Updated: Oct 31, 2020
We’re in a unique age for nonprofits. Because of technology, your audience is theoretically limitless: someone across the globe could learn about what you do and make a donation. But because of the same reason, people searching for, say, an environmental nonprofit in Colorado are met with an abundance of search results. If they click on your site and aren’t hooked, there are plenty of other organizations they can jump to instead.
Your success marketing for your nonprofit hinges largely on your website, and specifically what you say on your website. Here are my nonprofit website tips to make your site work for you.
Rely on Brand Messaging
The moment people go to your site, they should get a distinct idea of what you do. And there’s no way people are going to clearly understand what you do if you’re not clear yourself.
The best nonprofit websites rely on a backbone of codified brand messaging. Brand messaging is a packet of content that describes the basics of your organization, your methods, your goals, and your values. It typically includes a mission statement, vision statement, and values statement.
How to Write a Mission Statement for a Nonprofit
Your nonprofit’s mission statement should be one sentence long and packed with your purpose and methods. Someone reading your mission statement should be able to understand what you do and—in very basic terms—how and why you do it.
It’s deceptively difficult to boil down all of the BIG ideas and inspiration behind your brand into one sentence (which is why brand messaging is one of my very favorite challenges to tackle). Ideally, your nonprofit’s mission statement should answer the following questions:
Who or what do you serve?
How do you serve them?
Why do you do this work?
It’s not enough to say, “Tim’s Trees plants native trees in urban areas.” People need something more compelling, something that connects to the bigger picture.
If you’re part of the Tim’s Trees team, you know that planting trees not only contributes to a city’s aesthetic, but also helps to combat climate change by cooling down the city’s temperature and providing habitats for insects. With this in mind, you might say,
Tim’s Trees helps to combat climate change by planting native trees in urban areas, thereby decreasing average annual temperatures and promoting local insect populations.
Along with a powerful mission statement, you’ll want to have a vision statement and a values statement as well.
How to Write a Vision Statement & Values Statement for a Nonprofit
Vision and values statements both contribute to defining your organization’s future, but they have key differences.
Your vision statement tells the story of the desired future of your organization. It should challenge and inspire employees, communicating where the company will be if all goals are achieved.
Your values statement will serve as your moral compass. It communicates your brand’s beliefs and acts as a guide for internal decision-making.
For our hypothetical nonprofit Tim’s Trees, their vision statement may include planting 1 million trees by 2025 or decreasing the average annual temperature in their home city by 2 degrees over the next 50 years. This is what they hope the future will hold for their organization.
Their values statement, on the other hand, might remind employees that environmental wellness is their #1 goal, even above pleasing stakeholders and investors. This acts as a moral compass when the team is faced with tough decisions.
Both of these statements may or may not be public-facing, meaning your audience and donors may never read them, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Having these clearly defined behind the scenes will keep your team on track and communicate to new team members what you’re made of.
In addition to the big three above, I throw in a couple additional assets when I create brand messaging for clients. My process for crafting a mission statement begins with a paragraph that I eventually whittle down to a single sentence. When I deliver brand messaging, I throw that paragraph in as well. Clients can repurpose that content for the ‘about’ section of their website or something similar.
I also provide a tagline. This may be included in a logo or on a business card. It’s short and catchy, and acts as a mini mission statement, communicating what your org does in just a few words.
For some clients, especially those just starting out, I’ll map out content guidelines as well. Content guidelines are exactly what they sound like: guidelines for creating content. These will inform the team of the brand’s voice and tone. Do you speak formally or informally? How do you refer to what you offer—Services? Offerings? Programs? How do you refer to your supporters—Donors? Clients? Customers? Stakeholders?
With a solid set of content guidelines in hand, anyone on your team will be able to write copy that accurately represents your nonprofit.
Communicate Your Cause
With your brand messaging in hand, you’re ready to crank out some badass website content. Feel free to refer back to your brand messaging often—and there’s no reason you can’t copy pieces directly onto your site!
I talk about this in more depth in this blog, but it’s absolutely crucial that your website content be concise. If it’s too long, no one will read it, defeating the purpose entirely.
Nonprofit website content needs to make visitors feel included in your mission. Communicate why they should care about your cause and what you’re doing to better the world. Go easy on the guilt: no one likes to be pulled down. Instead, focus on the inspiring aspects of your organization and the progress you’ve made. Talk about your goals moving forward and what the next steps are for your team.
Provide a Clear CTA
CTA stands for call to action; it’s the action you want visitors of your site to take next. There are often several—donate, volunteer, subscribe to the newsletter, sign up for an event—but keep it simple on the home page.
Before you write content, map out the journey you’d like people to take when visiting your site. For many orgs, that includes reading about the nonprofit on the website, signing up for the newsletter, then donating via a promotion delivered to their inbox. For others, the desired first action may be signing up for a volunteer event.
Once you figure out what action you want people to take, make that the primary CTA for the home page. Don’t worry: you’ll get to the other stuff on other pages of the site, in email newsletters, and on social media.
Make ‘Em Feel Good!
Like I said, no one likes to be brought down. Plus, using guilt to elicit donations is just...icky.
After you write out the basics of your website content, go over it again and make sure everything is phrased in a positive light. That doesn’t mean you gloss over problems or ignore stats, but provide a solution. Tell people that cities are getting hotter because of climate change, but planting trees can help bring the temperatures down.
Ideally, you’ll supplement this with great photos of your staff and volunteers in action.
Need a Wingwoman?
I’m your gal. Let me know if you’d like to strategize about your content, submit it for a final glance-over, or kick it off your plate altogether.
Remember: you’re doing incredible work. It deserves to be represented beautifully.