Creating Websites - 7 Tips to Increase Site Visit Length

Website Design: 7 Tips to Increase Site Visit Length

Did you know that an average web user spends less than 15 seconds on a web page before they decide to stay or leave?

Nonprofit organizations and their websites are no strangers to this challenge. Getting people to find your website is difficult enough, but getting users and potential supporters to stick around and engage with your offerings is an additional obstacle that is imperative to tackle. 

With online fundraising becoming increasingly popular, your website is more important than ever for capturing leads, displaying engaging and relevant mission information, and facilitating gifts, volunteer activities, and fundraising events. In order to do all of that, you need to design your website in a way that increases site visit length. 

Whether you’re designing a brand new site or undergoing some much needed nonprofit website maintenance, doing everything you can to improve user experience is the key to success—both in fundraising and supporter engagements. This guide will walk through these website design tips to help you get started:

  1. Prioritize and update your content layout
  2. Improve the readability of your pages
  3. Add engaging graphics or images
  4. Incorporate interactive or clickable elements
  5. Optimize your most popular landing pages
  6. Incorporate internal links
  7. Show credibility

Ready to increase the site visit length for your nonprofit website? Let’s begin.

1. Prioritize and update your content layout

Your nonprofit website is likely the first place potential supporters will go to learn about your mission, recent accomplishments, and other information regarding your organization or sector. As soon as the prospect lands on your site, and depending on their goal with your organization, they’ll be looking for and expecting specific, up-to-date content.

For instance, let’s say they want to learn more about your mission and what your nonprofit does. They’ll want easy access to your Mission Statement, About Us, Recent Accomplishments, and News pages. 

On top of that, they’re going to want the most recent information available. If your last news article is dated in 2005, they’ll likely click away and just assume that your organization isn’t active anymore.

To keep them on your site, you need to not only prioritize the content you display, but ensure it is updated. Look at the above the fold area of your website for both mobile and desktop view. Because this is the first thing users see, that is where your most important content should be displayed. Make sure this is being updated as often as needed. 

From there, you also have to keep your website’s design simple with an easy to use navigation system. A good idea is to format your navigation menu so that it is at the top or the side of the page. This is the perfect place to include links to your most popular landing pages, including your online donation page, event calendar, and more. 

Another way to funnel users towards those pages is with prominent button or link calls to action (CTA). Taking insight from Kanopi’s article on content strategy, CTAs are tried and true methods of funnelling users towards their target action in a seamless way. 

2. Improve the readability of your pages

There are always those few outdated websites where the text is too small, the color contrast is not high enough, or the background image is too busy, compromising the readability of the page. 

Your website should be readable for everyone, no matter the device type or even their ability. Here are some general tips to follow:

  • Make sure the font is large enough for easy reading on your laptop or mobile device. However, don’t make the font so large that you force the user to unnecessarily scroll through the page. 
  • Break up large paragraphs into easy to read sections. Use bulleted lists and other formats with ample white space.
  • Ensure that background color and font-color are contrasted enough, with at least a contrast ratio of 4.5:1.
  • Have a team dedicated to spell checking and grammar review.

The above not only ensures that this is readable, but can also help when screen reader devices read the text out loud for those with visual impairments, improving your website’s accessibility. The better the words flow, the easier it is for those listening to understand and engage with the content.

3. Add engaging graphics or images

A large chunk of text is always intimidating. That’s why so many people simply skip the terms and conditions, hitting submit without even taking a closer look at the fine print. You do not want your own nonprofit website to fall into this trap. If a visitor clicks on your homepage and simply sees lines and lines of sentences, it is not the most engaging form of user experience. 

A great way to break up text is to add engaging graphics or images. Humans love looking at images, especially more than reading text. 

Before adding any images to your site, make sure to optimize them. High quality images will have a larger file size, which can also slow down your site speed. It’s worth it to compress them so that they don’t slow down your page load speed. 

On this same thought, that is also why having too many images can actually be detrimental. Having a healthy balance between text and graphics is key. 

4. Incorporate interactive or clickable elements

One key method of increasing site visit length as well as conversions for your nonprofit website is to incorporate interactive or clickable elements. 

For one thing, interactive elements capture the user’s attention and encourage them to stay on your site. This increases their usage of your site which can even lead to data that helps personalize and optimize your website. 

On the other hand, engaging and clickable content is just more fun. Users will remember your site and nonprofit mission better with this enjoyable experience as a core memory.

Incorporating interactive or clickable elements can be as simple as a slideshow of images that users can click through, or be a more engaging experience like a mini game or quiz. 

5. Optimize your most popular landing pages

For most websites, your homepage will be the most popular landing page and receive the most site visits. However, nonprofit organizations are unique in that there are a couple of other core landing pages that will be frequently visited and sought after by current and prospective supporters.

For instance, you should be improving the quality and value of these pages:

  • Online donation pageiATS Payments, a top payment processing tool dedicated to nonprofits, recommends leveraging the top of your online donation page, investing in a secure donation and payment tool, embedding your online donation form, optimizing the page for all devices, as well as other insightful tips. 
  • Event calendar or registration page — Ensure that supporters can click through different events to see which appeal to then, find out all essential information within that page, and even sign up for the event they want.
  • Volunteer opportunity page — If you offer volunteer opportunities, it’s a good idea to provide search and filter options so that users can easily find the opportunities that match up with their skills and interests. 

Optimizing your most popular landing pages ensures that users are having the best experience and can lead to more conversions depending on what the page’s purpose is. 

6. Incorporate internal links

An easy way to keep people on your site is to simply incorporate more internal links. This means linking to appropriate landing pages to leverage key conversion opportunities as well as linking to blog posts or other news articles throughout the site.

You should make it a habit to ensure that each article and page on your site has plenty of internal links. This is in fact the best way to get people to visit those pages and can help reduce your bounce rate, which is the rate of how often people enter your site and then leave without exploring further.

Incorporating internal links can also improve your site’s SEO (or search engine optimization), but only if you’re linking to valuable content. Putting internal links just for the sake of it won’t do much, but with some careful thought and consideration, it can not only encourage visitors to continue engaging with you, but also bring up the overall value of the website. 

7. Show credibility

As soon as someone lands on your site, they’ll likely be looking for reasons to trust or not trust it. Websites with less content or an outdated design is enough to turn your most passionate supporters away. No one wants to risk their data being hacked.

With this in mind, showing credibility is a basic method of establishing that trust with supporters. For instance, adding photos of real people who have been impacted by your organization can make your site appear more trustworthy. 

Here are some other quick ways to show credibility:

  • Linking to social profiles
  • Adding trust markers like BBB ratings, awards, certifications, and more
  • Include bios and pictures for your staff members

If you want to increase your online presence and digital fundraising, establishing trust with your supporters is key. One data breach or online hack can damage your reputation for years. To ensure that their website is up to standards, many nonprofit leaders will even turn to tech consultants for help

Wrapping Up

Your website is the online face and virtual office front for your nonprofit and mission. Doing everything you can to keep users engaging with it is essential if you want to increase your online fundraising and further develop those important relationships. Use the above tips to ensure your website is as prepared as it can be for the new year. Good luck!


As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

Nonprofit Virtual Event Tips

Nonprofit Virtual Events: 5 Tips You Haven’t Thought of

If you’re like other nonprofits, you’ve probably incorporated virtual events into your organization’s strategy this year. Due to the wide-spread social distancing guidelines, virtual aspects of nonprofits’ strategies have become more prominent and popular throughout the year. While organizations may have been shifting towards more virtual activities anyway, the pandemic guidelines dramatically accelerated the popularity. 

However, because the shift was accelerated so suddenly, many organizations didn’t execute the move to an entirely digitally-focused strategic plan as smoothly as they could’ve done. There were plenty of missed opportunities to get supporters more involved and plenty of room for improvement in future virtual events. 

Whether your nonprofit is planning your first virtual event or you’re just trying to make your next one better than your last, this guide is written for you. 

The way you plan and organize your virtual event is key to gaining traction, getting supporters more involved, raising more funds, and ultimately reaching your goals for the event. In this guide, we’ll cover some tried-and-true tips that you may not have considered when planning your virtual event. Specifically, we’ll cover the following suggestions: 

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish.
  2. Plan ahead and choose a virtual platform. 
  3. Test all of your software. 
  4. Encourage attendees to engage with one another. 
  5. Follow up in a timely manner. 

Ready to get started planning your next event? Let’s dive in. 

1. Decide what you want to accomplish.

When you plan your in-person fundraising events, you expect to accomplish certain goals. Before you start planning, you’d likely decide which of the goals is most important to your organization and make it your main focus for the event. 

Virtual events are the same way! You shouldn’t just throw together a virtual event because it’s what everyone else is doing or because you’ve always had an annual event in the past. Instead, make sure your event has a targeted purpose and that you have effectively planned to see that purpose fulfilled. 

