Websites: There’s only one rule


Really.  There’s only one rule for making a great nonprofit website.  (It’s actually the rule for making any great website.)  KISS.  Keep It Simple; Seriously.

There’s more to an effective website that simplicity (otherwise I wouldn’t have any more to write) but take that as your starting point, and come back to it during every phase of the design process.  Think about one of the most successful companies on the web; Google.  Their homepage is a study in simple, clean design.  Or the difference between Facebook and MySpace.

Now, don’t think that because you want your website to be simple that it should be plain.  Simple can and often is beautiful. Vintage Hope and the World Wildlife Fund are two great examples of simple website design that highlights the images they use to explain their cause.

Nor does it have to be boring.  You can use video, audio and side (or parallax) scrolling, if it tells the story you want to tell.  A good example of a more story-based website is Every Last Drop, which uses the viewer’s scrolling action to animate the story. 

The first question you need to ask when designing your website is: what do I want to get from people visiting my site?  

Donations?  Put that Donate Now button prominently on the top of the page.  Don’t beat around the bush if what you need most from visitors is a donation.  Don’t make them look for how to donate, make it easy.  It’s not rude to be up front about donations.  Most people expect that a nonprofit will need donations, so just ask.



Volunteers?  Leave the Donate Now button where it is, but put a prominent link (images work better than text) to your “How to volunteer” page on your front page.

social media icon

Awareness?  If you need people to spread the word, again, make it easy.  Have a “Share this!” section with [links? widgets?] to all the (appropriate) social media sites.  The icons for Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn are small, and people are used to seeing and using them.  


Overall: Whatever you want from visitors to your website, make it easy for them.  No one likes having to scroll and click around to find what they’re looking for.

A few other parting tips:

Absolutely no auto-play audio.  Some people will visit your website at work (gasp), and there’s no faster way to get someone to leave your website than if it starts playing audio (this is the “make it stop!” response).  It is fine, even good, to have audio if it is relevant to your organization and programs, but give visitors control over when it plays (so they can get their headphones on).

Check how your website looks in multiple browsers.  Yes, even Internet Explorer.  People are turned off by badly rendered websites, and are almost never willing to open another browser to see if it looks better there.  You might also try loading your website over different quality connections, especially if you are trying to reach people who might not have high-speed access.

Don’t fear whitespace.  Blank space is good.  You might feel like you need to use every square centimeter of space on your page, but remember that pixels are essentially free.  You aren’t publishing a newspaper.  Spread out and relax.  It will be easier to read, and come across as more confident.

For a more in-depth review of website building, including specifics on what platforms to use and which Donate Now service to hire, see Chapter 1 of Heather Mansfield’s “Social Media for Social Good”.


3 thoughts on “Websites: There’s only one rule

  1. Hi Margot,I really enjoyed reading your post. Your writing style is friendly and funny making your blog easy to read and informative. It makes something as intimidating as creating a website seem not so scary at all. It could be worthwhile to remind organizations to use a tone appropriate for their target audience since it may not come as naturally for some writers. Your use of images and line spacing break up the text so it’s easy on the eyes. Asking “what do I want to get from people visiting my site?” is fantastic advice. It’s key for an organization to define their goals first and then determine the appropriate tools to use to reach those goals. Another way to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for is to include a search field. Sometimes people just want to type in keywords to quickly find something without scrolling around at all. Overall, really great post!

  2. Hi Margot, I really liked your title and your message. Your style is so engaging – I love how you used the continue reading feature to bring home your point even further. Very clever. I completely agree with you. Simplicity and white space draw me into a website – clutter and lack of white space make me want to click away immediately. It’s so hard to remember the rule when you are creating a website and trying to get in lots of information. It’s one of those things that is so easy in theory and so difficult in practice. Thanks also for the other tips and reminders, as well. Great job!

  3. OK, class is over, but carry on blogging, Margot. You definitely have a voice!

    This is a great overview of (nearly) everything you need to consider when designing your website. I thought your three tips at the end were excellent. I completely agree about auto play – whether its audio only or audiovisual – it’s really annoying and can be embarrassing. Your tip illustrates a wider point about allowing readers to control how they choose to interact with the site. Another thing I find annoying is when the site tries to force you to navigate it in a particular way. That’s something else I’d advise new web builders to avoid. When I created my mock site recently, it didn’t occur to me to check how it looks in different browsers (actually, I only have one), but that’s a great tip to ensure maximum coverage with proper functionality. And, of course, white space and simplicity work on the webpage, just as they do on your CV.

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