Five Overarching Principles for Non Profit Website Design

During this week’s blog posts, I’m going to introduce you to five overarching principles and many practical tips for developing and maintaining a website with exceptional website design that maximizes your ministry outreach for non profit marketing and fund raising. That’s a whole lot better than the alternative, which would be a website that gives you innumerable headaches.

Migraine headaches.  I know from experience that those are really lousy to live with. My wife, Carmel, will celebrate 22 years of marriage this coming September.  Those have been two really good decades together.  We’ve had our share of challenges too though.

For example, ever since Carmel gave birth to our first child, Caitlyn, nearly 15 years ago, she has suffered with headaches: low-grade everyday annoying headaches you keep 100 tab bottles of Excedrin around the house to deal with… to life-stopping, head-pounding, full-blown migraine headaches you get needle shots of Toradol to deal with, but always feel helpless and hopeless around.

For years, she has endured the pain. When they were small ones, they made our lives miserable. But when they were big ones they brought everything to an immediate, grinding standstill.

I confess I’ve never felt more helpless than when Carmel would experience migraine headaches – she would have to retreat to the darkest room in the house, huddled up in pain, begging for the elimination of any noise, nauseated, while I watched her suffer in pain and distress, wondering “What could I do?” or “What should I do?”

Thank goodness for exceptional doctors like Dr. Merle Diamond at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, who also suffers from migraines, and was immediately compassionate toward Carmel, when we finally entered her offices after attempting for years to get help from numerous other sources.

Over time, Dr. Merle helped Carmel gain control of this debilitating problem, and established a reasonable ability to manage and control her headaches.

To do that, it meant new routines — managing her diet, avoiding a stress-filled lifestyle, exercising regularly, and finally, just learning to deal with the genetic makeup she had acquired in life that made headache predisposed.

Headaches.  Some of us suffer from them physically. Some of us some suffer from them emotionally. Some of us suffer from them professionally – all too often, through our websites.

Which brings me back to my subject material – Non Profit Website Design.

So let’s follow along with headaches as our backdrop for covering this subject. In a nutshell for today’s post, learning the basics of good website design will save you numerous headaches, while also enhancing your ministry, expanding its outreach and increasing its online fund raising.

Let me repeat that so you can write it down:

Learning the basics of good non profit website design will save you numerous headaches, while also enhancing your ministry, expanding its outreach. and increasing its online fund raising.

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Best Practices for Landing Page Optimization

I recently came back from the Marketing SHERPA conference in Miami, Florida. I would recommend the conference to anyone who wants to train in email fundraising, non profit marketing, landing page optimization, etc.  It’s full of actionable data and healthy networking for email fundraising.

Some of the top take away’s that were presented at the conference include a seminar by Flint McLaughlin, Director of Marketing Experiments on landing page optimization. In his session he conveyed the following:

Top 3 questions to ask yourself when building or improving any landing page are:

  1. Where am I?
  2. What am I supposed to do?
  3. Why should I do it?

Getting clear answers to those questions will help you improve your landing pages, whether you are in non profit fundraising, marketing or a commercial business. In addition, here are four other questions you should ask yourself, in order to construct the most effective landing pages:

  1. Why should my ideal prospect purchase from me rather than any of my competitors?
  2. How can I streamline all the elements in my sales path?
  3. How can I counter any psychological resistance to the sale with extra incentives?
  4. How can I correct any elements which cause concern in my sale path?

McLaughlin’s session also centered are the concept of value contributors (VC) versus value inhibitors (VI). This is a golden-nugget summary of his complete training course on the same topic. The basic goal to optimization of any landing page is to have your value contributors outweigh your value inhibitors.  An example is the photo here.


More specifically, value contributors include factors like your value proposition and your incentives. Value inhibitors include user friction caused by over lengthy or unwieldy forms and fundamental anxiety toward the sale. VCs increase conversions. VIs reduce them.