For example, let’s consider a local dog shelter. In the past, they may have hosted an annual adoption event where their main goal is to encourage families to adopt pets. However, secondary goals for the event may have been to raise funds, and increase community awareness. When pivoting to a virtual event, this animal shelter should be sure to keep those same goals in mind and incorporate elements that will accomplish the same purpose. They may: 

  • Include an online adoption board so that virtual attendees can read profiles on the dogs that need to find new homes. They may also host live feeds of puppies playing with one another or push notifications that highlight individual dogs to draw the attention of the audience. This helps fulfill their goal of adoption at the event. 
  • Provide virtual fundraising opportunities. Simply by incorporating a text-to-give platform or an easily accessible online donation page, the dog shelter can easily make fundraising available online. Be sure to set a specific fundraising goal and incorporate a fundraising thermometer to encourage people to give. This helps fulfill the fundraising goal. 
  • Spread the word about the event on various platforms. By marketing the virtual event on social media, on your website, by phone, by word of mouth, and using other communication platforms, the organization can easily tell the community about the event. Without flyers and in-person communication, they should be sure to amp up the virtual marketing to spread awareness. This helps fulfill the goal of increasing community awareness. 

In this example, the dog shelter should ensure they prioritize their goals before diving into how they’ll incorporate them into the virtual event. For your own virtual event, be sure to determine your own goals beforehand, and then prioritize them accordingly. 

Key Takeaway: List out all of the goals and objectives that you want to see from your virtual event, then order them by importance. Your top one will be your main goal for the event, keep this in mind when planning the rest of the event. 

2. Plan ahead and choose a virtual platform.

Now that you’ve identified your primary and secondary goals for your virtual event, it’s time that you brainstorm how you’ll meet those goals. While you should make sure you accomplish the same goals that you would meet at an in-person event, you won’t necessarily accomplish them in the same way. 

Rather, you need to adapt to the virtual environment. Bloomerang’s list of virtual fundraising ideas represents some of the diversity you’ll find in the types of events available to your organization. The type of event you choose to host should reflect your goals for the event and guide the virtual platforms you’ll need. Consider, for instance, the following two organizations: 

A small food bank wants to spread awareness about food insecurity in the community. In order to raise awareness and educate the community about the issues, the food bank decides to host an educational event. They need to invest in registration software so that people can register for the event online. However, they’ll also need video conferencing software for live speeches from experts in the community and forum software to create discussions between attendees. This event will become slightly more complicated and require a number of solutions to accomplish the goals of the food bank. 

A homeless shelter wants to raise funds to purchase clothing for men and women in the community. For this type of virtual event, the goal is a bit easier to achieve with fewer solutions. The shelter might pre-record videos and write social media posts that will display the need in the community. Then, for the duration of the event, they’ll send and post these resources to their supporters. They may also decide to incorporate a product fundraiser where supporters can purchase t-shirts for themselves while simultaneously purchasing one for a homeless man or woman in the community. 

As you’re considering the plans for your event and purchasing the appropriate software to make it happen, be sure to carefully research each solution. The last thing you want is a data breach at your nonprofit

Start your research to choose the best software solutions with resources like software referral lists and reviews to help indicate the top solutions. Be sure to also consider the platform’s other clientele (are there other nonprofits of a similar size and mission?) and what aspects of your goals will be achieved with the investment. 

Key Takeaway: Create plans for your virtual event and identify the software solutions you’ll need to achieve those plans. When you go to invest in new software, look for solutions that combine some of the tools that you (or integrate with one another) need so that you can streamline event activities and collection of event data. 

3. Test all of your software. 

Before the event begins, your nonprofit should make sure that everything works seamlessly for your attendees. Once you’ve found the best solutions, you should test them multiple times to ensure they’ll work the day of the event. 

Run through the event activities yourself and make sure everything is functional. Look specifically to make sure that: 

  • Payment processing is functional for ticketing, donating, and purchasing merchandise items. 
  • All transitions from one event activity to another are intuitive and easily recognizable by event attendees. 
  • Forum discussions and questions are available to attendees and notifications are functional. 
  • Live streaming visuals are high quality and the sound is functional. 

After you’ve tested your software yourself, ask a third-party (volunteer or co-worker) to also run through and test it. They’ll be able to identify comprehension issues that you might overlook and identify opportunities to make the event more intuitive. 

Key Takeaway: Act like an event participant and walk through each step of the event. Purchase a ticket, donate a dollar, post to discussion boards, and watch the various video collateral. Then, ask someone else to do the same thing before the event starts. Be sure to also create a contingency plan for if something becomes dysfunctional during the event itself.

4. Encourage attendees to engage with one another. 

During in-person events, supporters and attendees are able to mingle amongst themselves. They may discuss the event, your organization, or otherwise develop connections that help create an aspect of community within your organization’s support base. 

To encourage this networking and mingling at your virtual event, you need to create and encourage opportunities where attendees can communicate and engage with one another. For example, you might decide to: 

  • Enable chat functionality. Ask questions that will lead to effective discussion between attendees. For instance, you might make a statement then ask if they agree or disagree and why. Try gamifying these opportunities to encourage more people to participate. You might offer bronze, silver, and gold virtual badges depending on the number of times an attendee posts to discussion forums. 
  • Encourage breakout sessions. After informational sessions or educational videos, encourage attendees to join breakout groups where they have a list of set discussion questions that they can use to guide conversation. This encourages interaction between supporters and continuous engagement throughout the event itself.
  • Create social media groups. Social media is a resource that almost everyone can use to network because almost everyone has an account! Encourage attendees to join a Facebook group where they’re allowed to ask questions, share insights, and otherwise connect with one another. 

Consider a virtual gala as an example. In an in-person gala event, the mingling tends to happen at different tables while there might be an ongoing auction in the background. Similarly, you can host a virtual silent auction in the background of an online gala, but you’ll need some specialized tools to do so. 

According to Snowball’s virtual auction guide, it’s challenging to keep supporters engaged if they’re simultaneously checking their item bids and listening to your keynote speaker. To combat this, consider enabling bidding notifications so that supporters always know when they’re outbid. This allows them to pay attention to speakers and other event activities. 

Key Takeaway: Consider your own virtual event plans. Is there a natural place to incorporate community interaction? Ask yourself, “as an attendee, how would I want to get in touch with others?” Then, incorporate those opportunities in your own virtual event plans. 

5. Follow up in a timely manner. 

This tip is probably one that you’ve heard before. It’s a vital step when it comes to any nonprofit event plans, especially when you plan or pivot for the virtual sphere. A timely follow-up is key if you want to express appreciation for the attendee’s participation and invite them to continue engaging with your mission.

When you follow up after a virtual event, get the most out of it! Your supporters are probably expecting a thank-you, but they may also be open to other ways to get involved after having a wonderful time at your event. Try incorporating strategies like: 

  • Specifically explaining the impact they had at the event. You might say, “The For-the-Kids virtual event raised over $100,000 this year! Your donation of $100 was key to help us achieve this goal, which will provide medical resources for over 500 kids in the community.” Impact statements like this will help your organization put the thank-you in terms of what has been accomplished. 
  • Provide social media calls-to-action or email subscription options. After sharing their impact, simply ask your event attendees to continue following the story of your organization by keeping in contact with you. This allows them to see any upcoming opportunities you provide and allows them to continue direct interaction with your organization after they receive the email follow-up. 
  • Ask for feedback on the virtual event itself. You will probably need to plan another virtual event in the near future. Therefore, make sure your event planning process is as effective as possible by optimizing it based on the feedback provided by supporters. Send out a short survey to the attendees at your event asking them how they enjoyed the opportunity and if they have any recommendations to make it better in the future. This can also help you determine if the tools and virtual solutions you invested in are doing their job. It also allows your most engaged supporters to make themselves apparent.

By providing an immediate action that your supporters can take after the event, it ensures their engagement with your organization doesn’t end with the event itself. Use your follow-up message as an opportunity to say “thank you” and to further engagement with your supporters. 

Key Takeaway: Draft your follow-up message for your attendees and be sure to encourage them to continue engaging with your mission after the event ends. 

Virtual events are the new norm in the nonprofit world of today. By planning effectively and providing plenty of opportunity for engagement, your organization will be able to reach all of your goals effectively. 

Incorporate these tips into your event planning now. In the future, virtual events won’t go away. Be sure you have the best steps to plan and execute these events so that you can use them both during the pandemic and beyond.

This article was contributed by our friends at Bloomerang.

Author: Steven Shattuck
Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang

This article was contributed by Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang.

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

Nonprofit Management Software: 3 Benefits

The new year is off and running, which for many of us means it’s time to take stock of what’s working and what’s not in our personal and professional lives. It’s a time to reflect, evaluate, and make changes to start 2021 off on the right foot.

That means it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your nonprofit’s operations and donor management strategies. Are they running as smoothly as possible? Are you doing everything you can to maximize virtual fundraising, boost engagement, and further your cause? 

