The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Website Content [Checklist + How To]

10 Questions to Evaluate, Assess, Plan, and Improve Your Content

By starting with the one question at the heart of it all, we can build out a clear action plan to tackle your nonprofit website content—whether you’re writing a new website or improving a website that’s gotten messy over time.

The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Website Content [Checklist + How To]
In This Article
  • Intro
  • What
  • Why
  • Audience
  • Flow
  • Greater Purpose
  • Differentiators
  • Voice
  • Design
  • Communication Strategy
  • SEO

Whether you are starting a new impact organization and need to build out a nonprofit website or you’re realizing that your current website isn’t quite doing the trick, one thing is true: tackling your nonprofit website content can feel like an overwhelming task.

Like you’re buried under a pile of pages—knowing that the gold nuggets are in there somewhere, if you could only suss them out.

As you wade through that sticky spider’s web of content, you’re probably left wondering:

  • Are we really communicating what we do?
  • What do we need to say and where?
  • What’s missing?
  • Is it true that no one reads on the internet?
  • Why doesn’t this sound right?
  • Wait, what are we even doing again?

And if your org has been around for a while, then you’ve only got more stuff to struggle through. More awesome work to highlight, of course, but also YEARS’ more images, pages, programs, grants, annual reports, staff turnover… all leading to a website that’s messy and confusing.

The good news is that at the heart of these questions is really just one:

What’s the point?

I don’t mean this in the depressing kind of way. I mean literally, what is your purpose? If we start with that one question at the heart of it all, we can build out a clear action plan to tackle your nonprofit website content.

The questions below start from the most fundamental and work up to the most advanced. I suggest following the structure below as you evaluate your nonprofit website content to make sure the foundation is solid.

Here’s the TLDR of the many thousands of words below. Does your nonprofit website content:

   Explain what you do?

   Express why you do it?

   Answer your audience’s questions?

   Provide a clear, easy flow?

   Support your website’s greater purpose?

   Emphasize what makes you different?

   Have a voice?

   Work with your design?

   Fit your greater communications strategy?

   Incorporate SEO best practices?

1. Does your content explain what you do?

Anyone should be able to scan your website and understand your services.

This is the heart of your nonprofit and thus should be the heart of your nonprofit’s website. Regardless of any other role that your website will play (a lot more on this in the following sections!), your nonprofit website serves the same basic purpose as any other website on the internet:

  • To establish that you exist
  • To explain the purpose of your existence

A great website will do WAY more than the above, of course, but these are the absolute barebones essentials. Start here, checking that your website clearly includes information on the below points:

  • Mission
  • Programs and services offered
  • Contact information
  • People/areas we serve
  • Organizational leadership
  • Organizational history
  • Financial reports and other required nonprofit documentation
  • FAQs
  • How people can help—volunteering, donating, etc.

It’s easy to skip this step, assuming that “Yeah! Of course we have this information. Duh!” But ask yourself, do you really?

When it comes to explaining what you do, give preference to clarity over creativity. If you have a cute program name, you can definitely use it—but use it as supporting copy. For large headlines, navigation menu items, labels, and other key scanning elements, always use the clearest and simplest language possible.

2. Does your content capture the “why”?

Your content should express why you do what you do.

The first layer of content for your nonprofit website needs to cover the basic information described above. But in order to actually engage your website visitors, you need to tie the literal “what you do” into the more foundational, purpose-driven, and emotionally resonant explanation of “why you do it.”

This comes down to your nonprofit’s core values, beliefs, and reasons for being.

  • What drives you?
  • Why does your staff get up in the morning?
  • What better future are you working toward?

These core values and beliefs should not be relegated to a section called “Our Values” on your About page and then never brought up again. They should be woven into your website on every single page, over and over again.

Think over the following phrases to get an idea of how you could incorporate more substance—more of the why—into your content throughout your website:

  • We do ______ because ________.
  • Your donation is bigger than ________. It’s about __________.
  • We’re all about ________, which is why our services are __________.
  • When things get difficult, we know that _________.
  • We believe __________.
  • Everyone deserves _________.
  • Too many people experience ________.
  • We offer hope for _________.