Since people come to landing pages for various reasons, so your offer should be clearly presented, and your form questions minimized to those only absolutely necessary, while including incentives to outweigh any anxiety someone feels toward the sale. Too many form fields can cause friction (concern that it will take too long to complete), and overly invasive questions can cause tension (Why do they need this data?, What are they going to do with it? Why do they want my annual income?), which leads to abandonment.  Keep your forms streamlined to the core essentials.

Some final thoughts: Site Visitors can often be thinking…

“Is this legit?” Some effective ways to make them feel more confident is by offering helpful information to reassure them…let them know how long you have been established in business, or what credible institutes endorse your company (Better Business Bureau).

“Is it secure?” Be sure to offer a safe and secure purchasing environment for your customers. Your customers want to know that any information they provide you is uncompromised. Mitigate against anxiety by over-compensating in this part of your landing page…subscribe to and include HackerSafe or Verisign logos, etc. to assuage any concerns about safety.

For more in depth training on the subject of optimizing landing pages for non profit fund raising, look for material by Flint McGlaughlin, Director of MECLABS, Director of Enterprise Research at the University of Cambridge, and the Pastor of The Beaches Vineyard Fellowship.

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Websites that Illustrate Good Traffic Conversion Practices

Good traffic conversion and online fund raising systems

The websites I’ve highlighted below are strategically designed to convert website traffic into the collection of strategic marketing assets: email addresses, first names, mailing addresses, telephones, etc. This information, once collected, can be leveraged to begin ongoing relationships that ultimately raise online fundraising dollars. 

Generally, the first step in this process is to ask for initial consumer information (first name and email address) in exchange for a series of downloadable incentives.  The second step is to offer free welcome gifts by mail in exchange for complete information such as, full name mailing address and telephone number.

Non profit marketing results can be significant.  Most of my client cases result in the following data: for every 100 emails we accumulate via downloadable incentives, 65% of them will also convert into full name and snail mail addresses for a Welcome Kit offer. 

The value of this type of info is obvious to non profit fundraising. First names and email addresses are sufficient to begin email communication and email fundraising, whereas the collection of snail mail addresses enable you to begin your direct mail welcome series and puruse traditional nonprofit fundraising efforts. 

Plus, this relationship process all starts off with you providing beneficial resources/ideas/news/etc from the very start of your relationship, thereby banking you goodwill at the front edge or your new acquaintance.   Over time many new friends may become annual donors, monthly givers or even major benefactors. 

Here’s some examples of websites that are using good Traffic Conversion practices:

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Are you monetizing your email lists?

Randall MainsOf all the eMarketing channels you can leverage to develop online fundraising sources for your not-for-profit organization, email fundraising has proven to be one of the best.  You can monetize your email list.  A good qualified internal email list should generate substantial gifts toward your annual fund, add to your monthly donor groups, and even raise funds for special projects. I will show you how to monetize your email list laterbut for now I want to focus on how to begin building your lists, since many charities are literally at ground zero when it comes to their email lists.

Most companies don’t know how to start building their email lists. While there are numerous methods you can use, both online and offline, you’re best to grow your email lists by addressing your website traffic conversion plan first, which is generally an overlooked subject.  I personally prefer incentive-based email sign-up offers, which I’ll explain later.

Much of the focus I hear about is on generating visitors to your website, rather than converting the visitors you’ll get.  (Many charities have channels to generate traffic — namely broadcast television, radio, magazines, events, direct mail).  Generating traffic to your website without having a plan to convert the traffic into non profit marketing assets is the equivalent of having a billboard on the highway–you do get brand awareness because of the traffic that sees your ad, but you don’t get many tangible assets to work with after your ad ends.

Alternatively, a non profit website design strategy that concentrates on traffic conversion, will add people onto your email list with whom you can later communicate.  Using this method you collect as many names as possible that you can convert into gifts or sales today, plus names that are likely to convert in the weeks and months to come through online fundraising.

Most companies will dedicate zero real estate, or very little online real estate, to traffic conversion efforts. In my next blog I’ll feature websites that illustrate good traffic conversion systems as well as those that don’t.  Installing a good one will increase the size of your email lists, and eventually lead to the significant results many companies are getting out of email fundraising.

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