If you’re still sending out email blasts manually, using clunky spreadsheets for donor information, and handing out hard copy volunteer sign-up forms, the answer is definitely no. There’s a better way, one that lets you focus more on your mission, not administrative tasks by using a nonprofit database or constituent relationship management (CRM) system.

Here at Lumaverse, we empower nonprofits to maximize their impact by streamlining formerly tedious and time-consuming administrative duties. The Lumaverse comprehensive CRM for nonprofits—and others like it—allow you to get the most out of your donor data, manage your volunteers like a pro, and launch virtual fundraising campaigns with the push of a button—so you can spend more time doing what really matters. 

So what’s holding you back? Leave messy, incompatible management methods in 2020 and consider making the leap to a single, integrated software system to manage your nonprofit’s relationships. In this article, we’ll go through 3 of the top benefits of making this change: 

  1. Smarter fundraising 
  2. Streamlined volunteer management 
  3. Improved communication with supporters 

Since we’ve all made the shift to virtual-only engagement in the past year, the need for and the benefits of professional-grade software for your nonprofit have only increased. Keep reading to find out what it could do for your organization. 

1. Smarter fundraising

Nonprofit management software gives you access to valuable data analysis tools so you can raise more money. How does it work? Integrations between your platforms allows data to flow from your donation forms, sign-ups, and subscriptions right to your donor database. While manual imports from other platforms are possible, integrations ensure the data is automatically reported, accurate, and up-to-date. 

As the data continuously imports, you’ll be able to analyze information on your current and past donors, which enables you to: 

  • Develop donor profiles to store engagement and data information
  • Segment your donor base by particular characteristics or engagement markers
  • Tailor your fundraising efforts to those specific segments

Let’s break those down. 

As your supporters engage with your organization in various ways—for example, subscribing to your newsletter, donating to your crowdfunding campaign, or volunteering at an event—this information is added to the supporter’s profile. And—and this is key—supporter information is stored and managed in one holistic CRM, not separate databases for members, volunteers, and donors. That gives you a better understanding of how the same person might be interacting with your organization as a member, donor, and/or volunteer. And ultimately, this gives you better insight into what motivates people to donate to your cause.

Donor profiles make it easy to track and analyze your relationships with individual donors. As you keep adding more data to your CRM over time, you’ll be able to generate insights about who your donors are, what motivates them to give, and how you can best grow your relationships with them. 

Segmentation of your donor base saves your organization time by isolating certain commonalities among donors and grouping them based on these characteristics. For example, you could segment your donor base by:

  • Preferred communication method 
  • Event attendance 
  • Volunteer history 
  • Recurring donations 
  • Age brackets
  • Giving capacity 

Segmenting your donors by specific engagement markers like these then allows you to tailor your fundraising efforts to a particular audience. Your nonprofit will avoid spending time and money broadcasting messages to extremely wide audiences, not all of which will be responsive to them. You’ll have better success rates on the personalized campaigns you do launch.  

For instance, if you’re promoting your next campaign or event via direct mail, your CRM should make it easy to segment your donors by their historical responsiveness to this outreach tactic. Focusing your direct mail efforts on this segment saves you time and money, and it boosts the chances that more of your recipients will actually engage with your letter. Then, you can explore other donor segments and communication outlets to ensure thorough but more targeted coverage.

2. Streamlined volunteer management 

Volunteers are a vital part of any nonprofit’s base of supporters. Think of all the tasks, big and small, that might get left on the back burner for weeks—even months!—without the generous help of your supporters who donate their time to your cause. They’re an essential part of what keeps your nonprofit up and running, and as such, it should be a priority to keep them happy and engaged. 

After all, if your volunteers have positive experiences with your organization, they’re likely to engage further and even spread the word about your mission to their friends. Keeping volunteers happy is an investment for the future of your organization—as volunteers become more loyal over time,  they’re more likely to devote more of their resources to you as they mature. 

For example, a young volunteer might volunteer an hour a day, but as she gets older, makes more money, and has more time, maybe she chooses to donate to your organization because she has a history with you. Or maybe she stops volunteering at other organizations and focuses more on yours because you actually thank her, remind her of her upcoming activities, and make it easy to work with you. 

 But if the volunteer sign-up process is confusing, or a volunteer shows up early to box food for your food drive only to be told their shift was accidentally double-booked…that likely won’t be happening. 

Using dedicated volunteer management tools and sign-up software to help track and facilitate your interactions with volunteers will help you avoid these kinds of issues. With volunteer signup tools like SignUpGenius, volunteers sign up for a shift online, data automatically syncs with your calendar, and the software handles volunteer communications like confirmation and reminder emails. 

It’s a win-win: your volunteers’ experience is easy, intuitive, and clear, and you’ll always know if you have enough support at any given event. 

Plus, when your volunteer management and registration tools integrate with your CRM, all that engagement data will seamlessly report to your donor database. That makes it easy to keep track of engagement for future campaigns and reference it when you’re planning a volunteer appreciation activity or event. 

3. Improved communication with supporters 

One of the most important aspects of donor acquisition and retention is communication. If you’re not talking to your donors, odds are they’re not thinking about your organization. That means less engagement and fewer donations. Plus, if you’re not regularly  thanking them for their engagement, they’re likely to feel unappreciated. 

With dedicated donor management software, you can stay on top of virtual fundraising campaigns and send fundraising emails to a specific segment of your donor base. That way, you don’t have to spend hours sifting through contact information and typing in email addresses. You can draft a single email to send to a certain segment of your audience, check a box, and send it off to just that segment, allowing for maximum personalization. 

Messages that feel personal—that recognize something more unique about that specific person, like that they’ve donated before, or they attended your last event—are more likely to connect with the recipient and result in engagement. One of the most fundamental ways to do this is to greet each donor by name in your emails, rather than using a generic greeting. Email tools that integrate with your CRM should be able to easily pull and automatically populate names into your messages.

The time you save from automating the bulk of your thank-you messages could be spent by further personalizing thank-you messages to your top donors, like signing their letters by hand or even calling them to express your gratitude. 

Software also drastically simplifies thanking your supporters and following up over time. It’s easy to set up automated confirmation emails in response to any donation, as well as thank-you emails customized for the type of donation, whether it was a win at a virtual auction, a donation to your virtual fundraiser, or a recurring contribution. 

Thanking your donors and volunteers promptly and genuinely will help you secure long-term support for your cause. Don’t let it fall through the cracks because of poor organization and system incompatibility. 

So what’s the end goal of nonprofit management software? The most immediate benefit is getting the administrative or repetitive manual tasks out of the way so you and your staff can focus on the important work to further your cause. Manual data entry is not the best way to be spending anyone’s time. Instead of pushing information around on spreadsheets, you could be designing your next fundraiser or brainstorming volunteer appreciation ideas to increase engagement

That may sound obvious, but there are reasons organizations hold onto old, inefficient systems: they’ve been in place forever; they’re familiar; it’s perceived as a stress to change systems. While upgrading to professional-grade software is an important investment, working with a unified software system saves you time, boosts results, and helps you more easily identify shortcomings.

Ultimately, you’ll free up time for what really matters: your mission, the people you help, and the community that depends on you. Good luck! 

Nonprofit Branding - Creating and Leveraging a Strong Identify

Nonprofit Branding | Creating + Leveraging A Strong Identity

If you were asked to articulate what the term “brand” truly means, how would you answer the question?

Would you choose:

  1. An organization’s logo, fonts, and colors,
  2. The overall graphic design and tone used by an organization,
  3. The essence, soul, or intangible personality of an organization,
  4. The idea held by everyone aware of the organization, or
  5. All of the above

Hopefully, it doesn’t come as a shock to you that the correct answer would be E, all of the above. In our consumer culture, we constantly see brands working to establish their identities and raise awareness of their products and services. But what about brands who aren’t selling anything?

Nonprofit organizations can also reap the benefits of brand building. By cultivating a powerful brand, nonprofits can generate support for their missions, increase fundraising, and foster connections with their communities. 

At Eleven Fifty Seven, we help nonprofits and other organizations bring their brand identities to life, whether through a show-stopping donor wall concept or a broader branded physical environment. Based on our work designing and building branded experiences, we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand the basic principles of building a distinctive nonprofit brand. We’ll cover topics including the following:

  • Benefits of brand development for nonprofits
  • Basic elements of a nonprofit brand
  • Where to implement your brand for maximum impact

Your nonprofit’s brand is a worthy investment of time and resources. When cultivated with intention and used throughout your work, it can be a powerful force to drive your mission forward. Let’s dive in.

Benefits of Brand Development

Before we dive into the logistics of creating and leveraging your brand, it’s important to cover why a strong brand is so critical to the success of a nonprofit.

People interact with brands on a daily basis. In fact, you probably encounter some element of branding during nearly every moment of your day! To stand out in the competition for attention, your nonprofit must establish itself as unique, memorable, and trustworthy.

Some of the most successful nonprofits have very distinctive visual brands and messaging strategies. When considering the top 100 largest nonprofits, you can probably recall the logo or tagline for quite a few groups. 