3. Does your content speak to your audience?

Your nonprofit website content should be written to your specific audience(s).

The first two points are critical to your nonprofit website and form what I’d consider to be the minimum information in terms of website content. But to make your content more effective, the next step is to consider whether it’s been written with your audiences in mind.

In order words, consider these critical questions about your audience:

  • Who are you trying to reach with your website?
  • How much background information does this person already have? (About you, your area of work, your services specifically, your/other solutions to their problems, etc.)
  • What does this person want from you? What do they want from your website?
  • Finally, based on the information above, are you presenting information in a way that makes sense to this person?

For example, let’s say that you’re an environmental conservation organization that primarily works with local educators to provide youth-friendly programming about wildlife, nature, and outdoor education. This specific audience—teachers and school officials—should be obvious in the way you’ve written your content, including:

  • How you name your audience in text (for example “We help educators…” or “Working with educators to…” or “Resources for educators”)
  • How you present information—what gets priority on the page, and what doesn’t? What gets its own nav menu item, and what doesn’t?
  • What options you present as calls-to-action

Of course, you likely have more than one audience, so you’ll need to consider which ones matter most.

To work through this question in a practical way, I recommend these steps.

  1. Write down your distinct audiences.
  2. Rank them in terms of importance. (Which ones need you the most? Which provide the most value to your organization? Which do you want to be known for? Which do you want to grow?)
  3. Brainstorm all of the specific questions and pieces of information that each audience might be looking for on your website. (If you have a staff member who primarily interacts with that audience, ask them for help!)
  4. Take each piece of information for each audience and make sure it’s answered on your website—literally sit down and try to find it. If it isn’t there, make a note to add it.
Of course, beneath this question are two other critical questions. First, do you know with 100% certainty who you want to reach? And second, if you’re evaluating existing content, do you know who is using your website now (and how)?

4. Is your content organized appropriately?

Key pieces of content should be obvious and easy to find.

The more important the audience, the easier it should be for that audience to see themselves on your website. They should not have to look hard to find information or get their questions answered.

Let’s take the exercise from the previous question and go one step further. How difficult was it to find the information you were looking for? Can you make it more obvious to key audiences that 1) you serve them and 2) you have the information they are looking for?

Remember that people scan websites, only stopping to read when they know with pretty good certainty that it’s going to be worth their time. The more obvious you can make your content, the better.

Some good rules of thumb for keeping your content obvious and well organized:

  • Use header text liberally. Break up sections of text with large, easy-to-scan headlines that do not use jargon.
  • Wherever possible, link between your key site pages in text.
  • When you link in text, make sure that the link is obviously a link—for example, with a different text color, bolding, and/or underlining.
  • Add buttons for the highest-priority action in any given section. Try not to overwhelm the user by having a ton of buttons for every little thing.
  • Limit your primary nav bar to the most critical pages, adding dropdown menus as needed. (More tips in our other blog post on easy nav bar improvements!)
User testing can play an invaluable role in understanding whether your content is user-friendly or not. You can do informal testing on your own by asking friends or family (ideally people unfamiliar with your organization) or by using an online tool like Usability Hub.

5. Does your content support the purpose of your website?

Your content should be written and organized to support the website’s business goal.

In addition to organizing your content well in terms of answering your audience’s questions, you should also consider your content in the context of your website’s greater role in your organization.

What is the point of having a website for your nonprofit? Why have you decided that now is the time to tackle that pile of messy content?

It’s important to get clear on the role that your website will play for your organization, as its intended purpose should drive the content (and design!) decisions that you make.

For instance, some nonprofits rely primarily on large funders and need a website that focuses more on results, financials, and methodologies. Others want their website to be the primary means of beneficiaries finding them and applying for their services. Others want their website to offer a members-only space that drives recurring donations and builds community.

There’s no right or wrong answer, but your website’s main purpose should impact where and how its content is designed. A beautiful-sounding website won’t be helpful if it’s not driving more sign-ups, more donations, more links from local media, or whatever other purpose your website has.

