A guest post by Anne Stefanyk
In a short paragraph or statement, can you summarize what your nonprofit is all about? Can you condense your organization’s history, mission, vision and brand into one succinct message that tells anyone who comes across it everything they need to know about your nonprofit? And if you’ve already concocted this message, does it come across effectively through your website?
Don’t worry—this isn’t a test! But if you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, your nonprofit’s website and core message might be misaligned. Your organization’s website is one of your most visible digital hubs for spreading the word about your mission. If it isn’t designed to share your message effectively, you could be missing out on online engagement opportunities.
Luckily, there are many strategies available to get your website in line with your message. From digital storytelling to strategic branding decisions, we’ll cover five effective strategies for aligning your online marketing approach with your core message.
As you move through this post, keep in mind that the most effective nonprofit websites integrate each organization’s mission into foundational website elements, from the homepage design to the content of individual pages and more. With these tips, you can ensure that you don’t lose sight of your core mission when designing your website. Let’s get started.
What is a Nonprofit Message?
Your nonprofit’s message encompasses more than just your mission. It combines your mission, vision and brand into a unified credo or statement that tells audience members what your organization is all about.
Let’s take a closer look at each element of your nonprofit’s message:
- Mission statement: Your mission statement summarizes your organization’s core purpose. It tells people what you do, why you do it and who you do it for.
- Vision statement: Your vision statement describes what your organization hopes to achieve in the future. Your vision statement should be grand and lofty. Examples include “To create a world without hunger” or “To give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
- Brand: Your brand is your organization’s visual identity. It’s a visual representation of your mission, values and vision. It should be instantly recognizable to existing supporters and visually engaging to draw in new supporters.
Your nonprofit’s website should incorporate these three concepts into your website design to present a unified core message. Let’s take a closer look at five strategies you can use to align your nonprofit’s website design with your message.
1. Incorporate uniform branding throughout your site
This may seem basic, but it’s critical; your branding strategy is one of the most effective ways to promote a unified message throughout your nonprofit’s website. It gives visitors visual cues for how they should feel when browsing your site.
For instance, if your organization helps protect endangered fish populations, you might incorporate aquatic, calming brand elements associated with water throughout your site. On the other hand, if your nonprofit helps community members learn financial literacy skills, you might adopt brand elements with more serious connotations, such as muted colors and simple fonts.
According to Double the Donation’s nonprofit web design guide, standardized website branding helps visitors feel more secure and reassured when visiting your website. If your branding is inconsistent across your website or on important pages like your donation page, visitors may feel uncertain about whether they’re actually interacting with your nonprofit.
As you standardize your website branding to better communicate your message, keep these brand elements in mind:
- Color scheme
- Font choices
- Image style
- Use of white space
- Logo and variations
All of these brand elements will help convey your nonprofit’s message before you even start looking at your website’s content. Ensure that you have a comprehensive brand style guide to keep your brand elements consistent.
2. Adopt a consistent tone
Tone is one of the most important elements of your brand. How you get your message across is equally important as what that message is.
For instance, perhaps your message involves taking a stand against the use of unsustainable palm oil in snack foods. You might strike a serious advocacy-oriented tone on your website as you describe the harmful effects of unsustainable palm oil production on local communities and endangered animal populations.
On the other hand, maybe your organization focuses on helping elementary schoolers learn money-handling and leadership skills through running lemonade stands. In this case, you’d want to adopt an approachable, friendly tone in your website content.
Your tone is another important signal that tells website visitors what your nonprofit is all about in a subtle way. Use website design and content elements such as your typography, writing style and imagery to convey your tone.
3. Provide clear user pathways
The individuals your nonprofit works with should be centered in your message. This includes volunteers, donors, advocates, community members, board members and those who benefit from your nonprofit’s services.
Creating user pathways based on different audience personas allows you to craft a more personalized experience for each website visitor. This helps you maintain visitor engagement and attention while positioning your message in a way that is most relevant to each audience segment.
So, how can you design relevant, engaging content for each audience? By getting to know your supporters. The more you get to know your audience members, the better you can structure your website to appeal to different user groups.
For instance, one of the most important nonprofit-related user pathways to consider is your donors’ journey. The donor journey encompasses the steps individuals take to become recurring supporters, from initial awareness to ongoing engagement and advocacy.
You can use your website analytics, donor database, supporter surveys and other resources to get to know your donors’ interests and preferences. Then, you can incorporate these aspects into your website content.
For example, you might discover your donors prefer contributing using their smartphones or that they are most receptive to giving when your online donation page features engaging photos. You can incorporate better mobile functionality and more original imagery into your website to appeal to these preferences.
Repeat this process for each of your user groups to create clear pathways for each audience segment.
4. Use your website to tell your nonprofit’s story
Ask any marketing professional about storytelling and they’ll emphasize its importance. Storytelling is such a widely-used marketing strategy because our brains are hardwired to enjoy a compelling, well-told story. Storytelling stimulates the part of the brain that processes senses such as sight, sound, taste and movement. This makes information delivered via stories seem much more real to us than straightforward data or facts.
Using storytelling methods throughout your website is a powerful way to ensure that your audience remembers your message and feels a strong emotional connection to it.
You can tell your organization’s story with these website elements:
- Blog posts: Share stories about your volunteer opportunities, fundraising progress, annual events, programs and services and other aspects of your nonprofit’s work.
- Videos: Short videos can be more engaging than images or written text alone. You can incorporate videos throughout your website to share testimonials from community members or highlight specific projects.
- About page: Your website’s About page is one of your most important pages since visitors will use it to understand your nonprofit’s overall message. Make your About page more focused by telling your nonprofit’s history using a story. The main characters of your story can be your organization’s founders and the individuals you serve.
Kanopi’s storytelling guide says it best: “Think of all the greatest brands out there, and most of them are completely dialed in to their story.” From companies like Apple and Google to major nonprofits like the American Red Cross, the most successful organizations know what their story is and how to tell it effectively.
5. Show your impact
Don’t just tell website visitors what your mission and vision are. Show them how you put your mission and vision into action by highlighting the tangible impacts your organization has made.
Here are a few ways you can show your impact on your website:
- Constituent, volunteer, donor, and staff member testimonials: Share stories and first-person accounts from those who regularly interact with your nonprofit.
- Impact stories: Share information about successful fundraising efforts and how they’ve helped improve community members’ lives, such as how your recent construction project helped revitalize a community park.
- Annual reports with clear data: Describe trends, successes and challenges you faced throughout the year in your nonprofit’s annual report.
Keep in mind that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to share information with your audience. Each of these elements can be formatted as a story, with data or facts woven throughout.
With these data points and facts, you can connect the dots for supporters between your message and the real impact your organization has made.
Your nonprofit’s existing and prospective supporters look to your website to learn more about your organization. These strategies help ensure that your website is in the best position possible to spread the word about your message.
And once you’ve established your nonprofit’s message throughout your website, you can carry it over to your other digital marketing platforms, such as your social media pages and email marketing. This allows you to create a cohesive digital marketing strategy that’s fully aligned with your message.
As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.
Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew. Connect with Anne on LinkedIn and Twitter.