While it’s easy to call out prominent national brands like Goodwill and Girl Scouts, it’s not only enterprise-level nonprofits who can take advantage of brand power. Branding can also be used by regional and local organizations to build their reputations and connect with the local and  surrounding community.

The advantages of a strong brand can be enjoyed by nonprofits of any size. These advantages include the following: 

  • Create awareness for your cause. An eye-catching brand will help your nonprofit reach a wider audience and generate increased awareness for your mission.
  • Build emotional ties with supporters. When donors can understand the values, ideas, and even the personality associated with your nonprofit, they’ll be able to connect with your cause on a deeper level. 
  • Increase fundraising potential. The above benefits lead to a higher number of highly engaged donors, so building your brand is simply a smart fundraising strategy. A unified brand also helps to create clearer and more cohesive messaging that will resonate with prospective donors.

With a compelling brand, your nonprofit is better-equipped to acquire more donors, fundraise more effectively, and drive your mission forward. With that in mind, let’s explore what elements are important to consider when creating your brand.

Basic Elements of a Nonprofit Brand

While the graphic design components of your nonprofit’s brand are important, these visual elements don’t tell the whole story. Your brand encapsulates the essence of your entire organization. 

As you start conceptualizing your brand, think about what story you want to tell as well as how the story will resonate with your target audience. Then, use the building blocks of your brand to convey that narrative and drive your mission forward.

Consider the following visual and thematic elements that comprise your nonprofit’s overall brand:

  • Logo. Your logo is a cornerstone of your visual brand. It should be memorable and align with the rest of your brand elements. 
  • Colors and typography. This is likely the first place you turn when determining the rest of your graphic elements. Choose colors and typefaces that reflect the spirit of your organization and will look aesthetically appealing in a variety of formats.
  • Tone. What’s the personality behind your nonprofit? Is your voice more serious or more playful? How do you refer to your donors and beneficiaries?
  • Imagery. Besides your logo, you may have other key images like a mascot. Consider the graphic style of any icons you want to fold into your brand as well as the filters applied to photographs.
  • Messaging. How do you talk about your mission? 
  • Text style. Do you follow AP Style or another set of grammar conventions? What’s your stance on the Oxford comma? What’s the proper usage and capitalization of your named programs and campaigns?

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, it should jump-start your thinking on the wide variety of items that go into your organization’s brand. By putting thought into each of these elements from the beginning, you’ll have something to reference when creating future marketing collateral or fundraising appeals. This will ensure all of your work stays consistent and on-brand. New brand considerations may arise as time goes on, but this way you won’t have to continually reinvent the wheel.

As you make all of these decisions, they should be documented in your formal brand guidelines, also known as a brand kit. Make sure these guidelines and graphic assets are accessible to all team members and that there’s a version you can distribute externally when necessary.

Where to Implement Your Brand


Your communications with external audiences should always be in line with your established brand guidelines. By staying consistent and on-message, you’ll foster a more memorable and trustworthy identity for your supporters.

These communication platforms likely include:

  • Email appeals and newsletters
  • Social media profiles and posts
  • Printed materials such as direct mail, brochures, or flyers
  • Formal documentation like your annual report

While it’s not recommended to replicate identical messaging across a variety of content channels, sticking to a set of brand guidelines facilitates consistent messaging while enabling some flexibility. 

By adhering to your brand across these communication channels, you ensure that each aspect of your broader nonprofit marketing strategy aligns with your organizational goals.

Your nonprofit’s website

Your nonprofit’s website should feature your brand front and center. Every page on your website likely includes your nonprofit’s logo, color, and typography already, but don’t forget to incorporate the more thematic elements of your brand as well.

According to Kanopi Studios, the best nonprofit websites will tell a story of strength and hope. Part of the way to create this narrative is by incorporating the existing mission-related messaging that you defined as part of your brand kit.

Physical items

Placing your brand on physical products unlocks a few powerful benefits. First, your supporters can integrate your brand into their daily lives, show off their affiliation with your peers, and feel more connected to your work. Additionally, this creates increased brand awareness for your organization. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!

In the Eleven Fifty Seven guide to donor recognition, we list a few examples of physical tokens of appreciation that range from simple keychains and mugs to high-quality silk and leather goods. If you decide to send out donor thank-you gifts, be sure to clearly delineate which items correspond to which giving levels so you can keep the program consistent.

In addition to working effectively for one-time gifts, branded products are also a perfect way to acknowledge the recurring generosity of supporters who participate in your nonprofit membership program if you have one. 

Your events

If you host a big annual fundraiser, a recurring event, or any kind of one-time event, make sure it aligns with your broader nonprofit brand. Incorporate your nonprofit’s visual identity and messaging throughout the marketing materials and on event day itself.

If you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid event, the hosting platform you choose may be able to include elements of your brand throughout the digital infrastructure.

Your facility

Your nonprofit’s physical space is a blank canvas that you can use to bring your brand to life. By leveraging the power of environmental branding, your organization can create memorable experiences for visitors and strengthen your identity.

This space could include a classic display like a donor recognition wall or focus more broadly on your organization’s mission and values. Graphic elements, text, photographs, and architectural components will come together to create an eye-catching space.

To create an powerful branded environment, look for a design and build partner who will collaborate with your team and prioritize your strategic vision. When crafted with intention, a branded environment is more than just a display of your logo and colors—it’s a representation of your story and your mission.

Your nonprofit’s brand is one of your most critical assets in connecting with supporters. Make sure you’ve invested time and thought into each aspect of your brand, then implement that brand wherever possible throughout your work. By doing so, you raise awareness of your organization and help the world remember what you stand for. Good luck!

This post was contributed by Derrick Spitler at Eleven Fifty Seven.

Derrick has been referred to as a connoisseur, marketing guru and even a prodigy. He began his career with Eleven Fifty Seven as an intern during the Summer of 2019. Since then, Derrick has graduated from The Ohio State University and has joined the team full time working in marketing and business development. He has grown to love the not-for-profit world by seeing the impact made possible through philanthropy.

3 Reasons to Include Direct Mail in Your Marketing Strategy

Initially, you may think that simply asking your donors to support your cause will be enough to reach your fundraising goals. However, in order to truly maximize your fundraising efforts and better engage with the individuals who help fund your mission, direct mail marketing is an immensely transformative option. 

Direct mail appeals are the backbone of communication and fundraising for most nonprofits in the US, and it can be a great way to engage with supporters in a more personal way.

Overall, direct mail is a tried and true method of fundraising for nonprofit organizations, but if you’re still on the fence, here are three reasons to include direct mail in your marketing strategy: 

  1. It has a high ROI for your marketing dollars
  2. It provides an opportunity for powerful storytelling
  3. It pairs well with fundraising opportunities

Now, let’s get into those convincing reasons why you should include direct mail in your fundraising strategy. 

1. Direct mail has a high ROI for your marketing dollars

To put things is in perspective, if you implement direct mail into your campaign strategy, you typically yield a 28% higher conversion rate than a single fundraising channel alone. Direct mail has one of the highest ROI as compared to any other fundraising channels. Therefore, you shouldn’t be hesitant in your choice to implement direct mail strategies because the money you spend on marketing will be made back multiple times over in fundraising revenue. 

In addition to a higher ROI, if executed successfully, direct mail accounts for over 90% of direct response revenue to charities. Furthermore, direct mail’s ability for personalization has the potential to draw your donors in like never before. With more engagement from your donors through direct mail, your marketing campaigns have the potential to garner long-term support and a higher ROI in the long run. 

Overall, direct mail is one of the most transformational tools to implement into your marketing campaign. If you feel that your nonprofit doesn’t have the funds to utilize direct mail, be sure to carefully look over your budget plan for your nonprofit and make note of areas you can reallocate to your marketing dollars. All in all, direct mail is actually an immensely cost-effective strategy that will pay for itself if executed successfully. 

2. Direct mail provides an opportunity for powerful storytelling

As mentioned prior, direct mail provides for more opportunities to personalize your tasks. One way to create a personal and engaging ask is by incorporating storytelling strategies into your fundraising campaign. Stories appeal to the emotional quotient of your members by giving them more to grasp, rather than just a piece of mail. After all, people remember stories way more than they remember facts and figures.

There are many ways to tell a story that effectively appeals to your audience. One way to do so is simply by sharing the history of your nonprofit organization. For example, you can touch on things like the overall brand story, your personal influence behind your nonprofit, and constituent stories that showcase how transformative your organization is. 

Just make sure that when you do share constituent, case studies, and other success stories, you do so in a way that is well-thought-out and ethical. For example, ethical stories take the protagonist’s feelings into consideration, shape the stories in a way that maintains dignity and respect, and does so in a transparent and honest way. 

3. Direct mail pairs well with fundraising opportunities

Not only is direct mail a powerful marketing and fundraising strategy on its own, but it also pairs well with a number of other digital and face-to-face methods as well.