If the purpose of your website is to drive more donations (which is probably the most common!), it’s worth making sure your donation page is solid. Check out our guest post on Nonprofit Hub to learn how to optimize your donation page content.

6. Does your content capture what makes you different?

Your content should answer the question, “Why us and not another org?”

According to Statista, there are 1.4 million nonprofits in the United States. Million! And thousands more are being founded every single year.

Even if you consider your specific area of service and your specific geographic location, there are likely hundreds of similar organizations that people could support or participate in. Why should they give their limited resources—time, money, emotional energy—to yours? 

What makes you different?

There are plenty of things that could theoretically set you apart, and they should be grounded in your nonprofit’s mission and core beliefs. (In other words, these absolutely should not be made up just for the sake of marketing.)

Also, keep in mind that passion alone is not a differentiator. Every nonprofit was founded because someone was passionate about a cause. You need something more—something with more substance and more specificity.

Do some group soul-searching to see which of these possible nonprofit differentiators might apply to you:

  • Staff: Does your leadership team have special expertise? Diversity? Prominent board members? Special training, education, or connections? A unique staff position that most orgs don’t have? A deeper connection to the people you serve or the problems you tackle?
  • Partnerships: Do you work with other prominent organizations? Well-known business leaders or employers? Celebrities or local influencers? Do you create cross-sector bridges that most don’t?
  • Methodology: How do you tackle the problems you tackle? Do you use a special approach? Interesting technology? Do you have a particularly community-based philosophy? Are you especially data-driven?
  • History: Have you been around longer than most orgs? Are you new but have earned some kind of important distinction? Does your staff have a special history in the area? Are you known across multiple generations? Has some famous historical event touched your nonprofit in a meaningful way?
  • Results: Does your problem-solving approach work better? Why and how? Do you emphasize transparency in results in a unique way? Are you gathering results more effectively or accurately?
  • Donor/volunteer experience: Do you do special things to make donors feel appreciated? Do you have some kind of community? Do you host webinars, events, or networking opportunities? Do you have positions of leadership for active donors and volunteers? Answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” can be a great way to stand out to potential donors and volunteers.

Okay, so…

How would such differentiators be expressed within your nonprofit website content? Here are some starter ideas for the text:

  • We’re different because ___________.
  • Our programs aren’t just _______. They’re ________.
  • Unlike __________, we take an approach that is _________.
  • We know that you want to give to something that will truly make a difference. And our programs do because we ___________.
  • In a system that does _______, we do _________.
  • We’re changing the system because __________.
  • A lot of these programs don’t work as well as they could because _________. We’re doing _________ instead.
  • You’ve probably seen organizations that do ________. We don’t. Instead, we do ______ because we believe ________.
  • Our core beliefs drive us to do things differently: __________.

You don’t have to literally say “we’re different” all over your website. But you should be highlighting what you do differently than the other 1.4 million nonprofits and making a compelling case for someone to join your mission.

A competitor analysis is a fantastic way to understand your place in the greater landscape. We know that the word “competitor” can feel icky, but the truth is that you are competing for space in your audience’s mind. Sitting down to understand the market can help illuminate what really does make you different.

7. Does your content have a voice?

The best website content will do all of the above while also showing some personality.

Once you have the meat of your content down according to the points above—the basic information, organization, audience connection, and differentiators—you can start to think about the pizzazz. The icing on the cake.

I’d like to emphasize here that nice-sounding writing is important and helpful, but it is never more important than the content of your content. You should always focus on being clear first, adding creativity to the mix only after you are sure that the foundation is firm.

So how do you add voice to your nonprofit website content?

