Creating an Awesome Non-Profit Website on a Shoe-String Budget

Author: Don Martelli

The web is just about every brand's storefront. For major brands, the resources that are put into building a web presence can be significant. However, for a nonprofit, those resources could be few and far between.

The question is, if you're running a nonprofit, how do you build an effective website on a tight budget?

Define Your Needs

While there are a slew of non-hosted options available, many nonprofits need a website that not only is flexible in terms of customizing features, but more importantly include items such as a blog, contact sign-up forms, online giving features, video and photo hosting and more.

Explore the Options

Some of the more popular platforms that nonprofits can use to build a web presence on a budget are available from Wordpress, Blogger and Squarespace. Each platform has the ability to create main static pages, but also incorporate a blog. A non-hosted option is easy to get up and operating quickly via the platform's templates and guides, but may have limited customization. If you have a specific design or features you would like incorporated, a hosted website may be a better option for you–especially if you have volunteer designers and developers readily available. Regardless of whether it's a hosted or non-hosted environment, there are many new apps available as plugins for sites and blogs that may provide you with some of the feature you desire easily and efficiently. 

Including a blog on your website is important, because it is a simple way to communicate with your audience. It can serve as the voice of your organization, as well as help with content marketing and search engine optimization.

These are just three options, but there are a wide array of other platforms to consider, like Tumblr.  The rule of thumb (and the biggest issue for any blog user, nonprofit or otherwise) is to select a platform that is easy to use and flexible when it comes to publishing and managing your content.

What Should It Look Like?

People typically don't "window shop" organizations in order to donate their time and effort or to support with charitable funds. More often, support and interest occur from a personal experience or emotional connection to an issue. You want your "storefront" on the web to resonate with the target audience–discuss the compelling issues and show how they effect the people, animals, etc. your cause supports.

Design-wise, you want it to look professional and credible, but not necessarily overly designed and perceived as superficial or impractical, especially when requesting donations. Leverage a clean user interface to enable visitors to get to the content they want quickly. There has to be a balance that meets the expectations of your target audience, whether a donor, volunteer or information seeker. 

How Do I Drive Traffic?

There are two keys to driving traffic to your website: blogging and social media.

First, blogging will help your site continuously get indexed by search engines because you are updating new content frequently. Google and Bing searches are based on relevancy and timeliness.  Each time you update content on a site or in a blog post, utilize tags that are relevant key words. This is especially true if you are addressing a newsworthy or trending topic.  Relevant key words will help your content be found while a crucial discussion is happening in the social media sphere in real time.

A static website is like an old store front that never changes. The experience is unwelcoming and people may tend to look elsewhere, because the content isn't refreshed. 

Second, social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest will help you market the content that your marketing team or volunteers are working hard on. Share those stories across as many social networks as possible and then evaluate the ones providing you the most engagement. This will allow you to drive more conversations where your followers and fans are interacting, and of course, to your website or blog. 

How Can Our Website Help In Reaching Our Organizations Goals?

Two additional elements your nonprofit website should always contain are ways for the community to get involved, financially or through volunteering.

First, be sure to leverage a donation functionality on your site. Give your visitors a way to donate to your cause via PayPal or credit card. If you want to go a bit further, offer a way to donate via SMS (short message service, or text messaging.)

Second, make sure to tell people how they can volunteer. Ask them to follow you on Twitter or Like your Facebook page to communicate quickly, provide the latest information, get them up to speed on where help is most needed and encourage them to spread the word.

How has your nonprofit website helped in driving the organizations objectives?