Nine (9) Tips for Nonprofit Websites

The worldwide endemic is providing you with an opportunity.  Many people will come through this with a keen understanding of what is important to them as a human being and the world. You are in a unique position to contribute to your visitor’s journey to have an impact  and provide real life experiences to do good in this world. Show your visitors the value of volunteering, donation or just applauding. Invite your visitors into their imagination. 

The web is not your mother’s internet anymore. In today’s nonprofit world, it’s not enough to simply have a website to connect with your supporters. Your website is the direct representation of your company to the public. It is your brand — your first and eternal impression. It serves your needs just as much as it needs to serve your supporters. And in the nonprofit world, “need” and “willing to serve” are familiar, welcoming words.

As website viewers ourselves, what we look for in a website is what others look for as well. It’s not a “big ask.” In order for your site to provide limitless support for your viewers, what does it need?

It needs to captivate, navigate and inform.

  • It needs ease of comprehension, so your visitor can accomplish tasks swiftly. 
  • It needs quick, intuitive navigation for today’s short attention span.  
  • Each page needs to be well written with great imagery.
  • It needs to tell a story formatted for readers on the fly.
  • It needs mobile optimization and fast loading. Research shows you have only 3 seconds to draw people into your site.
  • It needs to incorporate shared links to articles and information posted on social media. 
  • It needs to be accessible for all visitors including the elderly or those with disabilities.
  • And naturally, it needs to be affordable. Maintaining your site shouldn’t strain your budget.

Most people learn about a nonprofit organization through social media or at local events. Research reveals that approximately 85% access Facebook from their smart phones and ergo discover your site initially using a mobile device. They open your email the first time on the mobile phone to come back later again using their desktop. 

So what does this mean for the modern website of a nonprofit organization?

These 9 tips will send you on your way to a successful online impression.

#1 Keep the number of navigation links between 5 and 7. 

  • More than that can paralyze your visitor trying to figure out where to look next.
  • Submenus are allowed, but just a few.
  • These should be easily accessible using a keyboard as well as a mouse. 

#2 Make the donation button a main navigation item.

Many visitors want to do just that — donate. Make the donation button standout from the navigation in a complementary or cross-complementary color. 

Caption: Example: Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
Blue navigation bar with Donate link in yellow.
Only 7 main navigation links.

The best practices for ecommerce sites apply also to online donations. 

#3 Keep visitors on your site to process an online donation

Maintain the trust pact you have built with your viewer. As opposed to having a third-party accept donations, your donation pages should be part of your website. This inclusion raises 6 times more money than when the donation button or link leads the donor off to another site, even if it’s a subdomain. Leading a donor away from your trusted site breaks the trust pact you’ve already established. Some potential donors hesitate with this method. If online donation is an impulse buy, any hesitation costs you money.

To avoid the extraneous data handling effort, you could use a self-hosted open-source software like CiviCRM with events, membership, donor, contact management and email marketing – all built in.  

Disclosure: Pauli Systems is a CiviCRM partner.

#4 Keep your donation process simple.

Forego large forms. It comes back to the impulse buy. Generally you don’t need the donor’s address to manage a successful payment process. You can make it a secondary contact opportunity to give a donor incentive to provide an address.

We are fans of the GiveWP plugin. You can be up and running with a good donation process in a couple of hours. 

Implement a simple donation process with Form builders. We install this on most sites to enable a Volunteer Application or Event Registration. Coupled with a payment gateway like stripe, you can make an easy to use donation process and add it to any of your organization’s landing pages, or as a Call to Action in your blog posts.  

#5 Include a second ask on your “Thank You” page and email. 

Several plugins can instantiate monthly giving. Once installed, you can ask the donor: “Do you want to make this a monthly gift?” and use an easy checkmark box to make it a subscription. If that’s not yet feasible to implement, make the second ask something like “Tell your friends” and “Share on social media” using functional social sharing buttons. 

#6 Thank you notes make and break your donor relationship.

Do not neglect the last essential piece of the puzzle: the thank you note/email. Just because an expression of thanks comes from a computer, it’s best not to make it sound automated. You can send a very personable email with your confirmation, and you can even link a “Thank you” video from a board member or one of the beneficiaries to let the donor know about the impact the donation makes. Do not use the default email of any plugin you use. Customize it.

