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How Great Website Design Drives Connection & Action

High-Impact Nonprofit Website DesignThanks to guest blogger Alex McLain, who designs engaging websites for nonprofits as a member of the Wired Impact team.

Creating a new website for your nonprofit is a mind-boggling task. You’ve got a million questions reeling through your head throughout the process, but one of the most important to consider is: “How important is the role of design in our website?” Without a doubt, your answer should be, “Very important.”

In order to wow website visitors and keep them returning to get more info, make more donations, or sign up for events, your site needs to stand out in a sea of websites that “get the job done.” Here are 10 ways great visual design drives website impact:

1. Makes a Good First Impression
I know what you’re thinking, “How can a website make a first impression? It’s not human. It’s not going to walk into a room and shake hands and kiss babies.”

But your website is one of the main faces of your organization (and frequently the first one new folks see). When potential supporters come to your site, you want them to immediately feel a sense of awe and be comfortable navigating and browsing through your site.

2. Inspires Confidence in Your Organization’s Impact
People want to support a nonprofit they trust will make a difference in the world. The work you do is important, and deserves to be showcased in a bold and beautiful manner. A striking, professionally designed website can help establish confidence and authority surrounding your cause.

3. Demonstrates that You Are Active and Relevant
Having an up-to-date and visually appealing website helps people to see that your nonprofit is actively working in your respective community. If your site looks like it’s from 1992—with a jarring background color and poor graphics—your organization may be perceived as inactive or out-of-date, and maybe even incapable of efficiently solving the problem you focus on. Having a dated site makes it far less likely that your visitors will be inspired to get involved.

4. Evokes Emotion
Being in the nonprofit sector, a huge part of what you do likely revolves around emotion. Maybe you’re fighting to keep the ozone layer intact, providing food for malnourished children, or rescuing homeless animals. These topics alone start to evoke emotion from supporters. In positioning your marketing efforts as cheerfully hopeful, boldly passionate, or even using sadness (with care) to grab people’s attention and compel them to help, you’re further delving into people’s emotions to motivate action. In fact, a study by a Wharton marketing professor on how to increase charitable giving found that “feelings, not analytical thinking, drive donations.”

A stellar design will bring your organization’s story to the forefront of your website, both visually and textually. It will motivate people to act based on how they feel toward your cause, and your nonprofit’s ability to be a part of the solution.

5. Prompts Actions: Donations and More
A well-designed website highlights specific, doable calls to action in strategic places throughout your site.

Make action opportunities clear and easy to find. Showcase what you want your visitors to accomplish on your website. Do you need volunteers? Add a “Sign Up to Volunteer” banner to your homepage. Do you need donations? Include a “Donate Now” button in a prominent spot in your navigation.

6. Enhances User Experience
User Experience basically means how your visitors feel when interacting with your site, and it is insanely important to take into account when designing a website.

According to the Online Marketing Institute, 85% of people abandon sites that are not well designed and easy to use, and 83% of people flee sites that require too many clicks to find what they’re seeking. For this reason, ensuring that your design is visually engaging and well-organized can be invaluable for your nonprofit. You want people to stay on your site for as long as possible, learning more about your organization, and ultimately donating or getting involved in other ways.

7. Makes Your Site Easy to Use On-the-Go
Mobile is a must at this point, but there’s more to great mobile site design than just pretty pictures, a nice color palette, and enough breathing room in between lines of text.

Responsive design refers to a site that automatically adjusts its layout to fit the screen size of the device it’s being viewed on, and is something you should definitely consider. Optimizing your website for mobile devices can be priceless in a world where over 74% of internet users are accessing the web on their mobile phones, according to eMarketer. And in a study released by Google, 25% of online donors in 2013 made a donation on a mobile device. That’s a ton of donating potential you don’t want to lose.

8. Connects You with a Younger Audience
It’s no secret that Millennials are always online. Whether they’re surfing the web, tweeting, pinning, Facebooking, whatever the case may be; Millennials care about socializing and sharing what they feel passionately about.

According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, keeping a website updated, and using photography are very important for keeping Millennials interested. In fact, 75% of respondents indicated that their biggest turnoff is an out-of-date website. By having a well-designed site, you can attract this generation now, and steadily build relationships and support for your cause throughout their lifetime.

9. Reinforces Your Brand
Consistency is the key to seamless branding across all communications platforms. Integrating in typography, imagery and colors across online, print and social content smooths supporters’ transition among media.

When people are able to quickly identify your organization by its familiar “look and feel” (known from materials they have already seen), that’s a valuable short cut to trust for you. You’re instilling trust that your nonprofit is organized, and has a clear vision plus the ability to tackle that vision head-on.

