Salsa Blog

6 Website Design Secrets from the Most Successful Nonprofits

Updated 5/29/16 -- A fresh point of view is always welcome here at Salsa. With that in mind, we like to include posts by guest contributors to talk about donor management and many other topics in the nonprofit sector. Today’s guest post about nonprofit website design is by Hillary Skeffington of Elevation Web.

Every nonprofit needs a website. In a world powered by the internet, with the ability to spread ideas in seconds with just 140 characters, the digital age is in its peak, and nonprofits need to catch up.

Organizations such as Invisible Children and charity:water have been able to drive incredible change with their nonprofit websites. They’ve reached broader audiences, increased fundraising revenues in the last 2 years, and ultimately, sparked greater awareness of their causes positively impacting more people and communities worldwide than ever before.


As nonprofit web designers and developers, we often hear the age­-old question:

How do I build a website for my nonprofit that yields the same results like the most successful organizations?

Excellent nonprofit website design takes a lot of planning, a healthy dosage of patience, and working with the right people for it to happen.

Luckily, we’ve done some of the work for you! I asked our Development Team to give a few of their secrets about what it takes to build a great nonprofit website. This is by no­means a one­-stop­-shop to success, but rather, a useful guide to start getting your mind focused on the most important elements of designing a nonprofit website so that your next project goes more smoothly.

1. Content Is King

Before I could even complete the question -- What are a few secrets in designing great nonprofit websites? -- ­our entire team chimed simultaneously...content. As one of our developers simply put, “A visitor won’t stay on your site for more than 20 seconds if there’s no content.”

Focusing on the “look & feel” of a site, how it appears on a range of screen sizes, and what graphics to use are highly important, elements of a great website design, however, as they say, content is king. Today’s donors only need a computer or mobile device to access information about your nonprofit. In a world where first impressions are made online, it’s essential that your content is informative, valuable, and interactive.

2. Branding Guide

The world’s most memorable nonprofit brands distinguish themselves in the connotation -- not just the denotation -- of their mission. Brand developers strive to create brands that combine the right connotation for the cause at hand, beginning and ending with what people think, or more accurately, what it inspires people to think.

For example, can you test the connotation between American Red Cross from (RED)’s color palette? Both use red as their primary color, but differentiating in shade sparks varied reactions and emotions connected to each organization.


While most brand builders believe that graphics, color palette, font sizes, etc. are the most important elements of a brand identity, our designers and developers disagree. The most important aspect for building a memorable and communicative brand identity for your nonprofit is consistency.

That’s why our team swears by branding guides. Keep an easily accessible saved file with the details of your nonprofit’s brand identity such as; color palette, graphics, font sizes, styles, logo template designs so that your nonprofit can maintain a consistent identity across all platforms.

3. SEO Isn’t For Google

Search Engine Optimization has been a hot topic in the web design industry for nonprofits and for-­profits alike. The stress of whether or not Google can find your website, how they will essentially grade it, and how it will affect the future of your nonprofit’s online presence is an important consideration.

However, contrary to what trending blogs may say, SEO is in fact, not for Google. The entire idea behind SEO is to maximize the user-­experience, meaning, it’s all about how your audience interacts with the site. In evaluating this, ask yourself these 3 simple questions: 

  1. How long does it take your site to load?
  2. How intuitive is navigation?
  3. Does all content offer value?

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in meta tags, keyword analysis, sitemaps, and the like, staying focused on the objective at hand ­designing a site that is user­friendly ­will yield better results in the long-­run and save you a lot of stress.

4. Put Your Donors Front and Center

The most successful nonprofit websites paste their most important asset across their website - Can you guess what that asset is? It's their donors of course!

By highlighting the wonderful work that your donors' charitable giving is allowing you to do, you are both retaining those donors by showing them you value their contribution but also helping with the acquisition process by demonstrating that you're a donor-centric organization.

You could even go the extra mile and highlight a different donor story each month. It's a little bit more work but your organization's efforts will go a long way in showcasing the value that your donors bring. 

Don't just take our word from it! There is no shortage of evidence that major gift donors appreciate being put front and center. Let's take a look at one example.

It's estimated that 1 in 68 kids are on the Autism spectrum. It's a cause that impacts so many families and communities so it should come as no surprise that there are a number of philanthopists focused on the issue. Two individuals, Lloyd and Karen Claycomb, have both raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to different organizations focused on educating communities and spreading general awareness of Autism.

While their goal is to provide support to the organizations making a difference, Lloyd Claycomb said "One of the recent organizations I made a gift to put me on the front page of their website for a few weeks as a way of saying thank you. I was so grateful that they felt like my gift mattered to them. While I was already planning to give to that organization again, it was a very nice gesture and hopefully encourages other supporters to give generously!"

If you want to read more there's a great article on how Lloyd Claycomb is helping to change views on Autism.

But the key takeaway is to focus on your donors. How can you leverage your website to say thanks for all that they do for your organization?

5. Add Social

Social media is a game changer for organizations looking to engage with donors and tell their story. Yet with countless social media networks it can be tough to ensure your donors and website visitors are seeing your best messages. 

One little known fact is you can actually add any Twitter tweet or Facebook post directly to your own website. Consider adding a section to your website where you feature:

  • Stories told by your community
  • Notes of praise
  • Celebrity or influencer comments about your cause
  • Event pictures
  • And any other inspirational post or tweet

Learn how to embed a tweet on your own website or how to embed a Facebook post on your own website

6. Communicate with Supporters

Staying in touch with your supporters can be tough. But your website is one central location to share everything from:

  • News stories about your organization
  • Updates about new team members
  • Fundraising ideas
  • Upcoming events
  • And much more

Building a website isn't a one and done project. If you continue to use your website as a source of new and exciting infromation you'll enhance your communications with supporters.


Great nonprofit website design is all this and so much more. Whether a loyal supporter has volunteered to design the website, or you’re working with a nonprofit website design agency, communicating openly and candidly about these 6 important elements will improve your overall experience resulting in a better finished product.

What are some web design secrets or tricks that have saved you in the past? We’re always curious to hear how others have developed and designed their websites.

Hillary Skeffington is the Communications & Partnership Manager at Elevation Web, a nonprofit website design and development agency. While Hillary started as a primarily volunteer for nonprofits, she has recently dived into the nonprofit web design industry in efforts to provide nonprofits with quality websites so they can drive greater change with their online presence.

Topics: Marketing