In this case, incorporating a multichannel approach leads to more touchpoints overall. And with more touchpoints, comes more donations! Furthermore, incorporating a multichannel approach will lead to a higher engagement overall between campaigns. This occurs because more channels lead to more encounters with your supporters on multiple platforms. After all, if your donors think about your organization more often, they will likely want to donate more frequently and more generously. 

One example of incorporating direct mail with other channels includes bringing more traffic to your website, alongside your direct mail campaign. To do this, integrate your direct mail and digital strategies by including the URL or QR code driving donors to your online donation page in your direct mailings. Or, you can even include your dedicated mobile giving number and specific trigger words so that donors can quickly and easily text in their gifts!

All in all, direct mail is an immensely transformative tool to implement within your marketing strategy. When you integrate this powerful channel alongside your current marketing strategy, you get to reap benefits such as an increased ROI, powerful storytelling opportunities, and integrated fundraising campaigns. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Grant Cobb at GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

Marketing a Nonprofit Event Tips

Marketing a Virtual Nonprofit Event: 3 Essential Tips

2020 proved what we’ve known for a long time – nonprofits are resilient. Virtual events have been an effective option for nonprofits of all sizes for a year that looked very different from others. As we hit the ground running in 2021, virtual events can and should play central roles in your engagement strategies.

Unlike the lesson from “Field of Dreams,” just because a virtual event is built, doesn’t mean that contributors will come or that donations will flood in. To get the word out in today’s virtual world, you have to invest as much into your marketing efforts as you do to your fundraising!

To get the most from your fundraising, your virtual event needs to be marketed effectively before, during, and even after. 

There are a few reasons why this is true. Marketing provides you with an excellent chance to engage with the larger community and your supporters. Also, marketing informs people about what you do, your mission story, and over time, it helps to build your brand awareness. Let’s get started on 3 amazing marketing tips essential to planning and promoting your next virtual event:

  • Recruit ambassadors to help spread the word.
  • Centralize the virtual event experience.
  • Target your messages to particular donor segments.
Recruit ambassadors to help promote your virtual fundraising event.

1. Recruit ambassadors to help spread the word.

If you’re looking for a creative way to generate excitement for your event and reach new donors, we’ve got the perfect strategy for your nonprofit: Ambassador Fundraising.

This new trend harnesses ambassadors, or your most loyal supporters, to spread the word about your virtual event and fundraise before, during, and sometimes after.

Think of it as creating a fundraising army, whose built-in social and professional networks allow you to engage and funnel new volunteers, donors, and activists to your cause. But for it to be successful, you need to choose the right ambassadors for your cause.

Good places to look for ambassadors include:

  •  Board members: Board members are natural ambassadors. They are already committed and dedicated to the success of your nonprofit. They often have large professional networks, making them perfect social fundraisers. Engage them at a new level and watch their contacts turn into participants for your event.
  • Event committee: The people working on the event itself are passionate about the outcome! Tap the most dedicated committee members to become your ambassadors.
  • Volunteers: Volunteers are another reliable source for ambassadors, since they are deeply involved with your cause. They are used to giving their time and talent to your efforts. Target your most active and generous volunteers and ask them to join your ambassador campaign.
  • Micro-Influencers on social media: This is a great place to look if you’re just starting your ambassador program. Look for local personalities with a large network and an active social media presence.
  • Sponsor connections: Ask your sponsors and long-times community partners if they know of potential ambassadors. Call in those favors you have stored up to get great ambassadors working for your team.
  • Honorees at your signature event: Honorees are well-respected members of the community, which makes them the perfect supporters to raise donations before the gala.

Once you find the right ambassadors, the next step is to set them up for success! Outline clear goals, provide the right marketing assets, and let your ambassadors loose. Watch as their new network brings new attendees and donations to your virtual event.

Centralize the virtual event experience to simplify the process of promoting it.

2. Centralize the virtual event experience.

The world of fundraising has changed. Virtual events mean trading ballrooms for family rooms, stages for screens, and in-person entertainment for a new level of online engagement.

Successfully marketing your virtual event depends on your ability to reach and engage donors through a seamless donor experience. That’s why it’s essential to centralize the virtual event experience for your attendees – a one stop shop for them to support your mission virtually.

Tapping into the power of a tool like the OneCause Virtual Event Center takes the virtual experience to the next level. For your nonprofit, it means a centralized destination to point supporters towards with your marketing efforts. For your supporters, it means the ability to:

  • Engage with the event using a single device (mobile, tablet or desktop)
  • Register to effortlessly gain access to the virtual event
  • Consume content before, during, and after the virtual event
  • Explore why supporting the mission of the Nonprofit matters
  • Donate through traditional means (e.g. fund-a-need, live appeal)
  • Bid effortlessly in silent and live auctions without leaving the broadcast (i.e. live stream)
  • Purchase raffle tickets and other fixed price options

Centralizing your attendee’s virtual event experience means a more intuitive user experience during the event, resulting in boosted engagement and revenue.

Creating that sense of a giving community before, during, and after the virtual event – and delivering a delightful, online experience anytime, anywhere – is critical to fundraising success in this new virtual world. By centralizing these efforts, marketing your event is as easy as ever.

Target your promotional messages to specific segments of your donor  base.

3. Target your messages to particular donor segments.

Data is the key to unlocking your virtual event marketing potential! It allows you to engage better with donors and grow at scale (while still being personalized). By targeting your marketing messages to specific donor segments, you can boost engagement and registrations for your virtual event.

How you decide to segment your donors depends on the needs of your organization. Let’s take a look at a few ways that you can segment your donors to help make sure you are connecting with donors where they are.

  • How your donors were acquired
  • Size of gift
  • First time versus returning donor
  • One-time gift versus recurring donations
  • Age/demographics
  • Donor interest

You can even target the way your donors have engaged with your events. For example:

  • New donors who haven’t attended an event before
  • Loyal donors who used to attend events but haven’t virtually yet
  • Lapsed donors who haven’t donated in a while but need to be re-engaged

Figure out what will help you scale your virtual event fundraising while also keeping a personal touch to your efforts and roll with it!

After figuring out how you’re going to segment your donors, the next step is to create marketing messages tailored to their particular motivators. For example, donors who haven’t yet attended virtual events should be clearly shown how your virtual event will work and that your past virtual events have been enjoyable experiences for attendees and impactful for your cause.

Think about taking a multi-channel marketing approach to reaching these segments. Multi-channel marketing refers to using a variety of mediums to spread the word about your event in advance. Reaching a wide audience can be a difficult task. The best way to do so is to diversify your communications!

Use marketing channels such as:

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media networks
  • Text messages
  • Video marketing
  • Direct mail
  • Print handouts
  • Bulletin boards

A tactful multi-channel strategy is key to attaining maximum engagement with your event. But don’t try to do it all at once! Choose 2-3 tactics that work best for your team and your mission and focus your attention there.


In order to cultivate better relationships with your supporters, your organization should be consistent in its outreach, communications, and engagement. A strong marketing strategy for your virtual event will give you what you need to grab and maintain donors’ attention from a distance.

Faster UX on Your Website: A Crash Course for Nonprofits

User experience, or UX, involves the quality of the experience that users have when navigating and interacting with your nonprofit’s website. It’s a fairly broad but extremely important element to keep in mind whenever you’re updating your site. In today’s digital-first environment, UX can make or break your ability to convert new visitors into donors, and it plays a critical role in encouraging long-term engagement from existing supporters.

If you’re new to web design or the concept of UX, the easiest way to think about it is to simply consider your website from a new user’s perspective:

  • Is your organization’s mission easily identifiable on your homepage?
  • How easy is it to find your organization’s contact information, donation form, blog, or another main page that a visitor might be looking for?
  • How long does it take to complete an action, like making a donation?
  • Is your website easy to use and navigate, or do issues like broken links and poor mobile responsiveness make it a frustrating experience?

Questions like these are a great starting point as you begin reviewing your own website for potential improvements. However, there’s one element of UX that stands above all others in terms of importance: speed. 

How fast your website loads is the very first UX indicator that could cause users to abandon your site before they even fully land on it. As internet users, we’re more impatient than ever, and we’ve come to expect a lot from the sites we engage with. Studies have found that 40% of users abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, and even a delay of one second can drop conversions by 7%. 

Simply put, if it takes visitors a long time to 1) access your website and 2) complete the action that they came to complete, you’ll see higher abandonment rates across your site. 
At Cornershop Creative, we specialize in web design for the nonprofit sector, so we understand what the top nonprofit sites need to accomplish and what donors are expecting when they visit. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that even small UX improvements can make on a site’s ability to engage and convert donors, so we wanted to share a quick crash course on how to speed up the UX of your own site. Let’s dive in.

Basic Components of Fast UX

All sorts of factors, from design elements to page load time to SEO (search engine optimization), can have huge impacts on your website’s ability to attract and engage visitors. The statistics mentioned earlier illustrate the importance of fast load speed, which is where we’ll start first.

