Why nonprofit websites generally suck

Chris Esh


Most nonprofit websites don’t convert well, which is marketing-speak for “they suck at getting visitors to take any meaningful action.” These websites don’t generate many donations, mailing list sign-ups, new members, or event attendees.


Because—generally speaking—most nonprofit websites are all about the organization at the expense of the visitor’s attention and interest.

These nonprofits think their website should be a platform to promote how awesome they are. So they trumpet their world-changing missions, list out their accomplishments, and show off their impressive stats.

Their target audience says collectively, “Oh, that’s nice,” then moves on.

While your visitors might legitimately think you’re a great organization, nothing in your glowing accomplishments or glossy annual report made them feel needed here.

Your website is not about you. It’s for your target audience.

Your website needs to speak to your audience’s needs. It needs to make them feel like an irreplaceable part of this work, then invite them to take tangible action.

For example, one of my clients in a Philly-based organization called POWER: an interfaith community organizing nonprofit. Their homepage used to say:

POWER is an interfaith organization committed to racial and economic justice on a livable planet.

We changed it to this:

We are a grassroots organization of over 50 Pennsylvania congregations committed to racial and economic justice on a livable planet.

What’s the difference?

The previous version is about the organization’s commitment, which to me means their staff and board members’ commitment.

The new version emphasizes the member congregations‘ commitment, which makes a website visitor from their target audience (i.e. a socially-active Christian/Jewish/Muslim person) feel like a critical component in the success of the organization.

Most importantly: they should feel needed after visiting your site, and they should understand how they can make an impact.

You might do amazing work that your target audience appreciates, but if they don’t feel personally engaged by your organization, they probably won’t be inspired to donate their money or time. If it feels like the work will get done with or without them, they’ll probably opt to let someone else cover the expenses.

Why people donate

When someone supports your nonprofit, they do it because it makes them feel good. Specifically, it makes them feel good to be the kind of people who support work like this.

A donation is not one-sided. It’s a transaction. A donor gives you $50. In exchange, you give them the satisfaction of being a good person. They get to feel important, needed, and on the right side of history.

So if your website is going to convert visitors into supporters, then it needs to specify how the user’s contribution will matter. It needs to get them excited about the opportunity to identify themselves as a supporter of this work.

Not because of what the staff pulled off in the last few years. Nope. You want them to think “I’m going to support an organization because I’m engaged by their vision and understand the central role that I (the potential supporter) can play in bringing this to life.”

In blunt terms: we’re all main characters in our lives. We don’t want to play some interchangeable, supporting role in someone else’s. If you want supporters to feel engaged, give them the star role on your website and in your marketing materials.

Speak directly to their wants and needs, not to your own as an organization. By highlighting what their contributions will do, people will see their worth in your work—which makes for a more active volunteer and donor space.

Your website needs to be action-oriented

The worst (and most common) types of nonprofit websites are the ones that are just a grab bag of different departments’ priorities and pet projects. Websites become a sprawling archive of all the work the organization does, which is a poor use of your audience’s finite time.

Instead, websites should inspire tangible action. Whether it’s donations, memberships, volunteer applications, event attendance, or newsletter subscribers, your website needs to lead users to these goals.

  1. You need to have targeted “calls-to-action” (CTAs) on most pages on your website. A “Donate” button on the header is not enough—you need to specifically invite the user to participate.
  2. Your content needs to speak to the value of the donations, or whatever actions you are requesting. If your work is primarily driven by individual donors, make that known.

Want to take your nonprofit website to the next level?

Not sure where to start? Check out my guide, which explains how to plan for and successfully navigate through your website’s next revamp.



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