8 Core Design Principles of the Best Nonprofit Websites | npENGAGE

8 Core Design Principles of the Best Nonprofit Websites

By on Aug 25, 2016


Man sketching principles of the best nonprofit websites

In today’s world, nonprofit websites are essential. And it’s not only mandatory to have a website, but to have a website that connects constituents to your cause.

In order to design a nonprofit website that drives donations and empowers supporters to be champions for your cause, you must:

  • Understand your audience
  • Provide an engaging experience
  • Deliver the right content with an appealing design that’s true to your brand
  • Insert the appropriate calls to action

8 Core Design Principles of the Best Nonprofit Websites


1. Every Pixel has a Purpose

Even at your neighborhood grocery store, where every single inch of shelf space has an ROI attached to it, there are expert designers and strategists working to create an environment and shelving display that converts browsers to shoppers. In the same way, every single website pixel should be thought of as shelf space to further your cause.  Your goal is to convert casual visitors to supporters and ultimately donors. The idea here is ensure every single pixel on the screen is accounted for within the design.  This does not mean that every single pixel must be colored or manipulated, but rather – think about the positive and the negative space, balance and consistency. The pixels you don’t touch are as important as the ones that do.

ONE Campaign’s website does a great job of making great use of every pixel:

Why ONE Campaign has one of the best nonprofit websites


2. Design is Audience Centric

Your audience is at the center of everything you do online. The design and content flow must cater to THEIR needs while being closely tied to YOUR organizational goals. It’s a delicate balance and not always easy to achieve, but this is the difference between websites that are good and websites that are great.  Great websites consider their target audience before they’re even built.

sexgerms.com uses language and offers content that’s crafted specifically for their audience:

why sexgerm.com is one of the best nonprofit websites


3. Less is Always More

Design is subjective. Some like clean and modern, while others prefer traditional and more elaborate approaches to the design. Either way, there is always an elegant solution to the design challenge at hand. The way to arrive at this solution is to exercise the principle of ‘less is more’. An over-designed, over-effected website turns your users away.  Instead, keep it simple and incorporate only the necessary elements to communicate your goals in a tasteful manner.

Made In a Free World asks a simple question that packs a pretty powerful punch:

Example of one of the best nonprofit websites


4. It Improves Upon Your Brand Identity

Every time a nonprofit goes through a redesign effort, careful attention must be paid to how its brand will be perceived with the new design. Is the design evolutionary or revolutionary for your brand? Careful attention must be paid towards elements that defined your brand in the first place and ensure they are being refined rather than redone. Make sure that the new brand and design still conveys the history and the essence of your organization while communicating your mission clearly and effectively.

web design blog 1


5. The Purpose of the Nonprofit Website is Obvious

Website audiences make decisions in split seconds – For example, even on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page), we click on multiple websites within a few seconds to find the information we are looking for. The website that eventually wins our attention is easy to read and understand right away. Make sure that your mission and purpose is reflected in your branding, imagery, strategically positioned content and navigation.

There is no mistaking Missing Children Society of Canada’s mission or the purpose of their website:

example of missing children society of canada's nonprofit website


6. Your Content Moves the Audience

Let’s face it – Your website does not exist as a boutique just to show off information about your organization. Instead, it’s actually a tool that you have employed to mobilize your audience… As such, ensure that your content on the homepage is focused on three key items:

  • MISSION: What does your organization do and why.
  • SUCCESSES: What are the results of your actions or impact.
  • CALL TO ACTION: How can your audience help?

Your audience has to be “sold” on why they should do what you want them to do.  So, let them know who you are, what you have done and then create a path for them to perform an action!

example of some of the best nonprofit websites


7. It Mixes Creativity and Usability

Design is very subjective. It is the first thing that your audience experiences when they come to your website. You only have a few microseconds to impress them. In addition to logically placed content, it is very important to approach design in a sophisticated manner that makes your audience feel comfortable and gains their confidence in your organization. As with all things creative, it’s easy for a web designer to get carried away with a completely conceptual and non-practical look.  Ensure that you maintain the spice of the conceptual domain, but balance it with usability. The key to success is make it easy for your audience to explore your website and understand your mission.

Urban Ministries of Durban is trying something  a little different to raise support for their cause:

examples of the best nonprofit websites


8. It Uses a Content Management System (CMS)

If your website is running on a CMS, congratulations! You have already started to develop your web presence in a dynamic environment that can grow. The next step is to ensure that you are putting it to good use by maximizing its potential.

2016 Study of nonprofit website tools



Raheel Gauba was the creative director at Blackbaud. In addition to bringing a wealth of knowledge about creating usable website interfaces and effective visual design, he also has a proven track record of over a decade of strategic planning and execution of successful websites. His core passion lies in the building of online communities using equal parts form and function that allow organizations to attract, engage and retain their audience. During his tenure at Blackbaud, Raheel has led the delivery of more than 400 websites and possesses expert-level knowledge in designing and developing interactive web presences within NetCommunity. Raheel holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science & Mathematics from the University of Toronto, Missiauga, Ontario – Canada.

Comments (1)

  • Barbara says:

    Hi Raheel, amazing article, was really helpful to me! Only if you could change the hyperlinks to actually redirect to the website, not just a jpeg. Thanks. Keep up the good work!

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