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Social impact organizations and nonprofits benefit from a strong digital presence. Effective web design can help facilitate and spread social change by connecting target audience members to nonprofit services. The website’s design also plays a significant role in establishing credibility, which directly influences an organization’s ability to gain the support of donors. New Theory has years of experience creating successful websites for nonprofit organizations. In this blog post, we will share some of the most valuable lessons we have learned along the way.

How to serve two, distinct users: donors and program users

Crafting a website design that effectively caters to the needs of both donors and users of the nonprofit’s services is one of the toughest challenges they often encounter. Balancing these distinct user groups’ diverse interests and expectations requires careful consideration and strategic design decisions.  

Both groups often reference a nonprofit’s website to evaluate its quality. Is this organization’s mission in line with my needs or philanthropy goals. A trustworthy website can act as a qualifying step and build confidence for a user to form a relationship with the org. New Theory assists its nonprofit clients by designing websites that have a polished, professional feel. By effectively extending their brand image online, we help clients establish credibility meeting the needs of both audience members.

For donors, transparency and assurance regarding how their contributions are utilized are top priorities. This includes effectively communicating the organization’s mission, impact, and financial stewardship, often referencing documents such as their 990 Form, which outlines financial information filed with the IRS. By providing clear and detailed information about budget allocation, program spending, and administrative costs, we instill confidence in donors about the organization’s accountability and effectiveness. 

The New Theory team also focuses on creating a user-friendly experience for the nonprofit’s clients. This means designing a website that makes it easy for users to find the resources and services they need. 

Navigating the journey of donors and clients on the website is where the real challenge lies, but it is also where the true excitement of designing for a diverse audience unfolds. It’s about figuring out who the website is for, often a mix of donors and program beneficiaries, and then designing the website around the needs and wants of those people.

         -Devon Delapp, Creative Director at New Theory

Making a website for the org’s “customers”, and not simply reflecting the org’s structure

A common misstep for nonprofits is to create a website that serves their own board members, and not the audience of the nonprofit. This is seen with websites that focus on day to day operations and highlight the structure of the org. How many sites have you seen leading with an internal mission statement or a press release about a new board member? The staff and leadership know their mission and audience best, but can benefit from guidance on translating the knowledge into a user-focused website. That outside perspective and expert advice can be a path to website that serves that audience first, furthering the goals of the organization. 

Understanding who we serve and how to best support them is at the heart of our approach to nonprofit web design. We ask: Who are you serving? What do they care about, and how can we help?

          -Devon Delapp, Creative Director at New Theory

Getting stakeholder buy-in early on

Nonprofit organizations typically seek approval from their board members before making significant financial decisions, such as those related to website development. This involves a thorough discovery process to identify decision-makers and ensure their inclusion in discussions from the outset. It is important to identify key stakeholders from the beginning to involve them in discussions and ensure their input is reflected in the final work. This approach minimizes the risk of encountering resistance later in the project and ensures that stakeholders feel their opinions are valued and integrated into the decision-making process.

Getting buy-in early means engaging those stakeholders at the very start. By involving stakeholders early in the process, organizations ensure that decisions reflect their input and increase the likelihood of their support throughout the project’s duration.

         -Devon Delapp, Creative Director at New Theory

A client’s perspective

A well-designed website is a powerful tool for storytelling, showcasing impact, and facilitating donations or other forms of support. New Theory recently collaborated with Densho, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Japanese American stories from World War II, to redesign their website for enhanced navigation and a clear structure. Before the website redesign, audience members were having trouble finding the organization’s resources which are located on several different websites. New Theory worked with Densho’s internal stakeholders to identify new language and a website structure more inline with their audience’s expectations, enabling discovery of resources previously under-utilized. The new website saw significant improvements in engagement of the site’s content and tools. 

As an online archive and public history organization, Densho had a lot of information on our outdated and hard-to-navigate website. New Theory helped us organize our site in a way that made sense, engaged the staff, and improved our user experience. Today, our website is easy to navigate for guests and easy to update for staff.

          -Kristi Nakata Marketing Manager at Densho

The future of design for social impact

Looking ahead, the future of website design for social impact holds exciting possibilities. One trend that has been gaining traction is the adoption of marketing efforts commonly seen in e-commerce, such as email marketing campaigns linked with fundraiser lists. Nonprofits are increasingly using these methods to engage donors and supporters, personalize communications, and drive fundraising efforts. 

As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative approaches to website design that prioritize user experience, accessibility, and the integration of digital marketing strategies. By staying attuned to emerging trends, New Theory is committed to empowering nonprofits with websites that drive positive change and support their mission-driven work.

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