#7 Use WP Mail SMTP Pro to process your transactional emails

The WP Mail SMTP plugin allows you to connect your website with your email service provider rather than using the built-in Mailer configuration. It’s an added cost to hook it all up, but it’s worth the money. Your emails arrive at the recipient’s primary inbox instead of in spam, promotion or updates tabs. Make it part of the requirement documentation for your consultants. Most of my clients only realize this after GoLive. 

#8 Find a good versatile form plugin.

Though only 8% of the donations by individuals in the US are made online, it has grown into double-digits in the last four years. It’s a surprising number considering how much time we spend optimizing the process. 

Plugins are available to streamline your administrative processes and reduce duplicate data entry for Event Registration, Volunteer applications, etc. Most form plugins also integrate with third-party tools like your email marketing provider, your Google Drive account and others. You might need to test a few to make sure you are able to handle any new form creation in house.

Here is a list of plugins with great documentation and support: 

Earlier, I mentioned CiviCRM as a comprehensive tool to organize your contacts, applications and forms in one space. Once you know how your organization’s administration is digitize, a CiviCRM implementation will help you streamline your processes and handle all your data in one spot.

You can test CiviCRM as a hosted solution for less than $15 a month, unlimited users, 2000 contacts and 5,000 emails pro month. Check it out here: CiviCRM Spark

#9 Keep your homepage simple.

Many studies have shown that most people come to your website not through your homepage but through a Google search, a social media link, or an email you sent. What they read and see at this entry point is more important than your homepage design. 

I have seen technology teams discuss the homepage over and over again. Discussions should focus on content strategy or donor/volunteer experience. What are the goals of your website? Unless you already have a content-rich site, that topic needs to bubble up to the front burner — content strategy and production are king. 

How much of the fancy frontpage design will make it to the mobile view? Use a small logo on the top and have a few menu items. Everything else is content on a small screen. Fancy frames and shadows get in the way of a clean layout. 

When we design a website, we revise the homepage design many times throughout the project. After the initial mock-ups, we talk a lot about information architecture, content strategy, landing pages with forms, and registration processes. Form follows function.

Conclusion

Keep in mind your main goals for your website: maintain your current supporters and attract new donors. And like anything worthwhile, a company that invests time and energy into an appealing site will reap the rewards it seeks.

Schedule a Site Review with Birgit Pauli-Haack

If you feel your organization’s website needs a site review, schedule a video conference call with screen sharing capabilities with us. We’ll go over the site with you and give at least five immediate action items you can implement with your consultant or freelancer. Interested? Fill out the form or send an email to support@paulisystems.net

Featured Image: “Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible” by Alfredo Jarr, The Alfond Inn, Winterpark, Florida. Photo by Birgit Pauli-Haack

CiviCRM Donor and Events Management for Nonprofits

This post was first published on CiviCRM community web site. 

At first glance, one might think CiviCRM donor management for nonprofits is just another tool for development officers, fundraising professionals and executives.

One might want to take another look.

There is a jungle of nonprofit donor management systems on the market today. Capterra lists over 140 different systems  All promise the heaven on earth but, in reality, few other open-source systems offer what you find in CiviCRM.

Aside from its fully integrated system which manages all contact information and activities around all people involved in your organization, CiviCRM is also state of the art technology with a very attractive price point as open-source. There are no licence fees. It’s all installed on your host if you’d like to stay in control of your environment, data and security. As with any software system, it needs its fair share of set-up, configuration, maintenance and training.

I have been burned with open-source software quite a bit in the last decade but working with open-source has also been the biggest delight. There are open-source software communities that stand out and CiviCRM is definitely one of them.

How to judge an open-source software and avoid the pitfalls?

As with any technology project you have to look from three different angles: the technology, the processes, and the people involved.

Technology

A motherboard for computers

For most mature technology projects, the technology is sound. The engineers put their hearts and souls into it and gave it their best. I always assume it’s really good.
Most technology projects don’t fail because the technology decisions were wrong. Most of the time, it’s the people and the processes which become the hardest to align.

CiviCRM has been built with PHP probably, the most used web programming language. It runs on a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). It is an open-system for developers. It has a managed public API and maintains an infrastructure for custom extension. If a software has been around for almost 10 years and successfully installed around ten-thousand times, it’s safe to assume most of the bugs in the core were already discovered and fixed.

Both the maturity of the CiviCRM system and the managed infrastructure for developer contributions make for an excellent basis upon which to build organization’s core administrative tool for employees.

