7 Common Website Design Mistakes Nonprofits Make

Let’s kick off this conversation by debunking a few common myths about website design mistakes:

  • It’s not just about money. Your nonprofit can build a great website on a frugal budget. Conversely, you can sink tons of cash into it and end up with a complete monstrosity.
  • Your website is not carved in concrete. If you recognize some problems with your site, don’t freak out. There’s no need to trash what you’ve got. Generally speaking, you can improve things with minor additions, deletions, and tweaks.
  • There is no “perfect” website. Most things are subjective.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s dive in…

Mistake #1: Lack Of Strategic Planning

A good website doesn’t start with design; it starts with planning. Before you jump into the development process, you should do some BIG PICTURE thinking:

  • Who is your ideal audience?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with your website? How does it fit into your organization’s long-term vision?
  • How will you drive traffic to your website? (e.g. social media, search engine optimization, paid advertising)
  • What ongoing needs are related to the website? (e.g. security, updates, promotions)
  • What tools and skillsets are required to meet those needs?
  • Can you handle everything in-house? Or will you need to out-source?
  • How much can you afford to spend on the website? (Remember to include the monthly costs of keeping it alive and thriving)

Taking time to think strategically and map things out properly is important. But if the boat has already sailed – and your website is already up and running – don’t panic.

Some of the most common website design mistakes are errors of omission.  And fixing them can be as simple as adding new elements to your site.

Mistake #2: Obsessing About “Prettiness”

Every organization wants to have a beautiful website. But once decision-makers start obsessing about aesthetics, things go awry quickly. When everyone focuses on what it LOOKS like, it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s supposed to DO.

Moreover, sites that are designed to appease the vanity of stakeholders often end up with unnecessary bells and whistles.  These can cause problems, like slow page load times and complicated navigation.

And guess what people do when a website confuses them – or makes them wait around too long?… They click AWAY!

NEVER sacrifice function for aesthetics.

Mistake #3: Lack of CTAs

What do you want website visitors to do?

A call-to-action (CTA) is a compelling prompt that’s attached to a link or button. It’s purpose is to inspire action. So truthfully, if you don’t have effective CTAs, your website is basically just a collection of descriptions. People may poke around on the pages for awhile, but they’re not going to do anything purposeful.

The best CTAs are clear and simple. They work because they tell your visitors exactly what to do. Here are a few examples that may apply to your nonprofit:

  • Become a Member
  • Join Now
  • Sign Up
  • Contact Us
  • Get Started

When it comes to CTA design, the general rule is to stay simple with the words and splashy with the colours. You want your CTAs to jump off the page.

Hint: Red is a tried-and-true option.

Mistake #4:  Lack of Social Proof

Of all the website design mistakes I see, this one upsets me the most because the value of social proof is so obvious.

Have you ever booked a hotel based on the online reviews? Or tried a new restaurant because someone told you it was good? That’s the essence of social proof.

We live in a skeptical world. People don’t trust easily so you need to show them real-life evidence that your organization is great!

Examples of social proof for nonprofit websites include:

  • Testimonials from donors, clients, volunteers, etc.
  • Success Stories
  • Numbers and Statistics

Testimonials are arguably the most effective form of social proof because they’re authentic. A REAL person donated, volunteered, or participated in a program, and is attesting to the benefits. They had a personal experience that was positive and they are sharing their enthusiasm with others.

It doesn’t get better than that!

Mistake #5: No FRESH Content

Fresh content gives search engines ongoing reasons to send traffic your way.

The simplest way to keep things fresh is with a blog. Blog posts (which can also include podcast/video episodes) are great for search engine optimization (SEO).

High-quality, SEO-friendly blog posts help you attract and engage website visitors.  Those visitors may share your blog posts with others. And they may be more likely to visit your website again, because you’re creating great content!

To learn more about creating content that attracts search engines and appeals to real people, you may want to read: Writing SEO Content: A Guide For Nonprofits.

Mistake #6: Contact Us Problems

Contacting your organization should be simple. Each extra step and complication increases the risk that someone will become frustrated and leave.

Firstly, I recommend using a contact form. Filling out a form is easier and faster than writing an email message. And a well-crafted form can gather important details, thereby helping you respond effectively.

Secondly, I encourage you NOT to vanquish your contact form to the barren wasteland of a “contact us” page. It can live there, but it can also pop on other pages. And, of course, you can have some CTAs that lead people to your contact form.

Take every opportunity to encourage visitors to connect with you!

Mistake #7: Not Monitoring Website Performance

Your website is an important investment. You put time, effort, and money into it, so it makes sense to keep an eye on things. Little issues can have big impact. For example, a slow-loading image or a broken link, can frustrate visitors.

You also want to regularly analyze the performance of specific pages. This helps you identify what’s attracting and engaging visitors – and what isn’t.

In the words of organizational management expert, Peter Drucker:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

There are lots of monitoring and tracking tools available. When it comes to analytics, the most common option is Google Analytics. It provides tons of information about visitor behaviours and conversion rates, although there is a learning curve.

I recommend reading “How to Use Google Analytics [The Absolute Beginner’s Guide]” by the folks over at Moz.

Ideally, analytics tools are included in the initial site design, but it’s never too late! Speak to your website designer.  They should be able to add what you need.

Conclusion: Website Design Mistakes are Easy To Avoid

Your organization needs a website that’s capable of doing the heavy lifting. It must be able to attract traffic and hold the attention of visitors. Moreover, it needs to answer their questions and lead them to move forward in a way that aligns with your intentions.

To be clear, you can reach all of these goals without spending a fortune. And you can avoid most website design mistakes by thinking strategically, and focusing on function instead of aesthetics.

Ultimately, building a website not a one-off activity. Your website is a living, breathing part of your nonprofit brand.  As such, it requires ongoing care and attention. So if you see a mistake, correct it and move on. Nothing’s set in concrete!








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