10. Converts Casual Visitors into Supporters
Your website is the portal into your world. Your site enables potential supporters to see what you’re accomplishing and how you’re doing it. By having an up-to-date, visually stunning website, your organization can draw people into the work of your organization and create emotional connections without requiring you to meet face-to-face.

By compelling site visitors to stay connected and share your cause with friends, you can raise more money, grow your volunteer base, meet new supporters, organize larger fundraisers, and ultimately extend closer and closer to realizing your mission and vision.

Has your nonprofit launched a newly-designed website recently? If so, how has it affected your presence on the web?

Make Your (Re)Brand Magical!

I’m so eager to share with you the incredible learning experience I had at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) . I learned all about nonprofit rebranding via Farra Trompeter, Vice President of Big Duck, and Will Nolan, Senior Vice President of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). Here are a few key takeaways to help you understand the potential of brand for our causes, and knowing when it’s time for a change.

First Things First: What’s a Brand?
Your nonprofit’s brand represents your identity, your promise to donors and constituents, and the consistency of your work. The principles outlined here are relevant whether you’re shaping a first-time (intentional) brand for your organization, or you’re rebranding.

Whether we’re talking Red Cross or Coca-Cola, brands that work connect with our hearts and minds to trigger emotion and action. The difference, Farra says, is that with companies, we have a transactional relationship; with nonprofits, we have a transformational relationship.

Brand Positioning vs. Organizational Personality
These two terms are tossed around a lot, but what do they really mean? If positioning is the big idea, personality is the feeling in your people’s hearts, says Farra.

Effective  positioning ensures that a big idea is consistently associated with the brandÚ For what expertise or service are you the go-to? Your personality should answer the question: What do you want them to feel?

Zero in on what your organization is trying to do or be before jumping to positioning & personality. Get clear on who you are—and who you’re trying to reach. It’s the only way to get relevant. Beware, there is no such thing as “the general public.” If you try to reach everyone, you’ll fail, and you’re likely to alienate the folks you really want to engage.

Why Are SO Many Orgs (Re)branding?
Rebranding helps orgs erase outdated geographical boundaries, market smarter, and better reflect their work. A rebrand bridges from the before to what’s new when orgs shift focus or restructure.

Your nonprofit’s brand is a powerful way to synchronize your efforts across programs and channels. Clear branding, guidelines, and communications tools actually make it easier for everyone to speak on your behalf. This is particularly important for organizations that have many staff, as well as external supporters, acting as spokespeople.

Shoring up your brand can also help you recruit better board members and staff, improve your internal capacity, and attract more media coverage. Your people ARE your brand!

But Your (Re)brand Does Even MORE
Done well, rebranding (OR first-time branding) enables your org to more clearly define and share your niche, which makes it easier for your people to connect with you, and ultimately increase revenue through

Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy’s rebrand helped the org become more direct and consistent in their communications. They shifted their tagline from “Leading the Duchenne muscular dystrophy community” to a bolder statement: “Leading the fight to end Duchenne.” Their new colors, logo, and positioning now reflect this strong vision.

This change allowed them to reframe their communications around a clear mission. As a result, PPMD increased community participation and its email list size.

Ok, We Want to (Re)brand! Now What?
First, understand that your brand—whether the first brand or a (re)brand—is a sum of many individual parts, not just a name or logo.

When it comes to (re)branding, updating your organization’s brand identity often has the most impact. Identity includes the visual elements of your brand (such as logos, colors, imagery) and your key messaging (tagline, boilerplate).

When Should We (Re)Brand ?
Good branding helps your cause break through the noise. This is important for many organizations, as the environment in which they’re operating can change over time. If your organization has changed its focus, or the environment has shifted, consider updating your brand.

When Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy kicked off its rebranding process, staff thought hard about the  the equity in the existing name. Keep in mind that brands can be fluid (although you wouldn’t want to rebrand more than every five or ten years, and that’s even a lot). Over time, your organization’s essence may not change, but elements of your brand or structure may need to.

Is it time for your nonprofit to rebrand? Big Duck’s brand flowchart will help you decide.

What Do High-Impact Nonprofit (Re)Brands Have In Common?
These are some of the factors likely to lead to (re)branding success can include:

  • A clear, focused, understood-and-acted-on throughout the organization strategic plan (a must!)
  • New leadership
  • New fundraising strategies.

BTW, if your organization is currently going through a strategic planning process, complete that process before (re)branding. You’ll have better alignment, as your organization’s vision will be clearer.

To learn more, check out Big Duck’s The Rebrand Effect