While all websites share usability as a common denominator for their success, usability problems are not normally discovered until a user digs into the website. Holding a user's attention and interest, visually, when they first come to a site plays an important role in keeping them there.
Holding the interest of a new visitor and encouraging them to explore the website is particularly important for nonprofits because they are selling an idea, rather than a tangible product. Communicating your nonprofit's mission and goals requires careful consideration of the visual factors that will keep users on your website long enough to absorb your intent.
According to award-winning multimedia designer and producer Mike Schmidt at mohawkstreet.com, creating an "emotional connection is often the driving force behind these sites, but is also the driving force behind most marketing." With limited financial resources and regular reliance on volunteer help to build and maintain websites, nonprofits face a daunting challenge in creating sites that can make those emotional connections with their users.
This article focuses on five basic tips to help nonprofit web builders create visually enticing websites. These tips are not new, earth-shattering revelations and could apply to almost all websites. However, successful implementation of these tips could turn a mediocre but usable nonprofit website into an engaging, high-traffic site through enthusiastic word-of-mouth.
Girleffect.org targets younger people sympathetic to the plight of young girls in developing nations. The home page above the fold has only four navigation choices: Home, Learn, Give, and Mobilize. Scrolling below the fold reveals the call to action "3 Things You Can Do Right Now" — Donate, Spread the Word, and Learn. Fewer choices encourage exploration.
Operation Warm distributes new winter coats to needy children in the United States. Above the fold the home page offers three tabs that contain drop-downs with other selections. Scrolling below the fold "What We Do" appears and provides the mission statement in detail. The nonprofit's title and central picture communicate the mission without ambiguity.
The simple Feed The Children logo of a child with outstretched arms holding a food bowl instantly generates an emotional appeal for support. When linked with the tag line — "It's who we are. It's what we do." — it creates a powerful and memorable image.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research uses clever graphic lines that give the illusion of a fox's body, streaming tail and pointed ears alongside the name of the nonprofit. The selection of the reddish-orange color of the logo and typography also reinforces the name of the charity and its mascot — the fox.
Some logos work powerfully in stark black and white. The Wounded Warrior Project logo of a soldier carrying a buddy off the battlefield is easily recognizable from its outline although you can't see the soldiers' faces. The grayscale banner graphic of rotating photographs of servicemen and women reinforces the intent represented by the logo — taking care of wounded warriors.
History Pin, the 2011 Webby Awards winner in the charitable/nonprofit category, strives to "get generations talking more, sharing more, and coming together more often." It integrates Google maps, timelines, and uploaded personal photographs to create archives of places, events, and peoples' stories. With the look being part scrapbook and part school project, it is designed to appeal to both young and old and ultimately encourage intergenerational dialogue.
Below are two examples of videos from larger organizations. You can also view samples of low-cost, short videos from TechSoup's annual Digital Storytelling Campaign.
One nonprofit that does a particularly good job with a video centerpiece is the environmental group charity: water. Focused on providing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations, charity: water's video "Water Changes Everything" uses powerful infographics to emotionally engage the viewer in the impact that clean water has around the world.
The nonprofit group Witness not only uses video to tell their story — video is the story. Their tagline "If a picture's worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?" powerfully communicates their goal: to use video to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. Its call to action not only seeks donations but also volunteers to translate and edit videos of human rights abuses from around the world.
Kiva has a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Using micro-loans as low as $25 they help create opportunity around the world. The power of the website is that the donor can see the face and read the story of each loan recipient, creating an emotional connection.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure website incorporates a Flash photo banner that can be scrolled to see pictures and read stories of volunteers, breast cancer survivors, and their family members. This connects the user to the cause, its beneficiaries, volunteers, and other donors.
Experienced web designers might recommend against using website templates because they can limit flexibility or have a cookie-cutter look. However, small nonprofits may want to consider them if their in-house design capability is lacking or they cannot afford to outsource their web design requirements. Many nonprofit templates are available online in various content management system (CMS) including the very popular WordPress.com. While not always ideal, starting with a template can provide a basic site that can often be customized later to incorporate more of your organization's signature branding and feel.
Creating a visually enticing nonprofit website does not require a significant budget. However, the goal of improving your website as your budget allows is a worthy one. Consider these few tips as a starting place to help you evaluate your existing website for areas where you can improve how you tell your nonprofit's story with enticing visuals.
Image: Responsive and scalable web design vector illustration, Shutterstock
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