Design + Strategy

Approach a Nonprofit Website Like a Product Designer

Redesigning a nonprofit website sounds easy — just take a look at what the big nonprofit organizations (NPO) are doing and simply copy them. But your nonprofit organization probably doesn't have the brand awareness or resources to pull off that approach. You need a different model.

Nonprofits should think of themselves as a single product company to improve communication and user experience of their website.

Your vision is your product.

Whether you're a nonprofit or agency partner, try thinking about your website redesign from the perspective of a product designer:

1. Ask What is Being Exchanged?

Product companies operate on a simple model - they’re trying to get your money in exchange for their product. Non-profits have a slightly more complex model to deal with, but one you can clarify with solid user personas. Most non-profit websites cover at least four key personas, each of which is being asked to give up something:

  • Potential Donors are asked for money
  • Volunteers are asked for time
  • Supporters are asked for social currency, e.g. sharing and links
  • Media and Reporters are asked for coverage


When designing each page of your nonprofit website, identify which persona(s) you're targeting. Then examine the best way to close the deal and complete the exchange.

2. Make Your Product Desirable

Users should be able to experience your organization's personality and vision throughout your website. Invest in quality photography and professional copywriting to ensure that your brand story is consistent and authentically presented online.

Every piece of content is a reflection of your brand. Your website should not be a repository for fringe or low-value-add content. When it comes to the content being presented, don't compromise quality for convenience. Keep your message and content lean. Your users will thank you.

3. Feature Product Benefits Over News

Get rid of the homepage rotator. Consider ditching the blog. United Way, the nation's largest charity by donations received, does a great job of immediately showcasing organizational and human impact, and their scale. Focus on the product. Many single product companies do this well.

Check out the product benefits on Scanadu Scout and Grid. Borrow four concepts that are working well:

  • Tailor strong headlines to how the product helps the user
  • Focus on how the product will empower the user
  • Headline the product benefits in an engaging way
  • Make the product desirable with social proof (see next tip)

4. Introduce Social Proof

The most useful part of Amazon are product reviews. Nearly 70% of consumers look at product reviews before making a purchase, and consumer reviews are nearly 12 times more trusted than descriptions that come from manufacturers. Product reviews are a type of "social proof," a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. Social proof can, and should, be used to build credibility and trust with your user audience.

Though there are five types of social proof — expert, celebrity, user, wisdom of crowds, and wisdom of friends — that can be leveraged to establish credibility for your organization. User social proof is one of the most valuable types to consider utilizing for your website redesign.

User social proof is approval from current users of a product or service, which in the non-profit sense would be the programs and services the organization facilitates to further their mission. This includes customer testimonials (beneficiaries of the organization's mission), case studies, and online reviews.

If you're not convinced, check out 8 Reasons why online reviews are important to your business.

5. Remove Barriers

When someone has their credit card in hand, remove as many obstacles as possible. The Obama team did this well in the 2012 presidential campaign’s fundraising strategy, where removing barriers increased donation conversions by 49% and sign-up conversions by 161%.

Conversion Rate Optimization means figuring out what users are looking for when they arrive at your site and then giving that to them as quickly as possible, removing all barriers that may be obtrusive or confusing. Clear calls-to-action, strong messaging surrounding your value proposition, and an easy-to-read layout all lend themselves to ensuring your users find what they need quickly and easily.

Define, Build, Test, Repeat

Although redesigning non-profit websites has its challenges, you can still communicate your mission by keeping your website lean and stealing ideas from product websites. Small budgets can be maximized by practicing an interactive approach to the web design concept and development. Develop low-fidelity visuals that offer the highest value in communicating your ideas and vision for the redesign up to launch. The result will be a new online presence that authentically represents your brand and is pleasing to your core user audience.