Page Load Speed

Your website must load quickly on any browser, desktop or mobile. 

The generally accepted ideal load speed sits around two to three seconds or less — anything longer and you’ll likely see larger and larger numbers of visitors bounce away. It’s essential to be familiar with the two most common contributors to slow load speeds:

  • Large files. Large, high-resolution images, headers, animations, and other embedded visual files that need to load at the top of a page can seriously slow down your website. Website plugins can help you automatically cut back on duplicate files that might be clogging up your image library, as well. 
  • Redirect chains. Chains of redirects between outdated URLs increases load time by bouncing the visitor from page to page, and it can even make them (and their browser) feel that your site can’t be trusted.

Page load speed is one of the biggest components of strong user experience, especially as more web traffic moves onto mobile browsers. Think about it: how long are you typically willing to wait for a page to load on your smartphone when you’re trying to look something up or casually browsing? With the current necessity of digital-only engagement, load speed should be the first place you look when improving your website’s UX.

Barriers to Engagement

This component of fast UX involves the actual barriers to entry that you may place on your site. Whenever you add new elements to your website that users will directly engage with, think carefully about how exactly they’ll impact UX. 

For example, requiring users to log in with a username or password is one barrier to engagement that sites will deliberately include for important security reasons. Users’ security should always be a top priority, but make sure that your own site’s login process is streamlined. The best way to ensure that visitors will have a positive experience and find what they need is by making it easy to enter your site and quickly engage with your content. 

Consider Amazon and Google, two web giants that prioritize making it easy for users to get started with their services. Amazon’s one-click purchase buttons and Google’s SSO authentication tools are both great examples of how removing unnecessary steps like an extra login or data input can streamline user experience.

Design Elements

Design can also contribute to a faster, high-quality user experience on your website. Of course, “web design” encompasses a number of different topics and specific elements. As they relate to fast user experience, there are three main contributing factors to think about:

  • Navigation. Sites that offer strong user experience anticipate their visitors’ needs. Clearly-labeled navigation bars across your site and intuitive landing pages that don’t distract or bombard users with irrelevant elements are good starting points.
  • Simple visuals. Minimalist design tends to perform well online because it’s less likely to distract or confuse visitors looking to quickly find information or complete a task on your site. Plus, using simpler layouts and fewer (but high-quality) images will improve load speed.
  • Information placement. Websites should anticipate what their visitors are looking for, like contact information, and feature it in an intuitive spot. For instance, nonprofits can provide embedded donation forms to make the giving process easy and fast for visitors who will be more likely to donate while they still feel emotionally motivated.

These elements of web design can all contribute to a faster, more positive user experience, and they’re some of the first places that webmasters can begin to easily make improvements themselves.

Building a Faster User Experience on Your Site

As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to speed up your site’s UX without the help of a professional web designer. Consider these additional tips:

Pagespeed Insights and Google Analytics

Google’s readily available tools are a perfect resource for staying on top of the quality of your website’s user experience. 

Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool is invaluable for a number of reasons, namely because it determines the time it takes for your site to load on both desktop and mobile browsers. It even indicates specific problem areas and offers optimization tips. Remember that load speed is central to user experience and increasingly important for Google rankings, too.

Google Analytics provides insights that can be crucial for your website’s overall health and performance. Most importantly, the platform makes it easy to track your abandonment or bounce rates, the first indicators of slow load times and poor user experience. Then you can look deeper to find specific pages that perform poorly and target your improvements in smarter ways.

Templates and Caching

Both of these techniques involve saving time and streamlining processes as you build your site and as your users engage with it:

  • Create custom templates to use whenever creating new content on your website. By creating a template for a generic campaign web page, you’ll save time and ensure a more cohesive experience for users across your site. A template built with a streamlined layout and fast-loading elements will take the guesswork out of the process as you launch and promote new campaigns.
  • Caching involves directing a user’s browser to save parts of your website that it already downloaded from a previous visit. This means your website will load much faster when the user returns to that page, which can result in a substantial improvement in user experience. Caching is more complicated to implement than other UX solutions, though, so do your research on the exact settings you can configure in your own content management system.

Streamlining aspects of your website on both the backend and user-facing side whenever possible can help to generally improve its user experience value.

Image Compression

We’ve touched on the importance of avoiding huge image files above. However, websites still need to include high-quality, attractive images to create engaging content. A full wall of text is unlikely to interest a casual browser, for instance.

Compressing the image files on your site will help you strike the right balance between offering attractive visuals and keeping file sizes low to prevent slow load speeds. 

Keep image file size in mind when creating new content, and use tools that help you automatically compress images as you upload them. Platforms like WordPress often come with this feature built-in. New image formats like Google’s webp image format can also help ensure that you’re offering high-quality visuals without sacrificing valuable storage space or the user experience.

With the current importance of digital engagement, it’s more important than ever that websites prioritize creating fast user experience. Pages need to load quickly, offer immediate ways to engage with content, and tell your nonprofit’s story swiftly and compellingly.

By using a few important resources, exploring additional tools to adopt, and building better habits, it’s easy to start enhancing your nonprofit’s site to improve its UX value! For a thorough audit or professional-grade improvements, working with a nonprofit consultant specialized in web design will often be your best bet for long-term value.

Hallmarks of Effective Grant Writing

Tailoring the Proposal

There’s a saying in the world of grant seeking: “If you’ve met one funder, you’ve met one funder.”

Part of what makes grant-seeking challenging is that every funder wants something different. The essence of what they want is the same—what do you propose to do, what difference will it make, and where do we, the funder, fit in?—but the narrative configurations, space limits, and formats in which they want this information varies greatly.

This means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to requesting grant dollars. To stand a chance of cutting through the competition and getting a grant, it is necessary to tailor a proposal to each funder.

There are two levels of tailoring a grant application: first, tailoring the format to meet every specification of the application guidelines and process. And secondly, tailoring the message to the unique interests and priorities of the funder.

Tailoring the Format

Completing a grant application can feel like a game of jumping through hoops. You may need to squeeze complex answers into painfully few characters…provide letters of support, a logic model, and executive summary…then mail it to the funder, three-copies-double-spaced-paper-clipped-not-stapled.

Coming across a grantmaker with no specified format can feel like a dream, especially since they can be far and few between. Following strict application, instructions is a reality of grant seeking.

Keep in mind that you have choices. If a funder’s specifications strike you as too onerous or time-consuming, step back and weigh whether it’s worth the time and risk to apply. Sometimes, it’s reasonable to calculate that the opportunity cost of applying to a funder exceeds the potential gain.

If you decide to go for it, commit to making sure that your application follows every guideline and instruction. Don’t be tempted to believe that your organization’s relationship to the funder is so solid, or your program so unique, that you can cut corners. Not following directions could land your application straight in the reject pile.

Tailoring the Message

It’s not enough just to adhere to instructions and fit your standard narrative into a funder’s format. Writing a truly compelling proposal requires tailoring your content and message too.

What’s important to keep in mind is that funders don’t exist to fund your organization’s mission. They exist to fulfill their own missions by investing in organizations and projects that bring their priorities and beliefs alive in the world. Grantmakers are looking for proposals that they can take to their boards of trustees and say: “This—this project, this idea—is what we are looking to accomplish.”

Tailoring content to a grantmaker doesn’t mean you should distort the truth, alter your deliverables, or design a project just to please a funder. Rather, it is the work of good writing to consider the reader’s point of view (in this case, the funder’s mission and interests) and to place emphasis on aspects that will excite and activate what the reader cares most about.

Following below are four practical tips for tailoring the message of the proposal to the funder:


Before you write, think. As part of your pre-writing process, brainstorm the unique alignment between your organization’s mission, or the project you’re proposing, and the mission and interests of that funder. This means you should find different alignment for the same project with different funders.

For example, for a proposal written by a food pantry about its community food distribution service:

To a funder whose primary interest is the well-being of children, the alignment is in showing how distributing food benefits families and, ultimately, children. The proposal might emphasize stories about families or highlight statistics about child hunger.

To a funder whose primary interest is ending poverty, the alignment is in showing how addressing food insecurity helps lift people out of poverty. The proposal might include evidence about how this has worked in other communities.


Once you’ve identified this alignment, articulate it in key places of the application, especially the cover letter and introductory and concluding sections of the narrative. You may literally refer to the funder (e.g. “Like the XYZ Foundation, the ABC Organization believes that no child in our community should be hungry…”) or you may not name them, but “speak to their mission” by using words and ideas that match or imitate the funder’s own word choices and priorities.


Demonstrate that the grantee understands and appreciates the funder’s vision by acknowledging their leadership and impact. For example: “The ABC Organization is deeply grateful that the XYZ Foundation has been a champion for improving access to healthy, fresh food in Cleveland’s inner city neighborhoods.” Showing gratitude can go a long way.


