Nonprofit Websites: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly



Websites are key vehicles for communicating your message to the widest audience, showing your brand identity and getting people to sign up to campaigns and newsletters. They are also effective for taking donations – nudging people’s impulse to give with big, bright “Donate Now” buttons. Heather Mansfield says in her book, Social Media for Social Good, that a static website is the lynchpin (along with your e-newsletter) in your communications and fundraising campaigns.

Getting your website designed and up and running can be quick and inexpensive. Ideally, you’d get a professional web designer to do the job. But with some time and persistence (and online tutorials) you or your social media/communications manager could create it using a do-it-yourself content management system (CMS), such as WordPress or Wix.Screenshot 2015-08-16 21.25.47

These applications are easy to edit and provide templates that make it quick and easy to achieve a professional looking format. Some CMSs will allow you to register a unique domain name. With others your url will include their own suffixes and you’ll need to pick a very specific name, otherwise it will likely be already taken ( Even with these “easy-build” CMSs, it’s worth learning a bit of code – HTML for structure, CSS for style and JavaScript for actions – so you can fully customise your site to look, feel and do what you want.

Creating the site is one thing; you also need to think about the hosting arrangements. Don’t be lured into going with the cheapest option without considering if it will meet your needs. How much storage you will need depends on how you plan to use the site. E.g. will it include a blog with user comments? That could take up a lot of storage. So, make sure you have enough to ensure your site functions properly.

Another thing to think about with the hosting arrangements on a shared server are who else is hosted there and whether or not it will affect your organisation’s credibility or reputation to share a platform with, say, an explicit adult site.

A Few Words On Some Popular CMSs

Screenshot 2015-08-16 21.27.39

This CMS is free, open source and very versatile. It allows you to develop a website, write a blog and easily switch between the two. Your website can either be self-hosted, in which case you will have to download the WordPress app from, plus any themes or plug-ins you want for your site. You will need a domain name and your site will be hosted on your own (or a rented) server, which will come at a small cost. You can also create and host your site entirely free on

Google Sites Screenshot 2015-08-16 21.28.47

Google Sites is  easy to use and, of course, linked to other Google products and works best with these. This is both a good thing, as they’re widely used and also could be a problem, if you don’t use Google Chrome as your default search engine.

Screenshot 2015-08-16 21.26.39


Can be free to use or different upgrades are available at a range of prices. It is easy to use, with drag and drop features and provides a range of customisable templates.

Looking For Inspiration?

Now you know where to go to build your site, what do you want it to look like? To quickly find and browse some non-profit websites to inspire your design, check out Every Action for a top 100 list, or Social Driver (2014) for their top 41. Yes, odd that they stopped at 41 rather than 50!

Here are three sites that, to me, demonstrate some extremes you might want to emulate or avoid.


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly



  1. The Good – ActionAid

ActionAid homepageThis website is clear, easy to read and informative. Although it’s not exactly simple, it manages to get to the point, while conveying a vast amount of information about their different projects all over the world. It’s bright and there are some high quality images to illustrate their work and campaigns. The site is designed with all the features you’d expect from Web 1.0, i.e. blogs, advocacy campaigns and “Donate Now” buttons on each page; Web 2.0 – blogging, sharing and peer to peer fundraising; and Web 3.0 – its mobile site is as easy to read and navigate as the desktop version. The donate button takes you through to a page with options for various fixed donations or to sign up as a regular donor, but it’s at least another two clicks before your inputting your card details. Otherwise, it’s a pleasure to navigate and read.

  1. The Bad:

One of the most cumbersome websites in the history of the Internet resulted from the efforts of the UK government to simplify things for people looking for information about public services. Each topic requires a minimum of three clicks to get the point Gov UK homepageand then you land on a page with a long directory of subtopics. The easiest way to find what you’re looking for is with a Google search, which rather defeats the object of combining all the services into one site. The site is drab, with no graphics, except
images of the document you thought you were clicking open, which you then have to click to open. Awful!

  1. The Ugly: Diabetes UKs website is very informative, colourful and interactive. But it’s far too busy, with too much text on each page and too many animations. Makes for a rather exhausting user experience.

Diabetes UK homepage

I’ve had a go – Harlesden Health CHAMPS.

Let me know what you think and what’s in your top 19?


Mansfield, H. (2012). Social Media for Social Good, A how-to guide for nonprofits. New York: McGraw Hill.



4 thoughts on “Nonprofit Websites: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Hi Sandra,
    Thanks for an informative post. I like how you brought up the issue of hosting arrangements and how it could be problematic to share a server – I had not even thought about this! Nice job summarizing some of the different content management systems as well. And, I loved your use of the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” – with the video clip and all – it really grabbed my attention. I think showing what works and what doesn’t work in website design is a helpful tool for teaching good design practices. I like that you used thumbnails of the different sites as well – helped me “see” right away what you were highlighting. Great post!

  2. Hi Sandra, agree and echo Liana’s comment about hosting. It is an important point. Yout comment about government simplifying work is hilarious, and underscores the importance to have the right human being(s) for the job (Mansfield, 2011). Larger organizations with a decent budget should get web designer on the job. How we connect to websites is so important to initial and sustained engagement that it’s worth looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly for lessons learned. Thank you for the post!

  3. I’m trying to find something good to say about that website. The font is consistent and easy to read. Actually, in general it is easy on the eyes with a simple, consistent format and no pictures. Which is better than I expected for something clearly made by committee. But you are right, I have never had to click so many times to get at information. It is very reminiscent of visiting a government office. You know that what you need is in there some place, but it will be dull, confusing and frustrating to find it.

    I think the take-away from that website is that the more information you are trying to share, the more important good design is, and the more important it is to test your website with real people before it goes live.

  4. Hi Sandra,
    Great title! It really drew me in. Your post is a great resource for people new to website design. You cover important items to consider, recommend a number CMS options, and include examples of what works and what doesn’t. I was pleased you included screenshots of the websites you mentioned so I didn’t have to leave your post to see what you were talking about. The design of your post had the reader in mind, just like a good website. Your writing style was informative with a sense of humor. I especially enjoyed your wrap up sentence.

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