First Impressions Matter.

Did you know it only takes users about 50 milliseconds to form an opinion on whether they like our site or not? First impressions matter when you only have a split second to grab your visitors’ attention and get a chance to introduce your mission.

The pressure is on when it comes to keeping the visitors on your website long enough for them to not only find out about what you do but also, hopefully, become more involved with your mission. Keep in mind that not all of your visitors come to your website with a specific need. Some will just want to check out what you’re about. Don’t worry about getting their email or converting them to donors just yet. For those users, you need to focus on making a first good impression, establishing trust and credibility.

Below are 3 simple ways to maximize on the short time users take to form an opinion.

Design and Messaging: Images and Content Need to Align

Almost every website out there has a slideshow or a banner area at the top. If you think of your website as real estate, this is the multimillion dollar mansion that needs to shine and wow the visitor because that’s the first thing they see when they arrive. There are a few simple ways to use that area effectively:

  • Choose high quality images. Many nonprofits struggle with collecting quality images due to either financial restrictions or the nature of their mission. If that’s your case, see if stock photography is an option. Abstract or macro photography can be very effective if chosen carefully. Conservation International is a great example of how great quality images are paired with concise messaging effectively.

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  • Make sure your images align with your messaging. Take time to find just the right images and craft your messaging in a way that can be quickly consumed by visitors. The idea is that the visitor needs to get the basic idea of what you do at first glance. The Obakki Foundation does a great job at aligning their imagery with a short message that embodies what they do. They use a silent video in the background of the banner and a simple message about what they focus on that eliminates any confusion.

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Engagement: Give Users a Path Forward

Say the user has lingered on your banner area and got the impression of what you do. Success! Next, you want to offer a meaningful call to action to them that allows them to learn more about the issue. See how Heifer International combines a stunning visual, a concise message and a clear call to action right in the banner area for maximum impact:

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Continue this approach of offering a meaningful way forward with each major piece of content on your website. You should make a habit of asking these questions about every piece of content you display:

  • What’s the value of this content to user?
  • What’s the value of this content to my organization?
  • How do I want the user to interact with this content?

Remember to offer relevant calls to action within internal pages as well. For example, let’s say an interested visitor has clicked a link to a blog story from your home page and has read one of your success stories. Offer your user a way to become a hero and help you make a difference by either donating, staying in touch via email or reposting that story to their social media to raise awareness. By foreseeing your users’ needs you’re reinforcing that connection with them and make them feel important.

Storytelling: persuade with imagery

Did you know that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text? Once you’ve captured your users attention and moved them down the home page to explore more of your content, give them something they can really get excited about. You’re solidifying that first good impression here so attention to detail is going to go a long way.

Tell your story by showing the success of your mission in visuals and chose images that help you tell the whole story of who is affected by what and where. Now that your user is a little more involved with your content, introduce more copy to support the story in your image. Don’t forget to include a related call to action that gives the user the power to create change.

You can find good examples of delivering impact stories by using clear messaging and strong visuals to tell you who’s affected and how on Feeding America’s website. Their strategy around imagery makes the issue relatable by showing people like you in familiar settings.

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What you do matters—it matters a lot!

Make sure that you’re doing your mission justice by making a great first impression online. Give it a shot and start by following the guidelines outlined in this article on your website today.


Aga Siuda is a Design Principal at Blackbaud and is known for turning complex challenges into usable and beautiful website designs. A native of Poland, Aga takes inspiration in international nonprofit design trends and best practices for usability.  She loves the magic that happens when designers, strategists and clients collaborate.

Aga earned her Graphic Design degree from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. She ran a small design agency with a focus in branding before relocating to Charleston, SC to enjoy the beach life with her husband and two kids.

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