We work with a lot of non-profits at [wp]. We try to keep our client stable 25% filled with non-profits, and they vary in size from tiny-budgeted, close-to-our-heart local non-profits to global, big-idea non-profits. No matter the size, when we begin talking to a prospective non-profit client, they bring up the classic non-profit conundrum: can we justify spending on branding when we want to divert as much of our funding as we can to our mission? Our answer? Your ability to deliver on your mission depends on how well you’ve branded your organization. More succinctly: do a good job building your brand and you’ll have more resources to effect more change.

So, branding is good. Failing to apply the concepts of branding to your non-profit’s website? That’s not so good. Here are three of the most-obvious ones and a head start on how to address each.

You fail the smell-test. Miserably.

How many times have you visited a non-profit website and had that “Is this place legitimate?” feeling? Maybe they were recommended to you by a friend. Or maybe you saw someone on Facebook commenting about them. But when you looked them up, the best their brand could muster from you is a “huh…” or, worse, “yikes.” If it’s possible that someone could have that reaction to your non-profit’s website, sorry – you just failed the smell-test. As frustrating as it is, your clients (and prospective donors) make judgements based on things you’d rather not care about. While DIY-ing a site sounded great (and cheap!) when you heard about Squarespace on the most recent episode of Serial, the reality is turning people away. And for a people-centric industry like non-profits, that’s detrimental.

The first step to solving it: Mine your network for anyone in the branding, design, web industry and take them out for coffee. Ask them to give you an honest assessment of how your website looks. Then, put together a realistic monthly budget to fix the issues they noted.

You aren’t conveying your message quickly

Let me guess – the first copy someone sees on your website reads something like “We are a xyz non-profit in xyz location dedicated to….” Am I close? It’s ok! I’ve written that copy. I thought that copy was great when I wrote it. I’ve since learned that “me me me” copy like that is written (1) for us, by us and (2) doesn’t convert (we’ll get to converting in a second). You have to put your wins right out front. You have to brag a little bit. You have to say “Here’s all the awesomeness we’ve achieved.”
The first step to solving it: Think like a writer who’s writing the recap for last night’s ballgame. The headline doesn’t say “The Phillies are a Major League Baseball team who tries to win 162 games a year.” No, it says “Phils win 4–3 on ninth inning walk-off.” And I’m fired up! Who hit it? How did I miss it? When’s the next game? Then, write the headline for your organization’s most recent success. Having trouble? Hire a copywriter to help you for a couple of hours.

Your site doesn’t convert

Step back and think for a minute about why someone is at your non-profit’s website. Your website isn’t Buzzfeed. They’re not mindlessly surfing. They are there for a reason. Do you know what that reason is? Do you know what the 3 or 4 possibilities are? Crucially: how easy is it for someone to do that? Your website’s sole reason for being is to make the gap between ‘needs’ and ‘satisfaction’ as small as possible.
The first step to solving it: Work on one ‘need’ for now. I’d suggest the one that brings you the most funding, but any one will do. Ask someone in that target group to fulfill that need while you watch. If it takes too long or is too cumbersome to achieve, hire someone to fix just that workflow.

So you’re telling me to treat my non-profit like a business? I’ll alert the media.

I didn’t say any of this was hard. I’m saying that too many non-profits don’t do these things on a regular basis (or they never do them at all). Far too many non-profit sites (yours?) convey a message beneath the organization for which they’re speaking. Far too many non-profit sites (yours?) are built once and ignored. Far too many non-profit sites (yours?) don’t help people do what they need to do. And it is costing those non-profits (yours?) money.

Need help?

We helped many non-profit clients answer these questions and more over the years. We’d love to do it for yours. Schedule a free, no-risk, might-be-the-best-meeting-you-ever-took chat here.