Processes

Flow Chart (Processes)

Next step on my CiviCRM journey was to dive into the processes of the CiviCRM community.

In this case, processes mean to me: where to find documentation and discover how current it is; find out how can I ask questions, what is the process to report bugs or errata in documentation; discover how forums are run, how was the wiki assembled and how does the issue tracker work.

I witnessed first hand how the community came together and jumped through hoops to become an official Stack Exchange public forum and sunset the existing forums on the site. This was a major effort. You need to prove to Stack Exchange there is a sufficient enough community to support a forum on the site. Stack Exchange doesn’t want ghost towns. The process opens up the community to even more users and also allows for many more people to help each other out while relieving the core contributors from the vast amount of forum posts to be answered and moderated.

I read through all the documentation and successfully installed CiviCRM on top of WordPress, in our company’s test server.

Again, a pleasant surprise. I did not experience a single hiccup or mismatch between the documentation and what I saw in reality. Until this experience I found it quite normal that complex systems would not always behave like the best case scenario in the documentation.

I don’t normally get it right the first time. Nine out of ten times, luck would have me hit a roadblock or surface a bug no one else had found. With CiviCRM I didn’t encounter any of it.

The developing contributors did a fantastic job testing the code before is was released and thoroughly documented the phases of installation and configuration. We all love when a plan comes together. But when you have been around technology long enough, you really don’t expect it to go smoothly right off the bat.

While testing the systems and diving into several different use cases and requirements for the my first project, I received plenty of assistance through the people volunteering on the forums. When I read through the documentation I mostly found the necessary additional information on how to handle special cases of events or a so-called household memberships.

For fun, I also read about scheduled reminders and scheduled jobs. Of course, at this point I was set-up with higher expectations but CiviCRM did not disappoint at any level of my self-paced, fast-paced education. I tested the membership module, events module, the email mass mailing software and the contributions module. Nothing brings more knowledge and lets me test drive a system than when applied to a real life project. So later that year, I took on migration of a membership organization from Filemaker 7.0 to CiviCRM.

People

People

Equally important to technology and process, if not more important for its success, are the people who run the software and the community around it. Who are the people involved? How large is the community? Who are the leaders? How approachable are they? How welcoming is the community to newcomers? How can normal everyday users get help? Is there a network of consultants available to do the heavy lifting for organizations which don’t have their own IT departments?

I started interacting with the CiviCRM community about 15 months ago, when I was searching for a speaker for the local Tech4Good group.

In my search, I reached out to Donald Lobo, CiviCRM’s founder, and David Greenberg, co-founder, got back to me. What a delight. Although as I mentioned I didn’t know any of them, their status in the community soon became quite clear. Both were very helpful – I felt quite welcome. Unfortunately, we didn’t find an evangelist for CiviCRM in Florida. If there is a need, and my interest is peaked, I normally run with it and research some more. Donald and David definitely planted the seed.

After a few months of testing and documenting some of the lessons learned, I started to get even more involved with the CiviCRM community. I signed up for the CiviCRM User Summit in September 2014 (Check out scheduled CiviCRM Events ) and was really amazed about the climate of collaboration and community. The CiviCRM User Summit started with a social showcase gathering the night before in an art gallery with four presentations in which implementers and nonprofits showed-off their use of CiviCRM or discussed new modules or extensions.

The presentations and presenters at the User Summit the next day were outstanding. I was totally intrigued by the versatility of CiviCRM software and the generosity of the consultants, implementers, contributors and community managers.

I finally met David Greenberg and CiviCRM newsletter editor, Linda Wu Pagano, in person after connecting with them often on twitter and on the CiviCRM site, it was like meeting long time friends again. I also met new people, like Tony Mazzarella of Web Access, who showed off some amazing implementation for a political campaign; Nate Porter of Ukuu People, who I met again at WordPress Camps as well as at #15NTC; Frank Gómez and Michael Daryabeygi, the fearless CiviVolunteer code wranglers of Ginkgo Street Labs, and Paul Keogan from BackOffice Thinking, who with his team around Linda Wu Pagano and Brad DeForest started the newest NPTechClub in Pennsylvania. There are so many more interesting CiviCRM people with whom I hope to connect.

The CiviCRM community radiates a genuine spirit of making this world a better place with the best tools available and that spirit enables better software and collaboration.
After working four years extensively with WordPress, I learned to embrace the community driven software. I have the choice to work with open-source vs proprietary software, open-source wins every time.

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