Your organization’s website can and should be a powerful fundraising tool for your non-profit. In order to offer information to donors, collect e-mails, and raise money online, you need to have an effective web presence. Here are the 5 things you need to have in place – at a minimum – in order to effectively raise money through your website:
1. Professional Look
I am not a big believer in the idea that your website has to be flashy and over-the-top. I have seen hundreds of non-profits that raise a good amount of money online with basic, functional websites. There’s one thing, though, that is shared by almost every website that raises decent money online: it has to look professional.
People won’t give to you through your website unless they feel like they can trust you. They won’t feel like they can trust you unless your site looks professional. Remember, I’m not talking about using a $100,000 per site web designer. I am talking about a basic level of professionalism that shows you place importance and pride in your website.
The most important part of a professional look is professionally designed web graphics. Unless you’re a design pro, this is one area where I highly recommend bringing in outside help. For far less than $1,000 you can have professional web designers create a great looking banner for the top of your site and secondary graphics to place throughout your site. You can commission really great designs through 99Designs, which uses a competition format where designers compete and you award the project fee to the design you like best. You can also seek out recommendations for local designers that work with non-profit organizations.
The second most important thing in making sure your site looks professional is editing – making sure you use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nothing looks worse than an organization encouraging readers to “Donate noW to our orgnziation.”
Finally, be sure that all the information on your website is up-to-date. If you’re still showing information for last year’s gala fundraising event, it’s hard for potential sponsors to take you seriously about this year’s event.
2. Ease of Editing
Which brings us to another key requirement for an effective web presence… your website has to be easy for you to edit in-house. Sure, if you’re a major national organization, you can afford to have an IT consultant update your site each week. But for most non-profits, you’ll need to be able to perform basic web edits in house. This means adding new articles and links, changing dates on the calendar, etc.
Don’t get frightened, though! Currently available web tools make it extremely easy to build an easily editable website, without anyone on your team learning advanced coding or HTML. If you’re building a website from scratch, check out WordPress, an amazing, free and easy to use backend system that can do almost anything. (Note that you’ll want WordPress.org, which is the backend system you install on your own site, instead of WordPress.com, which is a less-editable blog you can host on their site).
If your website is already set up, and it is not easily editable by your staff, talk with your web designer (or any web design company) about migrating your site over to an easy to use backend like WordPress or Expression Engine, so that your team can make regular changes to your site.
3. Regular Updates
Why is it important that your site be easily editable by your team? Because it is important that your site get updated regularly!
No one wants to visit (or trust) a website that is bogged down with last month’s (or… yikes… last year’s) content. They want to know that your website is fresh and updated regularly before they fork over their hard earned dollars on it. Thus, it is important that your site is updated regularly with news items, event information, staff profiles, asks, etc.
What qualifies as “regularly” will differ for every organization, but at a minimum, some new content should appear on your website at least monthly. If you followed my advice and found an easily editable backend to build your website on, these updates should take no more than 2-3 hours for your organization to make. Thus, at a minimum, you should be investing 2-3 hours of staff time into updating your website per month, if not per week.
4. E-mail List
If you’re going to be collecting e-mail addresses on your website, you’ll need an easy way to allow people to give you their e-mail address (using an online form), and also an easy and secure way to store those addresses and send mass e-mails to your list.
My top recommendations for e-mail list providers go to AWeber and Constant Contact. Alternately, you can use an e-mail list service provided by your database package, if it is included with your software.
5. Way to Process Donations
Finally, you will need a way to process donations that people make to you through your website. This means that you’ll need a way for people to safely and securely enter their credit card information to process donations on your site.
If you already have a merchant account (a credit card processing account) through your bank for processing credit cards offline, talk with them to see if they have a solution for processing donations online, or use a service like Authorize.net which acts as an online “card swipe machine” for your offline merchant account.
If you don’t already have a merchant account, there’s probably no need to get one unless you are processing massive amounts of credit card donations. Instead, use a service like PayPal Web Payments, or a credit card processing service geared for non-profits, like Network for Good, DoJiggy or CauseVox (which allows you to set up a separate, off-site donation page).
Photo Credit: PhotoSteve101