How to create an effective nonprofit website

Our 7 Step Process for Creating Highly Effective Nonprofit Websites

If you lead a nonprofit, chances are that you know how difficult it can be to get all the support you need to effectively complete your mission. Gaining donors is the most fundamental way for an organization to work towards their goals, providing all the revenue they need to pour back into their outreach and aid. When it’s left in your own hands, it can be challenging for many nonprofit owners to understand what works in promoting their organization. What makes people want to donate? How can you cleverly grab their attention?

Nowadays, websites are a fundamental part of this. Having a site is the way most new people will find you, and the website will work as the primary way you convert interested visitors into active donors. But, a simple display of pretty pictures and invitations to donate won’t achieve what you need it to. A great website needs to be strategic, built for effective messaging, and designed to highlight your organization's strengths. So, how can you achieve this?


Prefer to read? We’ve transferred all of Chijo’s top tips into one easy-to-understand blog, taking those seven key steps and breaking them down one by one. Read below to get a full rundown of what makes for an effective nonprofit website.

The Transcript: Learn Chijo’s Unique 7-Step Process

As a nonprofit leader, have you ever asked yourself this question: How do I create a good nonprofit website?

Websites are important. If you’re a nonprofit and you want to carry out your mission to help more people, you need a good website. But, I’m going to challenge you to think about not just a good website - let’s talk about effective websites. Effective means people are coming to your website, not only to look at the pretty pictures, but to take action. They click that ‘Donate Today’ button and become donors. So, how do we do that?

Well, I’m Chijo, the founder of Dogpaw Studio. We specialize in building websites for nonprofits. So today I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you our seven-step process.

Number one is our “3 Keys” - this is the secret sauce. It’s going to take a little bit more for me to explain it later in this blog, but this is the piece that elevates a website from having just pretty pictures and a ‘Donate Now’ button to a website that has powerful messaging. This helps the people coming across the site to clearly understand what you’re tackling as far as challenges or problems in our communities and our world, including how you’re doing it and the kind of impact you’re making, to give them a better idea of what you do.

Number two is a site map. A site map is like a map that you might use for a road trip - it’s going to have the navigation, the menu, and all the pages that are going to be on the site. We create that and map it all out for you. The third step is a prototype. We create an actual functioning website that may have some placeholder or dummy content and photos but is a working site that the client can navigate through to envision the finished product.

The fourth one is design. We provide a custom design to put on the new website when we launch it. Number five is the build, when we finally put the design on top of the prototype, on top of the site map, and build out the entire website properly. Next comes the part that not everybody does: testing. We test and go through our pre-launch checklist to ensure that the website is functioning. This means all the buttons are working, the links are good, and the content is in the right place. This is our sixth step before we even talk about launching. Then, of course, there’s the eventual launch of the new website. Yay!

Let’s tackle each of these one at a time. First is the “3 Keys”. They are: struggle, solution, and success. So, the first thing we do is have a series of one-on-one coaching sessions with the clients and the leaders of the nonprofit to identify the struggle the nonprofit is addressing. Some examples are: there are too many people struggling with eating disorders, there are so many veterans struggling with PTSD, or perhaps it’s world hunger. Whatever the struggle is, we need to identify what is the problem or challenge you’re facing. What is it that the organization wants to resolve?

Then, the second key is the solution. What particular technique, method, or tools does your organization have as a solution to address this struggle we’ve identified?

And then, finally, it’s the success. What is the success or the impact that your organization is making because of the amazing solution that you have? 

So, this is the foundation of the messaging on the website when people visit it. Instead of just staring at a simple ‘Donate Now’ button, now there’s text around that button so that people can identify with it. And then, there’s the solution so that people can identify with that and say, ‘Wow, that’s a legitimate solution that sounds very doable!’ and then there’s the success or impact that can be made as a potential donor.

I want to know what kind of impact you’re making, so let’s put all three of these in the messaging all throughout the website. So, this is the first part, and we spend weeks identifying this to get it right.

Next is a site map. So, a site map is a visual site map, using fancy software to figure out the homepage and various other pages needed. Then we identify and put in the navigation, figuring out what is going to link where, and what kind of content is going to go on each one. We’ll make notes on what type of content goes where. If a page has videos, we’ll lay it out as a video and make notes to ensure that we know exactly what goes where and how it all connects together.

The next thing that we do is create a prototype. A prototype means our clients get the benefit of having a black and white, fully functional website. They get to navigate through the menu and look at the pages. They can click on links to see what goes where and check out the donation machine - which is what we call the system that we put in to allow for effective donations.

The prototype is very user-friendly and is a chance to use the website and fine-tune content and functionality before we even proceed with the later phases, like talking about design or building it out. We want to make sure that everything is laid out correctly.

The fourth thing that we do is talk about design. Now, this is a custom step. We often rely on the client or the organization's logo,  branding guides, and color schemes. We will make and present a mock-up, typically a two-dimensional image of the homepage and some select inside pages like the donation page. This allows our clients to visualize with the branded colors what the pages might look like, and we will get full approval for that before we move on to the next section: the build.

Of course, for the build, the “3 Keys” are critical. Messaging based on struggle, solution, and success has to be put in all the content. As we build, all the messaging goes in the right places, all throughout the site. We put in all the photos, the videos, and build out all the forms (such as contact forms) and the donation machine. Once that’s done, we do the testing. Making sure all the links, forms, and buttons are working. We’ll even run through a live donation on your donation machine with a live credit card to make sure the donation system is working, and the money can get to your bank. 

So, the testing phase is important. That’s why we identify it as a completely separate step so that we ensure the site is going to be all ready to go before we get to the last stage, which is the launch.

If a client’s organization has an existing website, we might make a backup of it before replacing it, going through our pre-launch checklist items, and launching our tasks. We aim to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Now, I’m going to throw in a bonus here because not everybody knows about it: after the site is launched, we offer a 30-day warranty. Not everybody does this. For 30 days after the launch of your new website, both you and I have the opportunity to point out things we may have missed. I mean, we’re all human, right? And sometimes, things get missed.

There may be buttons that don’t quite work the way we thought it was going to work after launching it, or maybe there was a typo somewhere in the content that you submitted to us. These minor things that need to be fixed during the first 30 days will be fixed at no charge. This is all included in the project, as sometimes, once you’ve launched a project, it may not behave the same as it did when we were testing it on a testing server. Once everything is live, we want to make sure it’s working just the way it’s supposed to be.

And that's why we provide a 30-day warranty. So that you can rest assured that once we follow-through, all right, let's go whizzing back up to the process.

Again, number one is the “3 Keys”, number two is the site map, number three is the prototype, number four is design, number five build, number six testing, and number seven launch, along with the bonus of the 30-day warranty.

With all these things, and especially with a focus on those “3 Keys”, you will have a website that not only showcases all the photos, text, and videos that you want but will also have messaging on there that will have site visitors becoming supporters of your mission. That’s what I call ‘the what’s in it for me? test’ – when people come to your website, they will recognize the struggle that you address, the solution that you provide, and the success that you have.

The whole story will be more likely to allow people to become supporters of your mission and hit that ‘Donate Button’, so that you can increase the budget and the revenue for your organization, ultimately increasing the amount of good that you can do in your community.

If you’re looking to start the process of improving your website (or starting one from scratch!), then I’m ready to help you out. Book a call with me today to start discussing your mission and take those first steps to get your nonprofit as much support as possible.