Creating a strong first impression with your nonprofit's website

07/15/2023 12:56 PM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

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Visitors to your website want answers, fast, so your website has to hook visitors from the very first interaction. Here are some tips to make a favorable impression right away

As soon as a new visitor - or even someone who’s coming back for a return visit – arrives on the site, their mind is swimming with questions.

Questions like:

  • What's your mission?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How does it fit into my life?
  • Why should I believe you?
  • How can I get involved?

Everyone's busy and ready to move on to the next task. So your website has to hook visitors from the very first interaction.

So how can you create a website that leaves a favorable impression?

By following a few core principles, you can create an experience that invites visitors to dive deeper into your work.

1. Orient your visitors

image of girl and toddler with watermelon and explanatory text from Nourish CA website

The moment they land on your site, visitors should be able to understand your nonprofit's big idea. You can do that by describing your nonprofit's work in 15 words or less in the first headline that appears on your Home page. Think of it like your organization's elevator pitch to somebody new.

This text should describe some version of the who, what, why, or where (or all of the above!) about your mission. This helps visitors know what kind of website they're about to read so they understand the context for everything that follows.

2. Make it scannable

The truth is that nobody reads websites front to back — they scan them first and only stop when something catches their attention. If you don't have a scannable website, visitors won't have the entry points needed to explore the rest of your work.

You can increase scannability by breaking your content into sections that each have a specific purpose. Make liberal use of headings, lists, short paragraphs, images, and icons to direct your reader's eye. Anything that breaks up the flow of content will make it easier for readers to skim and hop around.

3. Use ample spacing

Giving your content enough spacing goes a long way toward encouraging people to read it. That means giving your content room to breathe — leaving space around text and images so things feel open and uncluttered.

Effective use of spacing provides structure to your content. It introduces an easy-to-understand visual hierarchy that moves people down the page in an intuitive manner. It also helps draw the eye toward the major actions you'd like visitors to take as they navigate your site. 

As a bonus, strong spacing also makes the design feel more considered and professional, enhancing your org's reliability and trustworthiness.

4. Keep your content readable

This is the number one mistake nonprofits make with their messaging: writing their website like it's a grant application! 

Using an overly academic tone introduces distance between you and your community. Even if your audience consists of highly educated people, they likely don't enjoy interacting with websites that read like a scientific paper. When in doubt, try to write at an accessible 9th-grade level. (You can use the Hemingway Editor to check your content's complexity level.) Use the sort of language you would use when talking to a friend at a coffee shop when they ask, "So what do you do?"

Beyond the language itself, ensure your site uses a font size that's easy for visitors to read without requiring magnification. Small text is difficult for anyone to read. When in doubt, keep your regular body text at a size of 18px or more.

5. Use “you-focused” language

Here's a simple test: press Ctrl+F on your website's Home page and count how many ”you’s” and “your’s” appear on the page. Then compare that number with how many "we"s and "us"es appear on the page. Which number is higher?

Website testing consistently shows that content containing more "you" makes people want to keep reading. It invites your reader along for the ride by framing things from their perspective. 

If you find your website content relies more heavily on “we” and “us” -focused language, try rephrasing some of your sentences to more actively include the reader.

Pulling it all together

Here's the reality: confusing websites get ignored, while helpful websites get used.

With the above improvements in place, you'll nail the first impression of your nonprofit website.

And as people spend more time on your website, they'll read your stories, discover your resources, and explore the ways they can get involved with your org.

Creating an effective nonprofit website can be an ongoing challenge.

But when the pieces fit together well, you start your visitors off on the right foot along the larger journey into your mission.

Austin Hattox is the founder of Pixel Lighthouse 

The Association of Consultants to Nonprofits | 400 E. Randolph St., #3115 | Chicago, IL 60601

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