Skip to content

Your website serves a purpose.

In today’s content-driven world, your nonprofit organization’s website is so much more than a bunch of pretty pages slapped together. It’s where your digital presence converges to help you connect with your audience and achieve your mission. It’s a living, breathing manifesto of your vision for a better world.

There’s a lot that goes into making that kind of website. Here are 11 principles that we apply every day when we build our clients’ websites:

  • 1

    Put your users first

  • 2

    Make publishing easy

  • 3

    Lay the foundation with your brand

  • 4

    Craft an unforgettable experience through design

  • 5

    Write copy so good you dare readers to stop reading

  • 6

    Make your website accessible

  • 7

    Manage your users’ consent

  • 8

    Improve your SEO

  • 9

    Invest in proper security

  • 10

    Optimize your performance

  • 11

    Implement a strategy

1. Put your users first

I opened this article up by slamming brochure sites that exist to tell you all about an organization while looking pretty. So why don’t I like them?  

Because a website is a tool. A tool somebody uses to do something specific. And, unless the majority of your audience are job seekers or compliance officers, users don’t usually wake up thinking, “I really need to learn about an organization today.” 

A successful website makes it easy for users to do what they’re trying to do. Everything that gets in their way (we call this adding friction) needs to go. This is the most fundamental principle of a website. 

If you can obsess about your users, learn what it is they want and what’s getting in their way, and constantly commit to improving their experience, your website will continue to improve.

2. Make publishing easy

I’ve worked for too many nonprofit organizations where every time we published a blog post, we had to manually link to it in a dozen places on the site. We had to make a list of all those places, the dimensions of the thumbnail images, the character counts for the headlines and descriptions… 

This could have been done automatically with one click. 

The backend shouldn’t be a scary place, either. It should be fairly easy to navigate and understand. The people who spend time publishing content on your site are important users. 

For your website to be as successful as possible, it should be as easy as possible to update.

3. Lay the foundation with your brand

Your brand is the story of how your organization is uniting people to transform the world. It should be expressed consistently across various channels, from your social media to your real world location and yes, your website. 

It’s conveyed through your logo, colours, fonts, photography, and copy. But it’s much more than that too: it influences what ideas you’re sharing and how, the way you organize your information, and the feelings evoked when people engage with you. 

And that’s what’s important to remember: your website is just one of many touch points your audience has with your brand. 

As such, the branding work needs to come first.

4. Craft an unforgettable experience through design

Research shows that people believe aesthetically pleasing tools are more usable. This is a phenomenon called the Aesthetic-Usability Effect.

So good design supports our first principle but it can do so much more. It can turn a usable experience into a powerful one, one that connects with people profoundly.  

Think about a government site. These are intentionally designed with no frills. They’re meant to get out of their users’ way to let them do what they want to do as quickly as possible (not always successfully). 

But as a user, you can’t help but think “Get me the hell out of here.” 

Government websites are like the airports of the internet. Sure, someone may have designed them for efficiency, but they forgot to make the experience delightful and so you, the user, are miserable.

Beautiful web design keeps your users from feeling miserable.

5. Write copy so good you dare readers to stop reading

“People don’t read anymore.”

This is something I hear a lot. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. 

We actually read more than we ever have in history. Think about it: we’re constantly reading! 

What we don’t have time for is mediocre content. 

If I’m looking for information, I’m not going to waste my time reading a story about somebody’s grandma, no matter how lovely she may be (looking at you, recipes — I just want to know what temperature to set my oven at!) 

Length doesn’t matter. It’s all relative. Remember our first principle: a website is a tool, not a book. Give me the information I’m looking for, then entice me to read more.

6. Make your website accessible

Much of the internet, like much of the world, is built in a way that’s not inclusive or accessible for all audiences.

Accessibility is all about making sure everyone can use your tool, whether they live with a disability, have low internet connectivity, or even aren’t native speakers. 

It’s about removing barriers and making your website more usable or understandable. 

But here’s the other thing about accessibility: it’s better for everyone. Adding closed captioning to your videos doesn’t just benefit people who are hard of hearing. Ensuring all images have captions or alt tags isn’t just for users with screen readers. Giving your text enough contrast so it stands out from the background reduces strain for even the healthiest of eyes. 

Creating an accessible world is up to all of us.

7. Manage your users’ consent

Every website gathers information from its users. 

Now, most of us will never touch that data. But do you know who does? Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple. These companies collect lots of data from our users and they do it on our properties: our websites, our apps, our social media feeds. 

So we have a responsibility to our users: to disclose what we collect, how we collect it and what we intend to do with it. And then, most importantly, we have to give our users the choice to opt in or out of sharing their information. 

This is called consent management, and it’s a critical part of managing a website today.

8. Improve your SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is how you improve your website so users can find you when they’re looking for answers on Google.

(or Bing, or DuckDuckGo, or Ask Jeeves…but 95% of the time, Google). 

Today, search engines are advanced enough that you don’t have to write for robots in order to succeed. You just have to go back to our first principle: put users first. 

If you want your pages to show up on Google, you’ll have to first identify the questions people have on the topics you’re an expert on.

Then—don’t skip this step if you want to rank—provide the best possible answers to those questions through the content you publish. 

Every other SEO activity is designed to support this.

9. Invest in proper security

Most organizations will not experience a significant attack or outage on their website. However, the possibility does exist and it’s not just your organization that’s at risk: it’s your users too. 

So as the manager of a website, you’ve got a responsibility to your users to ensure a safe browsing experience. Especially if you take any form of payment (you know, like donations). 

How do you do that? I asked our Director of Development, Gaelen Norman, and he said there are two main ways: maintenance and research. 

“Doing preventative maintenance is the best way to mitigate security issues from happening. Especially breaking change issues and end-of-life of products. Plugins can contain malware so you need to do proper research to make sure that a plugin is not only maintained regularly, but also passes all the security tests to prevent data theft.”

10. Optimize your performance

Remember our first principle? Your website is a tool that users use to do something. As such, we need to make sure that tool is performing to the best of its ability. 

What does that mean for websites? Load time is the most basic one that everybody can contribute to. Choose good hosting, use proper caching and upload images in the right size and format! 

Research shows that if users have to wait more than 1 second for a page to load, they’re 33% more likely to leave. And all those words and beautiful designs you’ve carefully put together will be for nothing, because nobody will see them. 

11. Implement a strategy

Everything we’ve talked about will help make your website more successful. Each one of these points will sustain your investment, continuing to improve it so it works better and lasts longer.

If today your copy is not as powerful as you know it can be, your website’s not doomed to failure. You don’t have to hide your pages because you don’t find the design jaw dropping or because you built your website before your brand. It’s not all or nothing.

But what you can’t do without is a clear strategy. What is the purpose of your website? Who is it for? What problem does it solve (for your users but also for your organization)? How will you know it’s successful?

A sound strategy will guide you so you can focus on what’s most important now and tune out the rest of the noise. It will help you prioritize which of these other 10 principles need your attention today and build a roadmap for what comes next.

Bottom Line?

Your website is a vessel for change, a conduit that invites people to join you to make a difference. 

I really believe that with these principles in hand, you can multiply your reach and amplify your impact through your website. 

By leveraging the power of your digital presence, you can transform visitors into advocates, turning your vision for a better world into a collective reality.


Or it could just sit pretty, like a brochure in a doctor’s office.