What We’ve Learned Redesigning 5 Nonprofit Websites This Year


Redesigning, editing and maintaining your nonprofit’s website is crucial for your organization’s marketing success. During this process, many choices are made regarding what is and isn’t necessary for your site’s effectiveness. The following will help you gather some insight from the experts that could help when making your decisions.

Over the years ArcStone has designed, built and maintained hundreds of websites. This year alone we’ve redesigned more than 5 nonprofit websites. When spending extensive time in certain markets, you learn a few things about what works and what doesn’t. The tips below might help if you’re considering a redesign of your nonprofit’s website.

P.S. We recently partnered with Idealware to publish “The Landscape of WordPress for Nonprofits: A Report on the Current Marketplace for Plugins” – download it now!

Don’t underestimate board and staff pages 

All nonprofits know that board and staff pages will be necessary on their site but they often underestimate the importance and complexity of those page designs. Personnel bios and listing pages can be very simple, but as more people chime in during the project and the brainstorming begins, this can lead to budget and scope strain.

There are a few things in particular that can significantly impact the design and development time on those key pages.

  • Number of board and staff members – 5 is a lot different than 20 when it comes to a page layout. Will it just be management that is featured or is it everyone? Can the board and staff be on the same page?
  • Bios – Will the bios live on the listing page, in a modal window or within a new page? How long will each bio be and can you efficiently gather that content?
  • Photos – Do you need photos taken? If not, can you easily compile high quality images?
  • Unique treatments – Do you want the page to be creative and different to reflect personalities? Many organizations like the bios to be creative or add photo treatments.

Your nonprofit board and staff are integral to the success of your organization. Don’t underestimate how important those pages are from a PR / marketing perspective.

Personas & content over functionality

If you haven’t had a site redesign lately, your organization has probably been stuck with a static site, lack of database integrations, poor donation portals and/or a non-responsive design for years. Using the latest technology and improving usability is extremely important, however, we encourage all nonprofits to step outside the organization and first look at your audience and content. The key to a nonprofit website is engaging, powerful content that speaks to the audiences you serve. Without capturing their attention, it won’t matter which payment gateway you use.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure your audience remains the focus of the new site.

  1. Build audience personas – we’ve written extensively on this topic at ArcStone. Check out these posts to learn more: Website Redesign 1st Steps: Know Your AudienceNonprofit Tech Talk – Understand Your Users, & Using Personas to Guide Web Design
  2. Audit your existing site content – review analytics, document all content and assess it’s viability for your next site. Here’s a free chapter on the topic from GatherContent.
  3. Find an agency that has both technical AND marketing chops. Their approach to website redesigns will be key to a successful project.

Don’t play a guessing game, use data and personas to determine what your next website should be.

Events need attention too

Annual galas, fundraisers, golf tournaments… the list goes on. Events are important for nearly every nonprofit. When it comes to the website, we’ve designed custom event pages with their own template or just used blog posts to highlight each event. There are pros and cons to each but extremely different costs associated with them.

Try to get to the finer details and implications before deciding on an approach. Do you already use event software? Do attendees need to RSVP? What content and imagery will be on the page? Do different events have different requirements?

Just like with board/staff pages, explore all the options with your agency. If budget is a concern, perhaps further customization can be done in a phase 2.

Be wary of website committees

You’ve all heard or experienced death by committee but I think it’s worth a note from an agency’s perspective. We understand that a complete website redesign is a HUGE deal for the organization with a lot at stake and many people to serve. Because of this, committees (like RFPs) are often inevitable.

Our advice would be 1. consider the important approval points within the redesign process and 2. choose one final decision maker.

For us, most of the flexibility occurs before development begins. Changes can be made to a sitemap, wireframes and design with smaller repercussions, but once a site crosses into development, it can be costly for both the budget and timeline. Make sure everyone involved understands the cut-off points to avoid surprises down the road. Choosing one final decision maker can help with this as well. All feedback is valuable but at the end of the day, a decision must be made. Trusting your decision maker and your agency’s expert opinion will keep things moving.

Leverage a better blog

Despite content being (in our opinion) the most important part of a nonprofit website, content marketing for nonprofits is just gaining ground. A great nonprofit blog has many benefits that you might not have considered.

  1. Allows you to dive deeper into your program or service offerings without stuffing those “about” and “our work” pages with content
  2. As stated above, your blog template can be used for event information
  3. Storytelling – tell stories of donors, volunteers and those impacted by your cause
  4. Can hold information that is important, but that doesn’t need to take up space within the primary site navigation or use it’s own template. This might include photos, video, news, stats, infographics, annual report etc.
  5. Effectively segment content by audience or content type. charity: water does a great job of this.

Even if you haven’t utilized your blog much in the past, you might want to consider investing more this time around. If done effectively, a blog can streamline your content and design on the rest of the site while serving as a hub of interaction. Blog design can be incredibly simplistic or unique, so be sure to clarify expectations before beginning the project.

Lying at the core of all of these learnings is to have clear communication with your agency from the quoting process through the project. This will result in less surprises and a better website.