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Effective Nonprofit Website Design: 10 Case Studies

Nonprofit websites have come a long way in the last decade. The most successful ones utilize a variety of marketing tools—everything from brand recognition and credibility to engagement, revenue and of course, performance. Understanding what questions to ask and the top considerations in a nonprofit website redesign is the first step in making it a valuable asset that advances the mission and drives success. We’ve selected 10 nonprofits websites (leaving out our own work)—from leading, global organizations to smaller, younger ones, and have rated them across 6 key criteria you should consider when designing any website:

Design. Design sets the tone for the brand, establishing credibility and reinforcing trust in an eye’s glance. The best nonprofit websites are clear, easy to use, and most important encourage users to explore.

Messaging. Effective content strategy delivers the message from the audience’s point-of-view, clearly and concisely, bringing key messages to the forefront.

Engagement. Propelling audiences to action is, of course essential. The best nonprofit websites offer users clear ways to get involved—and persuasive reasons to do so.

Imagery. Photography is essential to emotionally connecting audiences to nonprofit causes, putting people in the middle of the action; information graphics and data visualization help make complex concepts simple.

Storytelling. In a previous post, we discussed the persuasive power of impact stories. Sites that leverage storytelling communicate the human narrative of nonprofit causes.

Sociability. Social tools create deeper engagement, giving a nonprofit’s community good reasons to share content.

For each nonprofit website reviewed, we focus on how well it satisfies 5 critical questions audiences often ask themselves when engaging with a nonprofit: What’s the need or problem they address? What are they doing about it? How effective are they? Why do they need my help? What will they do with my money/time/effort?

Nonprofits that effectively weave answers to these questions throughout a user experience have an edge—competing for dollars, resources, and commitment.


1. Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is a well-established brand with the 14th highest brand value in the nonprofit space, according to Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100 Survey. Since the 1980s, it has been a political target for its position in the abortion debate, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of its services are in contraception, screening and treatment of STDs, and screening for cancer. The site does an excellent job of engaging users with extensive educational information. And its very well designed. But at a time when the organization is under increased attack, we feel Planned Parenthood’s website could do a better job taking on some misperceptions head-on. By taking a less academic approach to storytelling and providing more compelling photography, Planned Parenthood’s website would create a more impactful message regarding their role in womens’ lives.


2. Harlem Children’s Zone

The very successful education program gained notoriety during the 2008 electoral campaign and after being featured in the education documentary Waiting for Superman. The HCZ site excels in laying out its mission, purpose, and the need it serves very clear. Unfortunately, their great message and mission is lost in a copy-heavy website design that lacks visual hierarchy, which makes reading feel like a chore. The Impact page falls flat, and would really benefit from stronger call-outs and perhaps data visualization. A lack of well-presented stories and quality really holds back Harlem Children’s Zone’s website from bringing their impact to life in the minds of visitors.


3. The Girl Effect

The Girl Effect is not a nonprofit, but a Nike Foundation-backed campaign to raise awareness about the importance of helping young girls in the developing world. This 2009 campaign was remarkably successful—its videos have been viewed close to 4 million times. We gave The Girl Effect all-around good marks for its crystal-clear need messages, compelling use of illustration, well-defined calls to action, and engaging videos. Downloadable action posters help create grassroots engagement, while prominent social sharing links help create a community of awareness beyond the website.


4. Partners in Health

Partners in Health’s website does a credible job at presenting the organization’s message and work with clarity, and the site offers consistent (if a bit too strong) calls to action. Stories that bring Partners in Health’s work and impact are front and center. Unfortunately, much of this good content is undermined by design that’s not equal to the quality of Partners in Health as an organization. It would be more successful if every aspect had a bit more polish: weaving their visual brand throughout, establishing better visual and typographic hierarchy, better use of callouts, and more thoughtful navigation. Finally, while photography is abundant, it’s a bit uneven in quality, creating less emotional impact than it could.


5. World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund recently redesigned, and they got a whole lot right from our perspective. The mission, their impact, and ways to get involved are all thoughtfully woven seamlessly throughout a well-designed, well-structured site experience. Calls-to-action and social sharing are exceptionally well integrated into site content. But if there’s one clear winner here, it’s World Wildlife Fund’s use of large, high-quality, high impact photography that creates an immediate emotional connection between users and endangered elephants, tigers and pandas.


6. Oxfam America

Oxfam is one of the world’s leading organizations on the issues of fair trade, international aid reform, and poverty relief. Its U.S. site offers a decent balance of photography, stories, and clear mission messages. But much like the Partners in Health site, it suffers from a lack of polish in design and from photography that’s cropped into small boxes, more an afterthought than front-and-center for an organization with such an exceptional library of imagery. For such a well known brand with an outstanding reputation, it’s a shame the website feels a bit run-of-the-mill for global nonprofit organizations.


7. Charity Water

Charity: Water is a young organization that has achieved remarkable success and admiration since its founding in 2006—and no doubt their brand and marketing savvy have had a large role in their fast growth. Charity: Water leads with their brand, and we gave them high marks on all areas. The site offers a great mix of impact stats, stories, photography, and a wide variety of ways to get visitors involved, such as their “Pledge Your Birthday” campaign. The overall site design is contemporary and clean, well-structured and inviting, and encourages users to explore.


8. Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a 50-year-old organization with a high profile as a campaigner for human rights worldwide. It’s loaded with useful information and content, and is in part a news source for the global human rights movement. Amnesty’s website brings together reports, statements and stories from around the world, and like many information-rich global nonprofit websites, it’s a dense read. Unfortunately, Amnesty’s website design scores low on design because it does a poor job managing their content. It’s one of the messiest sites we reviewed and it’s hard to look know where to look. There are a lot of calls to action, but they sometimes compete with each other. A lack of clarity mutes the impact of the mission for this world-renowned organization.


9. Robin Hood Foundation

Another site that excels in its thoughtful, user-centric approach to content presentation and design. Need, impact and ways to get involved are all highlighted in the main navigation, while all other information is relegated to a smaller, utility-like navigation along the top. Call-outs, impact stories, data visualization and great photography are used throughout the site. Typography and color palette reinforce the Robin Hood brand in the minds of visitors at every point of interaction, and there’s an immediate sense of the value of Robin Hood’s work, how they put their resources to work, and the specific impact they’re having.


10. JDRF

JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) is a 40-year-old organization dedicated to funding research on Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). For an organization committed to a very specific purpose, we were surprised how poorly the JDRF’s website communicates its message. It isn’t immediately clear what the extent of JDRF’s involvement is with T1D (research, advocacy, treatment, all of the above?). Site design is generic and fails to reinforce the brand. For a disease that has a profound impact on individuals and their families, surprisingly little photography is used. Lastly, the site offer social media sharing as a throw-away, tucked into the navigation, but not in the page content, where it matters most.

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