Literally, write the funder into the solution that you propose to help them envision your partnership. Attribute future success to them, should they decide to invest in your organization, in key places of the document: “With generous funding from the XYZ Foundation, ABC Organization will ensure that these children start the school day with a hot, nutritious meal so that they can learn and grow towards better futures.”
Tailoring your proposal format and message is the first step in showing a funder that your organization can be trusted and counted on—and put you one step closer to getting the grant.

Convey the Core Compelling Idea

While facts, figures, data and details are necessary to strengthen a grant proposal, they alone don’t win the grant. What can set your proposal apart is a clear, compelling, and unifying narrative thread that makes clear to the reader how your organization’s work is important, urgent, unique, and deserving of funding.

Keep it Simple

In the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss ideas that manage to stick with the reader. By “sticky,” they write, “we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.”

The Heath brothers explain that making an idea “stick” starts with keeping it simple, according to this formula:

Simple = Core + Compact
Core: Hone in on the core concept
Compact: Succinctly communicate this core concept

How is this practical in the context of grant writing? Can a grant writer deliver a succinct, simple, core idea when a grant proposal demands so much information?

Make it Memorable

The answer is that a grant writer not only can, but really must, anchor a grant proposal around a core compelling idea to stand a better chance of cutting through the competition for grants.

Consider how the funding process works in many foundations: the program officer reviewing your proposal is also reviewing many others, all that are stuffed with large amounts of information. She or he is responsible to boil down the main ideas of each proposal, to summarize what’s most important for a board of trustees who will decide on funding.

The program officer will likely forget the specific facts and figures they read in your proposal, but what they’re more likely to remember is a sticky core idea. An hour after reading, what is the bottom-line impression or message that you want him or her to remember?

Distinguish What’s Unique

The executive director of the Hunger Network was challenged to demonstrate to funders the organization’s unique contributions as compared to the region’s flagship food bank.

With help from Grants Plus, she hit upon the core compelling idea that sets the Hunger Network apart:

While the food bank is the region’s largest distributor of food, by managing the volunteers who operate area food pantries, the Hunger Network is the region’s nourisher of people. Food awaiting distribution in a box or on a shelf does not feed a community. It is in transferring food to hungry people that it becomes nourishment.

This concept isn’t complicated—rather, it’s because the idea is intentionally simple but powerful that it calls the reader’s attention and is likely to stay in their mind.

That’s just the effect that the Hunger Network’s grant proposals suddenly had on funders, the executive director explained: “The response I was getting from program officers was ‘Oh—now I get it.’”

Work Your Core

The core compelling idea should be distinguishable as the core of every grant proposal you write. When you step back from the details, what will stay with the reader?

Think of the core compelling idea as the overarching theme of your grant application that conveys how your organization makes a powerful difference and what sets it apart. It is the answer to why the funder should want to fund your request, so that through their investment they can see their own mission come alive in the world.

A core compelling idea has these qualities:

  • It is tailored to the funder: Start with recognizing what matters to the funder. Your core compelling idea should vary from one application to another based on the priorities of the specific foundation. Imagine you are a food pantry preparing two grant applications. The first funder’s key concern is child hunger. The second funder’s interest is improving academic outcomes. Your description of your organization and programs will likely be very much the same between the two proposals. But the core compelling idea the proposal is anchored around will be different: for the first funder it should be centered on ending child hunger, and for the second it should make the link between food access and education.
  • It’s simple: A core compelling idea is compact—think around 25 words. A sticky idea starts with being simple. In the example above, about the food pantry applying to the funder concerned with academics, a simple and compact core compelling idea might be: “A child who is hungry at home is a child likely to struggle at school.”
  • It’s declarative: There’s an emphatic energy to the core compelling idea. It shouldn’t just summarize, but declare something of interest and confidently convey a point of view—fitting, since after all, a grant proposal should be a persuasive document.
  • It’s bold: There may be an element of surprise or the unexpected, even a flair for the dramatic, that captures the reader’s attention.
  • It gets repeated: By reinforcing the core compelling idea in different words and different places throughout the proposal, the concept is more likely to stay with the reader. The grant writer of the hypothetical proposal about hunger and academics would want to reiterate in several places why hungry children struggle to learn and how providing access to food can improve academic outcomes.

A core compelling idea is not your organization’s mission statement or a description of what your organization needs. It is a bold and compact statement that declares what’s most important about your organization or project, and is repeated for emphasis throughout the proposal.

Don’t leave it to a busy program officer to deduce and later recall what’s most important from your proposal. Make his or her job easier, and your own chances of funding greater, by making sure your proposal is one that sings clear and true with an unmistakable and unforgettable compelling idea at its core.

This article was contributed by Lauren Steiner, President of Grants Plus

Lauren Steiner is the president and founder of Grants Plus, a national leader in grant seeking consulting. Grants Plus has secured more than $165 million in grant funding for nonprofit organizations around the country since 2007. Under her leadership the company has received many awards for growth and innovation including a 2016 Smart Business: Progressive Organization Award, and a 2016 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award from the American Psychological Association.

Lauren is past president of the Grant Professionals Association Ohio–Northern Chapter as well as an active member and former board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Cleveland Chapter. She was awarded AFP Greater Cleveland’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional award in 2017. She is an active member of the Giving Institute and serves on the editorial review board for Giving USA. Lauren teaches a graduate-level course in philanthropy at the Mandel School of Applied Social Science at Case Western Reserve University.

How to Master Volunteer Communications for Your Nonprofit

As a nonprofit professional, you have a lot to juggle: administrative tasks, event planning, fundraising asks, and more. But there’s an important component of your team that helps you push through these challenges and raise your level of success.

These are your volunteers.

Your volunteers make up the backbone of your organization. Without their help, many smaller (but still important!) tasks would be delayed or go unfinished altogether, which could significantly slow down your team’s progress. That’s why prioritizing volunteer engagement is essential. So what’s the best way to keep your volunteers engaged? Communication.

Effective volunteer communication keeps the wheels of your organization turning and ensures volunteers are up-to-date with what needs to be done. That’s why we’ve outlined our top strategies for mastering volunteer communications at your nonprofit:

  1. Make use of social media and email.
  2. Leverage your website.
  3. Make a good first impression.
  4. Regularly check in.
  5. Keep your volunteers updated.
  6. Segment your communications.

Keep your wheels turning and your volunteers engaged with the right kind of communication strategy. Let’s get started.

1. Make use of social media and email.

As you prepare to reach out to both potential and current volunteers, there are two top channels to consider: social media and email. Through social media, you can recruit volunteers, and through email, you can keep them directly updated.

But those are just a few of the benefits of using these channels. Let’s dive more specifically into each so you can get the most out of them.

Social Media

Social media can be used to share your recruitment message, but it’s essential that you don’t just post and walk away. According to the InitLive volunteer management guide, it’s helpful to craft a formal social media campaign. This campaign should outline what your message is and include content that is meaningful to your supporters.

Here are some tips as you prepare to engage with your audience:

  • Be brief. Shorter posts get straight to the point and are easier for readers to digest. This will encourage more engagement from your supporters.
  • Don’t feel the need to post all the time. While regular updates are important, you don’t always need to post multiple times a day. In fact, posting too often might turn off some readers.
  • Post new information. Share content that might not be found on your website or blog, which will add value to the post. For example, offer early access to new opportunities or highlight some of your standout volunteers!

As you share your content, make your recruitment link available on your specific posts and in your page description. Then, you should see more volunteers signing up!


Email is also an important element of volunteer communications. Email not only helps recruit new volunteers, but it also serves as a way to keep your current group of volunteers updated (more on that later!).

Use email outreach to give past volunteers exclusive access to your available volunteer positions. You can even encourage them to share volunteer opportunities with their circle of friends, or offer a referral gift as an additional incentive to get the word out.

There are many ways both social media and email outreach can contribute to a solid volunteer communication strategy. Start by sharing meaningful but relevant content that will boost recruitment numbers, and you’ll be on your way to even more engagement.

2. Leverage your website.

Your website is typically the very first place potential volunteers will go to find out about opportunities with your organization. That’s why you should always keep this information up-to-date, especially if you want to recruit successful volunteers.

Your website will allow you to:

  • Post new volunteer opportunities
  • Offer supporters an easy way to sign up for those opportunities
  • Promote your overall mission

When your website prominently features your organization’s mission and includes clear calls-to-action (CTAs), this will make it easy for supporters to navigate their way to your volunteer opportunities and registration. Even more, a clear and intuitive website will ensure that your volunteers have a basic understanding of your goals and what you need from them.

Once you’ve optimized your website to communicate what it is you need from your volunteers, you’ll be in a better position to communicate with them going forward.

3. Make a good first impression.

Volunteers come to your organization because they believe in your mission. That’s why you should take the time to get to know them, to determine the specific appeal that brought them there and help them learn more.

This starts with your registration process. Use volunteer management software that creates an easy sign-up process and helps you sift through each individual’s information to assign them the best possible fit.