Here are some of my favorite tips:

  1. Eliminate the buzzwords. Do a sweep of your website and mark all of the jargon, boardroom talk, and development buzzwords. Then hit that delete key! Speaking in plain, clear language is better in almost every single case (except for maybe a funder-specific report or an insiders’ page about something like capacity building).
  2. Do some brand language brainstorming. Sit down with some key staff members and make some word clouds on paper or on the computer. Talk about what you do and try to list out as many synonyms, phrases, and idioms that come to mind. Browse the dictionary, use a thesaurus, and just throw around words until you have a huge list you can comb through.
  3. Create a go-to language list. By create a list, I mean literally make a list on paper, Google Docs, or whatever project management software your nonprofit uses. Narrow down your brainstorming session to a manageable list of single words and full phrases that you can pull from in the future. Effective copywriters don’t keep the words in their head—they keep a reference sheet to both spark inspiration and stay on brand.
  4. Check out similar organizations. I don’t mean steal, but I do mean get inspiration! A great trick is to find an organization that’s similar to yours but not in your exact target market (so if you’re a food bank, then maybe a food bank in another similar-sized city). Read their website and evaluate their language. Are there any words you love? Any you hate? Any phrases or tones that you might want to emulate?
  5. Build out a theme. Repetition is one of the most critical ways that we as humans learn to identify and distinguish things. Start with your nonprofit’s name, mission, or services and use that as a theme to brainstorm. For instance, if your name has something to do with vision, you can brainstorm objects, adjectives, phrases, idioms, and stories related to vision. Then consider how you could creatively tie this language into different parts of your website: the headline of a page, the newsletter sign-up, the donation page, etc.
  6. Use your audience’s words. More than just sounding nice, the copy on your nonprofit website should resonate with your target audience. And a great way to do that is to actually use their words! This is a trade secret among copywriters, and it’s one that can make a huge impact on how well your words connect. Take a few minutes to browse reviews, testimonials, survey responses—whatever you have—and highlight some of the most unique or impactful phrases. Then directly copy them into headlines, calls-to-action, or paragraphs.
  7. Add more stories. Storytelling is an excellent way to connect with readers and make them remember you. Instead of blandly listing out your services, for instance, tie each service to a specific person: you help Jeremy learn to read so he doesn’t have to feel embarrassed at school; you work with Kim to feed her family well, even when she barely has the energy to drive home after a third shift. Even simple stories can add richness and emotion to your copy—just be sure you’re using stories with permission or are instead using composite stories without identifying personal information.
  8. Have fun with it! Take a page from Oscar Wilde and make use of clever puns or witty turns of phrases to add some unexpected delight and joy to your page. If you aren’t confident in your own phrasing, ask the funniest or wittiest person at your nonprofit for some insight.
You can get more tips and a ton of examples of how to improve your nonprofit website copy in our guest post on Donorbox.

8. Does your content work together with the design?

Your website content and design should never fight each other.

One of the biggest reasons that nonprofit website content might be good but not great is that the content and the design don’t work together. You’ve certainly seen these kinds of issues before:

  • Super-long paragraph text that looks weird next to a small photo
  • Text overlaid on an inappropriate or overly busy photograph, making the text impossible to read
  • Random-sounding content that doesn’t fit the overall nonprofit brand tone, voice, or personality
  • A ton of text in a spot that was clearly meant for just a headline or short sentence
  • Headlines in way too many colors, sizes, or fonts—making the actual content hard to understand due to the visual interference
  • Nonresponsive website designs, which make content impossible to read on small screens
  • Font sizes that are too small or thin in general, even on desktop
  • Not enough color contrast between the text and its background, making it hard to read (and possibly impossible for those with low or no vision)

A beautiful website design can make your website stand out, but the visual aspect should never detract from the visitor being able to understand the content. If you have to choose, it’s almost always better to give preference to something that looks a little plain but is easier to scan, read, or comprehend.

Bells and whistles should be the final layer to your content, not the first.

One great way to make sure your content fits your design (and vice versa) is to work first on building an effective nonprofit brand. Having a solid and clear foundation will keep your design and content on the same track.

9. Does your website content fit the rest of your communications?

Your website content is one piece of the puzzle.

While your nonprofit website is clearly important—it’s pretty much all we do at Pixel Lighthouse!—it’s equally important to remember that it’s only one part of your overall marketing and communication strategy. That means that in order to evaluate your website content, you need to consider the greater context.

