Over the last few weeks I've looked at hundreds of nonprofit websites, ranging from small community organizations to large, national hospital and university foundations. While layouts, style and content management systems all differ, there are a few shared characteristics of all nonprofit websites - a few of which aren't positives. Here are three common nonprofit website mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. No Blog
There is very little chance of achieving high website traffic and SEO success without a blog. A nonprofit website without a blog amounts to little more than an online billboard, which might have been acceptable in days passed. Today, you need a blog in order to generate fresh content that readers want to share and search engines want to put in their results. A blog allows you to show off the expertise of your staff and the victories of your organization. If you can't add a blog to your existing website, even an external blog on WordPress or Tumblr is better than no blog at all.
2. "Gallery" Pages
The "Photo Gallery" and "Video Gallery" pages are an interesting phenomena that I see often amongst nonprofit websites. It's a single page devoted to all existing photo and video content, usually laid out in a grid.
Why do this?
Video is best used in support of complimentary text content, so rather than piling them all on one page, embed one each on a page that makes the most sense. For example, your overview video would look great on your "About Us" page. If you have an event video, embed it on your event registration page. Spreading out your video content will keep visitors on-page longer.
This same logic applies to photos. Lots of photos on one page can slow down the page's loading speed, which is an important Google ranking factor. Use photos as supporting content only!
Be sure to transcribe any videos that contain interviews or spoken words, and paste that text onto the pages where the video is embedded. Visitors with hearing impairments will appreciate it, and you'll have more text content for Google to crawl. For photos, be sure to include alt text, which is text that appears when you hover over an image. It lets the visually impaired know what photos are being displayed on page, and let's Google know what kind of image it is.
3. Too Much Emphasis on Donation Forms and Not Enough on Lead Capture
When you land on the homepage of any nonprofit website, there is one thing that you can pretty much expect to see 100% of the time: a large "Donate Now!" button. Sometimes there are several. Taking donations over the web is a no-brainer, but I'm wondering if nonprofit websites make the ask a little early and a little too often.
Think of it this way:
Let's say you're a nonprofit employee, fundraiser or supporter. You meet someone new and strike up a conversation, each of you telling the other about where you work and what you do. In this conversation, would you ask the other person for a donation? Of course not! You just met them, and they know only the bare minimum about your nonprofit. It's way too soon to ask for a donation. What do you do instead? You probably exchange business cards or contact info somehow, so that you can stay in touch. Perhaps as the relationship develops, a donation might occur.
Why don't our websites operate in the same way? When a visitor first lands on a website, knowing very little about the organization, we bombard them with donation requests. It would be better to capture their information in a less-aggressive way, such as through a newsletter signup form or a social media follow, so that they can be nurtured over the long-term. My guess is that the retention rates for those individuals would be higher.
Given the expense and the technical expertise required to maintain an effective website, nonprofits routinely fall victim to a website that just doesn't provide the results it could. Even if your website isn't the newest, slickest and best looking, you can still make these small tweaks and generate results.