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Five Outstanding Low-Budget Websites

By The NonProfit Times - December 31, 2013

Your website is your most visible and visited marketing piece. It says a lot about an organization. Websites are supposed to level the playing field — small versus big — when it comes to generating support and pushing advocacy.

Outstanding websites offer an effortless user experience, where an audience is encouraged to take action through compelling content, strong visuals, and a clear call to action. If a supporter was interested in doing more with your organization, it should be instantly clear how the person can donate to your mission, and engage with your programs.

While nonprofits with large operating budgets can set the bar high with their dazzling graphics and interactive microsites, small and medium-sized nonprofits still stand a chance.

The NonProfit Times asked the staff at NTEN (The Nonprofit Technology Network) to examine websites of organizations with revenue of $10 million or less to find which organizations are doing it correctly. Learning by example is a great way for smaller nonprofits to improve marketing and fundraising efforts. The following are five outstanding websites of small and medium-sized organizations. The revenue is based on the last available federal Form 990. The websites were assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Ease of Navigation: Is the information on the website organized in a clear and concise manner? Are the pages and links functioning properly?
  • Clear Call To Action: Does the website ask the audience for a response or trigger a reaction? For example, does it ask the audience to connect with you on social media, sign up for your newsletter, or ask them to donate to your cause?
  • Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: Is the website aesthetically appealing? Does your website offer compelling images to complement the text on your website?
  • Up-to-Date Information: Does the website have static information, or is it regularly updated and give your audience a reason to keep coming back?

Here are five websites that the NTEN experts think are delivering the goods.


Environmental Working Group


Annual Revenue: $5,899,398

Mission: The Environmental Working Group conducts and distributes nonpartisan research on toxins, agriculture and land issues.

Ease of Navigation: EWG’s research, key issues and consumer guides can be accessed from a top menu and a site map, and are organized into intuitive categories.

Clear Call to Action: Social media channels and ways to get involved are featured prominently throughout the site.

Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: The graphics on the categories are both engaging and informative.

Up-to-Date Information: Daily updates keep visitors coming back for more. EWG has about 10 full-time employees maintaining the website, and it’s a core competency for the organization.

EWG revamped its website in February 2013. It had not been redesigned since 2007. Executive Director Heather White characterized the investment as “significant,” but said the organization has already seen a jump from 40,000 unique visitors a day to about 65,000. “Organizations in the $5 million to $10 million range should expect to be spending $80,000 to $120,000” to redesign their websites, according to Chief Technical Officer Michael Cervino.

Having a visual website is paramount for EWG. “We’re a data-driven organization, so it was key to us to make sure we were able to break through (to users) immediately,” said White. “We went from a data- and text-driven interface to a visual interface. The visual aspect really resonates with the audience.”


Ask Big Questions

(Ask Big Questions is an initiative of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in partnership with the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust.)     


Annual Revenue: $316,209

Mission: Ask Big Questions brings diverse college students together for conversations that help people understand themselves and others. These conversations create community and spark action.

Ease of Navigation: Audiences can easily navigate from page-to-page, without feeling as if they’ve missed anything. It is clear what this initiative is about, the audience it serves, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

Clear Call to Action: Within the first few seconds of visiting, it is clear how someone can become more engaged or learn more about their work by subscribing to their updates, connecting through their social media channels, watching a video, or donating.

Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: The website’s color palette is bright and inviting. The buttons on the website stand out, giving the website a lot of depth.

Up-to-Date Information: Each month, a new “big question” is posted on the home page, with additional feedback from its community via Facebook and Twitter showcased below their calls to action.

According to Sheila Katz at the organization, the website was an integral piece to the strategy when Ask Big Questions was launched nationally more than two years ago. The concept was to develop a site that would inspire students to have better in person conversations.

“We wanted the look and feel to be accessible to college students and our hope was to get them talking about Big Questions within their networks,” said Katz. “People can comment on the site, download resources, get connected to local events and read personal stories on the blog. When someone comments on the site it links directly to their Facebook profile page or Twitter handle so that the conversation can continue with their friends.”

The website changes monthly as the organization launches new national Big Questions. “The blog is updated several times a month. The comments are updated as people engage with the website,” she said.

After an intense brainstorm process, the site within six months of Ask Big Questions established itself as a national initiative. The first launch was phase one of the website. “We are constantly adding new features and updating our content.  As we are entering phase two of the site, we are adding videos, infographics and developing ways for students to get customized conversation guides,” said Katz, the full-time staff member who manages the site. The organization also has two part-time consultants who help push out the content.


Engineers Without Borders USA


Annual Revenue: $9,269,109

Mission: Engineers Without Borders USA creates community-driven change through sustainable engineering projects around the world.

Ease of Navigation: A simple menu near the top of site provides an easy way to get around, and the site is optimized for viewing on mobile devices.

Clear Call to Action: There are numerous ways to get involved, as well as a discreet donate button on the main menu.

Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: In addition to scrolling photographs at the top of the site which follow the user from page to page, each page features a photo of the group in action. The home page lifts like a curtain upon scrolling down.

Up-to-Date Information: The latest news is featured on the right side of the site, and metrics such as number of chapters and number of countries in which the group operates are shown prominently.

EWB USA’s new website launched this past September. “Our previous site was very member-focused, said Communications Coordinator Kelsey Kojetin. “We didn’t have a clear delineation of how to communicate to our members versus how to communicate with our donors. The new site’s focus is on the general public and donors, and is more about what we do on the ground instead of informational updates for members.”

Kojetin said EWB’s biggest priority in designing a new site was listening to their donors. “We put ourselves in the position of our donors and the general public, and that wasn’t easy to do as organizational insiders. We used feedback from our old site and listened to our donors to make the new site the one they wanted. The biggest thing to keep in mind for us was what people would want to learn from our site.”


Pencils of Promise (PoP)


Annual Revenue: $5 million

Mission: Pencils of Promise believes every child should have access to quality education. The organization creates schools, programs, and global communities around the common goal of education for all.

Ease of Navigation: The website offers a perfect balance of text and images, and it is easy for audiences to understand what PoP does, PoP’s impact, and how to get involved in their work.

Clear Call to Action: The strong visuals on PoP’s website immediately draw the audience in. With each photo there is a clear message and call to action for audiences to take the next step. The website is designed to funnel users into one of two paths: one that details why you should support PoP’s activities, and the other that explains its impact thus far.

Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: The notebook and pencils design aesthetic visually connects the audience to the mission to build schools and support sustainable education programs. The images on the website immediately convey where donations would go and who the money would be supporting.

Up-to-Date Information: Under the top feature photo on the homepage, there is a rotating list of PoP news for audiences to see the latest information that PoP has to offer.


1:1 Fund


(Project of the Corporation for Enterprise Development)

Annual Revenue: $8,807,136

Mission: The 1:1 Fund supports the college dreams of low-income children by ensuring that those dreams are matched with savings in the bank. They make it easy for donors, large and small, to help kids save for college by matching their contributions in special children’s savings accounts. These accounts help low-income families save for college while giving them the confidence that post-secondary education is a real and attainable goal.

Ease of Navigation: The clean design of the 1:1 Fund’s website helps to guide users to do three things: donate, join, and learn. Similar to PoP’s website, there is a good balance of text and images to keep the audience focused.

Clear Call to Action: The website offers a consumable amount of content that is competing for your attention, yet the calls to action are clear.  The three tabs at the top of the website, in addition to the circled “Donate” button, also makes it clear to audiences how to support the organization. Additionally, in the top right corner there are ways to stay engaged by subscribing to updates and connecting on social media channels.

Aesthetic Value and Strong Visuals: There is a rotating content box on the home page that showcases three photos, each with a compelling heading. There is also quantitative information on the site to convey its impact thus far, as well as a graphic to demonstrate how their organization works.

Up-to-Date Information: The “Latest News” section is regularly updated with content to report out on their activities. Also, the “Media Center” button in the navigation bar at the top also provides users with news, press releases and other multimedia.

When 1:1 Fund considered redesigning its site, the staff ranked their priorities and put them front and center during the design process, said Kristin Lawton, director of communication. Among the main goals for staff was getting a back-end system that staff could easily access and make changes quickly, to save money. The previous website required consultants to make any edits.

Another priority for 1:1 Fund was creating a website that wasn’t just a one-time visit to make a donation, but to give people reasons to come back. Thus, the blog is featured prominently and there’s a rotating banner feature that changes the latest news – two things that Lawton said didn’t really exist on the old website.

The Washington, D.C-based organization aimed to make the site clear and consistent with a heavy focus on making the messaging concise, so visitors know exactly what 1:1 Fund is the minute they reach the website. “We honed in on our message to make sure people understood how it’d work,” she said.

“We put a lot of energy into it,” Lawton said, estimating at about $15,000 for the cost of redesigning the website.

The 1:1 Fund is run out of the Corporation For Enterprise Development (CFED) so it has few staff, however, between Lawton, a business operations manager and marketing specialists, she estimated about three full-time equivalent (FTE) staff maintain the site, helping to create and post content.

All of these websites offer an outstanding user experience that connects an audience to mission. These websites are intuitive, understand what the audience is looking for, and make it effortless to find. With strong visuals, compelling content, and strategic design, these websites capture the audience’s attention and drive them to take the action that they want.

For small to medium-sized organizations thinking about redesigning their website, these five examples provide a good template to learn by example. Once the template is selected, you can organize the content to meet your audience’s expectations by reviewing the user data. Free tools such as Google Analytics can help you track and measure the data, including the most popular pages visited on your website, and the keywords used in search engines to find you. Knowing this data can help inform your strategy for organizing content on your site, and meet expectations by making the most popular content easy to find.   NPT


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