope for given your staffing and budget, at least don't bite off more than you can chew. Go through your annual reports, newsletters, and other materials, and put up stories or information that isn't likely to become dated. Something that's perennially useful is good, such as a checklist on preparing for emergencies, or a list of plants that are poisonous to pets.
Everything on your website should be easy to find, but links to information about donating or otherwise getting involved must be prominently displayed. At the same time, you don't want to rush people to the payment page without providing some background information about why, how, and how much to give. Put a "donate now" button on every page -- but that's not all.
Include donation and volunteer tabs. Your homepage should have a tab saying "Support Us," "Get Involved," "How You Can Help," or something similar. This should lead to an introductory page explaining how donations will be used, how different dollar amounts will help, and any other relevant information about your projects and volunteering or giving opportunities. A story about a donor or volunteer helps with this, and makes potential donors or volunteers feel like they'll be in good company. Then, offer a link to a payment page. Ideally, offer online donation opportunities. If that's beyond your budget, offer a printable page that contains all of the information on your regular reply card, along with information on where to fax or mail it with a check; but realize that people who access you online also expect to pay online.
Where and how supporters' gifts will be spent is a topic worthy of a separate page on your website -- and it's a page that should be easy to find, perhaps as a link from your introductory giving page. Studies have found that users rank information about how donations are spent high in importance when visiting a charity's website. Include links to your annual report (if available online) and your IRS Form 990.
If you've been scrambling to find ways to publicly thank your foundation funders and major private donors, a website can really take the pressure off. Many organizations add a simple link to "Our Funders," whether on their homepage or a deeper page within the site.
Mentioning your funders and donors online is also a way to build trust in your organization. You want Web viewers to think, "If the ABC Foundation and So-and-So support this group, it must do good work."
Some nonprofits also post profiles of individual donors, complete with photos and personal accounts of why they give. (You would, of course, have to get permission from the donors first.) Again, this is a way to inspire potential supporters.
It doesn't take particularly advanced technology for your Web designer to add a feature allowing you to keep site traffic statistics. This information will tell you not only how many people are visiting your site, but also which websites your visitors came from and where they go within your site -- which links are enticing them to click, which pages they're leaving unviewed, what they're downloading, which page they most commonly exit your website from, and so on. (And to make sure they're finding your site in the first place, read "Basic SEO to Help Online Searchers Find Your Nonprofit's Site.")
Once you make a habit of collecting and interpreting your traffic statistics, they can be invaluable for measuring and enhancing your website's fundraising effectiveness. For example, over time you'll be able to evaluate the comparative success of an email campaign, the drawing power of a press release, or your best referral sources.
Advertise your Web address in all of your printed materials. Your website should become one of your principle communication devices. Feature the address prominently on business cards, stationary, brochures, T-shirts, and every printed document you produce. Encourage newsletter readers to check your website for further information or updates on issues they're reading about. And include links to your website within emails sent to supporters, allowing them to click for further information or to donate online.
For more information on ways to raise funds for your nonprofit, online and off, see Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
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