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How to Build a Website for Charitable Organizations - Part 2

by Christine Schaefer, VP of Community and Marketing, Salsa

Building a website can seem like a daunting task, especially for budget-strapped, volunteer-based charitable foundations who don’t have the luxury of an in-house IT, web, or marketing team.

Of course, there are a ton of design agencies out there willing to help you get it right. But nonprofit websites aren’t the same as regular websites. Sure, they need to be user-friendly with easy-to-follow navigation and great design elements. But they also need to get to the heart of what you do and to make people care about what you do. Most importantly, your site needs to give your supporters plenty of opportunities and reasons to get involved, it needs to make it easy to “make an ask”.

This three part blog series lays out the essential ingredients for building a kick-ass website for your charitable foundation:

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of the build-process including understanding your needs, finding the right help, tools and add-ons, and how to make your site social- and mobile-friendly.

How to Find Someone to Build the Site for You

Who should you use to help you build your site? Well, this is a decision that will flow from your budget. Consider the funds you have available in the context of what you want your site to do, and be prepared to adjust your scope of work as you begin to explore your options. A website is a significant investment, so spend some time evaluating your needs before you make any decisions about who’s going to help you build it, this will save time and money down the road. Consider the following:

  • What do you want your site to do? Do you want it to be a hub for news and contact info about your charity? Do you want visitors to be able to make donations online, sign up for events, read a blog, volunteer their services, sign up for a newsletter, or interact with others? What about creating unique campaign landing pages?
  • Who’s going to manage and maintain the site? How will you integrate your site with existing supporter management tools and marketing lists?
  • What are your future needs? For example, if you want to add event registrations to the site down the line, make sure that you have that capability from the get-go.

When it comes to finding help, you have many options. Talk to other charities and nonprofits to find out who they use or recommend. There are also a number of companies who specialize in nonprofit website design at a relatively low cost, like Cornershop Creative, 4Site Studios, Powerthru Consulting, and Beaconfire Consulting. You can also turn to freelancers with expertise in web design. Ask around for referrals or use services like Elance.com and Freelance.com to find experts and get proposals online.

If you already work with a donation processing provider or have a constituent relationship management system, these firms might also be able to help you set-up your web presence. At Salsa, we refer our clients to our partners who know our system, work with nonprofits and political campaigns and are at the forefront of supporter engagement online.

Make it Mobile-Friendly

Mobile is set to overtake fixed Internet access this year. If you want your supporters to access and share your content on the go, make sure your web designer knows how to create a “responsively designed” site (meaning it will load and be readable on any kind of mobile device). Building a mobile site from the get-go will cost a lot less than upgrading your site in the future.

Wait, There’s More – Choosing the Right Tools and Add-Ons

Before you write a word of content for your new site, you’ll need to make sure you have the right tools in place to measure how effective your site is. Tools such as Google Analytics and Crazy Egg (which can provide a snapshot of individual visitor behavior) can give you valuable insight on visitor activity, campaign and content effectiveness. Before you make any investments, consider what activity you want to measure based on the goals of your organization, here are a few recommendations.

You’ll also need to consider which CMS you want to use to manage your site. When Salsa surveyed >30,000 nonprofits back in early 2012, most respondents told us they were using WordPress and the second most common CMS was Drupal. Other answers included Joomla and custom-built systems. In the end, there is no one right answer for every charitable foundation. Your answer will be directly tied to your needs - both short-term and long-term. Here’s an article on how to decide which CMS is right for your nonprofit.

Now is also a good time to consider investing in a nonprofit-friendly online marketing platform like Salsa to help you better manage your digital fundraising and charity appeals. These tools integrate seamlessly with your website and simplify the process of managing supporters, building relationships, and streamlining donor communications using easy-to-setup donor forms, email communications, list segmentation tools, and so on.

Tie your Site to Social Media

Integrating your web and social media presence can boost awareness, engagement and ultimately donations for your charitable foundation across all your online channels. At a 2011 NTEN workshop, engagement strategist Debra Askanase pinpointed the following five basic goals for integrating social media with your nonprofit website:

  • To grow followers in your social media spaces
  • To create on-site engagement (informational videos, blogs)
  • To develop a sense of community on the website
  • To help raise funds (through social sharing)
  • To create a call to action

But what is a social website? At a minimum:

  • Add your social network icons to your home page.
  • Add YouTube videos to content pages.
  • Add social sharing features to your content.
  • Drum up new connections by asking for likes and follows on campaign landing pages and donation thank you pages.
  • Plan on starting a blog to give people a reason to keep coming back to your site and boosting your search engine optimization (SEO).

Check out Debra’s SlideShare for more tips for building a social nonprofit website and take a look at the image below for an example of clean, social media integration.


Stay tuned for part three of this blog which will delve into tips for effective SEO, how to make your site donor- and volunteer-friendly, creating great content, and incorporating visual storytelling.

Topics: Marketing