Among the many purposes of a nonprofit's website should be to assist with and promote public engagement, including donations and volunteer recruitment. True, people might visit your nonprofit's website for any number of reasons: to find out your address, research an issue they're interested in, or just look for free desktop wallpaper. But no matter what brings them to your site, follow the tips below to make sure your visitors don't leave without considering making a donation or getting involved in some other way.
Every nonprofit's website should clearly state what the organization does, where it's located geographically, and every possible way to get in touch with development and other staff. It's best to provide the address as a footnote at the bottom of every Web page. Also, your "Contact us" link should do more than just pop up an email message box -- this is the place to tell people alternate ways to reach you.
When conveying what your organization does, don't stop with the mission statement (which may, let's face it, make for dull reading). Brief accounts of recent successes or an illustrative story that starts on your homepage are great ways to get viewers aware of and interested in what your nonprofit actually does.
Depending on your staff size and privacy concerns, you might also create a page with staff job titles, biographies, photos, and contact information -- all of which helps your Web visitors feel they're getting to know your organization at a personal level. (One caveat: Posting email addresses opens up the addresses to spammers -- it's best to give out general email addresses, not the personal email addresses you use most regularly, or to write out the addresses using "at" instead of "@.")
In order to build a solid relationship with potential donors, your website needs to convey your organization's personality in a manner that's consistent with your fundraising and other marketing materials. Hopefully, you already have an idea of what image your organization is trying to present -- it may be traditional, scientific, homey, offbeat, ethnic, left, right, or center.
Take a look at the fundraising materials you've been producing, such as letters to donors, grant proposals, newsletters, and annual reports. Ask yourself what personality is emerging through the use of color, graphics, words, stories, or photographs. Then look at your website and make sure it has the same personality.
Treat Web visitors in a manner true to your organization's mission and ideals. An organization that works with the elderly, for example, shouldn't use a tiny text font. An organization working with the disabled should ensure that its website is accessible to its clientele.
The best websites contain substantive information, preferably information that the reader might not get elsewhere. Readers might be interested in your nonprofit's current activities -- ongoing projects, follow-up information on issues they've heard about before, or details and sign-up information for events and classes. If you've sent out an email blast about a certain issue or crisis, be sure that people who come to your home page can easily find reference to that issue and where to click for further discussion.
If you're more ambitious, you can collect and post information from outside your nonprofit, such as articles about relevant national or local news issues. And if you have a quick and opinionated writer on your staff, a weekly (or more frequent) blog is a good and easy way to keep people coming back for fresh (yet brief) content. Better yet, blogs can create dialogue with your constituents, as the writer solicits input and comments.
Hopefully you're also communicating with friends and donors via a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter. Make sure to highlight that on your page. (See Nolo's article Social Networks as Fundraisers (or Friendraisers) for Your Nonprofit for more information.)
Yes, it's a lot of work -- but studies have shown that readers rate substantive content number one in importance when evaluating a nonprofit's website. If you're able to, go one step further and offer readers regular email newsletters or news alerts (a great way of collecting email addresses of potential future supporters).
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