How does your website support, reinforce, and complement your other communication efforts? For example, consider whether and how you use your website with:

  • Direct mail: Ideally, print marketing would direct people to a relevant page on your website, not just the home page. That page (called a “landing page”) should contain content written to the exact purpose of the direct mail piece.
  • Paid ads: Exactly the same as above! If you’ve written a paid ad, it should link to a dedicated landing page with content that 100% matches the copy of the ad. Definitely do not link to the home page.
  • In-person events: If you’re driving people to your website, are you directing them to a page specifically about the event or cause? Are you giving them a reason to check out your site? What content could you create that attendees would love to see?
  • Special drives and campaigns: One of the biggest mistakes for online fundraising efforts is to drive all donors to the same general donation page. If you’re featuring a special donation event, the donor should see that their funds will go toward that effort—communicated through unique content on a distinct donation page.
  • Content marketing: Are your blog posts written in the same voice as the rest of your website? Are you linking to key site pages? Are you giving the reader a clear action with every single blog post? While the focus of each blog might be different, the content should still be based on all of the best practices we’ve discussed so far.
  • Email marketing: Do you have a nonprofit email newsletter? If so, are you making the most of it? Are you directing people to key pieces of content on your website according to their most-wanted info and biggest questions? Is there content you could create to make your newsletter more helpful or inviting? (You can get a million more examples in our nonprofit newsletter guest post on Wired Impact.)

In all of these cases, a good rule of thumb is this: instead of thinking of your website as a static thing that people just visit, think of it as a tool.

Always try to consider what’s in it for someone to take the step of actually visiting your website. And then ask yourself this: how can you create content dedicated to answering that question?

10. Does your content incorporate SEO best practices?

SEO can complement content but usually does not need to be the primary concern.

I’ve put SEO (search engine optimization) last on this list not because it’s so extremely advanced, but because it’s not necessarily a super-important factor for many nonprofits. It depends on the nature of your work and your location.

For instance, your website is not very likely to rank for something like “food pantry” and maybe not even “food pantry in [city]” depending on how large of an area you serve. In many cases, it’s simply not worth the time and energy it would take to attempt to seriously rank for general or high-level keywords like these.

So instead of spending a long time on SEO, we recommend getting the basics right:

  • Good hierarchy of H1s, H2s, H3s
  • Alt text for all images on the page
  • Meta descriptions for each page
  • Meta titles for each page
  • An SSL certificate
  • Reasonable site speed loading time

If you want to, you can do some basic keyword research to inform your content, ensuring that each page uses at least a few commonly searched keywords to give you a chance to rank for them. However, I’d usually classify this as a “won’t hurt” rather than a “must have” kind of strategy. In general, if you’re answering your audience’s questions and clearly explaining what you do, then you’ll naturally be using keywords anyway.

Caveat: Keyword research is more important if you’re running paid search engine ads, which are based on specific keywords. To do well with Google Ad Grants, for example, keyword research would be more important.

What's Your Nonprofit Website Content Plan?

Whew—if you’re still here, kudos to you and thanks for joining me on this whirlwind of a nonprofit content planning extravaganza! I hope you feel more ready to tackle the beast of website content, whether you’re writing a brand-new nonprofit website or are hoping to make improvements to a website that’s gotten a little messy over time.

If you have any questions about the tips above or how you might improve your website specifically, please feel free to book a quick call with me.

To summarize what we’ve covered, here’s that main checklist again. Does your nonprofit website content:

✓   Explain what you do?

✓   Express why you do it?

✓   Answer your audience’s questions?

✓   Provide a clear, easy flow?

✓   Support your website’s greater purpose?

✓   Emphasize what makes you different?

✓   Have a voice?

✓   Work with your design?

✓   Fit your greater communications strategy?

✓   Incorporate SEO best practices?

In This Article
  • Intro
  • What
  • Why
  • Audience
  • Flow
  • Greater Purpose
  • Differentiators
  • Voice
  • Design
  • Communication Strategy
  • SEO

Hi, I'm Andrea!

I graduated with a degree in International Studies, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, and have been working remotely while traveling the world with my husband for the last 6 or so years. Outside of the home office, I love learning languages, doing hand embroidery, and practicing yoga. My favorite spot in the world is at my grandmother’s table in Tokyo. 🙂

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