This applies whether you’re organizing an event and need to staff it, or you need people to help with data entry. It’s important to find out what skills your volunteers have and what they would enjoy.

When you clearly communicate with your volunteers and understand what is important to them, you’ll pave the way for a good first impression, happier volunteers, and more work that gets done.

4. Regularly check in.

Even after you’ve successfully recruited volunteers and everything seems to be running smoothly, effective communication doesn’t end there. It’s essential that you regularly check in with your volunteers to keep the engagement going.

For example, you can ask:

  • About any challenges that might have come up
  • If they’re enjoying their role
  • If they’d like to try something else to continue or deepen their involvement

Regular check-ins also include recognition. While it’s probably true that your volunteers aren’t doing this specifically for the glory, it’s important to recognize your volunteers to keep them motivated and ensure they feel appreciated.

Look for ways to communicate your appreciation through social media, email blasts, and even through features on your website. Personalize individual outreach as you say thank you and demonstrate the impact your volunteers have made on your overall goals, whether it relates to fundraising, events, or other tasks. If you’re looking for examples of emails that say thanks, check out these templates, which can be adapted to suit any type of supporter.

Case in point: Regularly keeping up with and recognizing your volunteers will help push your organization closer to achieving its mission. Be sure to openly communicate with them to recognize them for a job well done and make sure they feel fulfilled in their role.

5. Keep your volunteers updated.

Something that’s occasionally overlooked is the idea that volunteers should be treated the same way as your nonprofit’s employees. They offer value, just as your staff does. For that reason, volunteers should know about changes in the organization just like employees do.

Keep volunteers informed and let them know about important developments or challenges that have come up at your nonprofit. In turn, this will help raise engagement and make these individuals feel valued.

You can do this by:

  • Inviting volunteers to certain staff meetings
  • Including them in staff email correspondence
  • Communicating key changes that affect their volunteer positions

The more you involve your volunteers in developments at your nonprofit, the more they’ll feel valued and like they’re a part of your team. This can lead to longer-term engagement and retention, and can also help you build stronger relationships with your volunteers as supporters of your organization.

6. Segment your communications.

We’ve talked about how it’s important to communicate with your volunteers in general and keep them in the loop. However, sometimes certain pieces of information don’t apply to all of your volunteers.

Our last crucial tip for communicating with volunteers at your organization is to segment your communications. InitLive’s volunteer engagement guide notes that sending out irrelevant communications to volunteers will waste their time and lead to frustration.

Just as you would tailor your communications to donors in order to maintain a high donor retention rate, you should also segment your communications for different volunteers so they receive information that’s relevant to them. That way, you won’t waste their time with details that don’t apply to their role or shifts.

In order to do this, consider using a volunteer management solution that helps keep your volunteers updated with automated notifications that apply specifically to them. This way, you’ll be able to keep your volunteers informed, but they won’t need to read every single scheduling issue or other memos that have come up from another team.

The more you respect your volunteers’ time, the more they’ll respect your organization and want to stay involved.

Your volunteers help your organization stay on its feet and keep your day-to-day operations running smoothly. That’s why they deserve to be treated as an essential part of your team, and why communicating with them is so important. Once you’ve mastered your communication strategy with your volunteers, they’ll keep coming back to help you reach your goals.

Be sure to keep these tactics in mind as you build up your volunteer base and continue serving your mission. Best of luck!

Tips for Engaging E-Learning

Are Your Volunteers Bored? Tips for Engaging E-Learning

This guest post was contributed by Amy Morrisey, President of Artisan E-Learning.

You’ve just unveiled a new volunteer training e-learning course. The content is based on the in-person training you used before your volunteer workforce moved to home offices and you had to create an effective learning experience while keeping people safe. All is well… until you receive the first batch of feedback from volunteers taking the course.

In that feedback? A high percentage of learners quit the course halfway through, and an even higher percentage received subpar scores on the assessments—clearly indicating they’re unprepared to be passionate ambassadors for your cause.

You were hoping for a high-quality, e-learning course, but your volunteers have tuned-out the experience. Easily a worst-case scenario! So, what can you incorporate into your e-learning courses to prevent this from happening in the future?

Let’s walk through three volunteer training scenarios you may encounter and how you can create engaging e-learning to keep supporters of all types returning.

Scenario 1) You’re preparing volunteers for their first day on the job.

If you’re a nonprofit volunteer coordinator now, you’ve surely been a first-time volunteer at some point in your philanthropic career. So, let’s flash back to your first day on the job.

Were you nervous? Excited? We’d guess a combination of both.

The first day volunteering at an organization is full of new things—new experiences, people, and tasks. It always seems to feel like everyone around you is already up to speed, right? It’s that first day of school feeling, and the faster you can learn the ropes, the better.

Flash forward to your position now, at the other end of this interaction. You want volunteers to learn as much as possible in preparation for their first day, to make sure they’re ready to tackle essential tasks effectively. This is where e-learning comes into play as the solution to reach both your goals and your volunteers’ goals.

With initial volunteer training, you have to cover a massive amount of new information to prepare them for the job. But, you don’t want to overwhelm them and have them disengage from the material as a result. Here are a few tips to create e-learning that’s valuable for first-time volunteers and accomplishes your goals:

  • Avoid information overload. While you may see your nonprofit’s history as valuable, an in-depth history lesson may take up too much space in your volunteers’ already overloaded brains. Focus on information that’s actionable and directly valuable for volunteers, and consider using images of your team at work to tell a compelling (but brief!) story of your history.
  • Cover a variety of volunteer opportunities. Give volunteers a good look at the many positions available to them, so they can discover which area of your organization they’re most interested in working with. Consider using microlearning courses to highlight each unique opportunity.

The goal here is to cover a ton of information for learners while also remaining interesting. Don’t slap a textbook in their hands (or even a long brochure). Use these tips and they’ll come back after the first day as a volunteer!

Scenario 2) You’re tasking volunteers with a complicated but essential task.

Now, consider your progression after that first day of volunteering. As one volunteer shift became two, your first month became your second, and so on… your return was rewarded by an increase in opportunities. But of course, volunteering at a nonprofit isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. For every exciting, constituent-facing task is a less exciting, perhaps even complicated, filing task.

As you continued volunteering, you gained access to more and more of the nonprofit’s operations. You became more essential to their efforts and carried more responsibilities. But, you also learned the hard lesson that sometimes, volunteering for a nonprofit can be dull, complicated, and carry a large learning curve.

Clearly, you overcame these obstacles. And now you can help your volunteers do the same. They’ll continue building their knowledge and adding value to your organization.

Here are a few tips to make a complicated, and perhaps even boring, topic engaging in an e-learning course:

  • Find creative ways to display less-than-exciting content. Ditch the droning webinar and voiceover in favor of something more engaging. Live-action videos, simulations—you name it; get creative! And remember, you can always work with an e-learning content development consultant to assist if you’re struggling to do so.
  • Have learners practice challenging skills. Consider using e-learning games that encourage volunteers to practice through repetition. They can make mistakes and learn from them, without the consequences of slipping up on the job!
  • Use examples to convey complicated topics. Don’t just tell a volunteer what to do—show them. Let’s say they’re learning how to check in individuals at a disaster shelter. Don’t list the steps. Walk them through an example of checking in a family (give the family members names!) and have them learn by doing.

Think of it this way: your nonprofit is incredibly intentional with the stories it shares externally to be both ethical and effective. You should be just as intentional with the stories you share internally—including how you present training to existing volunteers. This isn’t the time to get complacent because they’re already returning regularly. Continue to engage them with valuable content.

Scenario 3) You’re training volunteers with diverse backgrounds.

Lastly, we need to acknowledge the nonprofits that are operating here, there, and everywhere around the globe. If your nonprofit is working with volunteers that speak a variety of languages and are from diverse cultures, this section is for you.

If you’re welcoming volunteers whose native language is something other than English, it’s up to you to create e-learning courses that are accessible for all. Here are a few tips we’ve found for engaging e-learning across cultures:

  • Translate your e-learning courses. If you work at a U.S. based nonprofit but you’re welcoming volunteers from other countries, avoid creating content that caters to a U.S. view. Translate your content to be in the learner’s native language and consider working with a narrator that speaks in an accent familiar to the learner.
  • Provide any information about your location’s culture. Specifically, focus on where your nonprofit’s culture differs from the learner’s. What do volunteers need to know to be successful when giving their time with your organization?
  • Use immersive scenarios. Consider taking things a step further by walking volunteers through a day in the job at the new location, via a scenario.

With these strategies, you’ll provide the needed training to all volunteers, regardless of the language spoken. 

To wrap up, we know that volunteers who tune training out will be ill prepared and unlikely to give their time in the future. Whether you’re conducting onboarding, elevating volunteers’ skills with complicated tasks, or working with supporters from diverse backgrounds—it’s up to you to prepare them with engaging courses.

Use these tips to create courses that keep your volunteers engaged for the duration. And, if you need help implementing them, consider bringing on an e-learning content development firm to help you do so.

Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.