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Website Messaging: A “Make or Break” Factor in Nonprofit Success

You’re a nonprofit leader who has poured blood, sweat, and tears into your life’s work. Your organization’s mission is vital, your support staff is amazing, and you’ve done a lot of good in the world. But you know your nonprofit hasn’t even come close to reaching its potential.


Your nonprofit’s low visibility doesn’t come close to matching its high value. You struggle to attract high-capacity donors or retain current ones. Your subscription database is growing, but only at a snail’s pace. The number of website visitors falls short of your goals, and their time on site is depressingly low. You want social and traditional media channels to perk up their ears, but they seem deaf to your mission. Adding insult to injury, you lack the financial resources a comparable for-profit business has and thus can’t hire a full suite of staff or a fancy consultant.


Is there any one thing you can do that will positively affect all your key performance indicators? So that “all ships rise with the tide”?


Yes, one vital initiative will help your nonprofit get traction with all its constituents and improve performance in most key areas: a wholesale revision of your approach to website messaging.


Skeptical? Consider these three suggestions, each of which corrects a flawed assumption about the role of nonprofit websites in the twenty-first century.


View your website not as a digital pamphlet but as your gateway to the world.


Unlike the early days of the Internet, a website today is more than an electronic business card or a digital pamphlet for the organization. It’s your gateway to the world, your prime real estate, and the site of most people’s “first date” with your organization.


It’s your gateway to the world. Regardless of your personal digital habits, you can rest assured that your constituents are online. In 2023, approximately 6.3 million Google searches were conducted each minute, many of which were to find information on local businesses or nonprofits.


It’s your prime real estate. Unlike your brick-and-mortar building, your digital real estate is relatively inexpensive and open for business 24/7. Around the clock, it is busy educating, persuading, and nurturing relationships with constituents.


It’s the site of the first date for most prospective supporters. Even while you sleep, prospective supporters are going on their “first date” with your organization; if they like what they experience, they’ll arrange for a second and third date and soon be ready to commit. If the website doesn’t pique their curiosity and capture them at the level of gut, instinct, and emotion, they’ll quickly move on.


Focus first on messaging and only afterward on design and functionality.


Some nonprofits recognize the significance of their web real estate and the user’s experience (UX). Unfortunately, the attention is usually focused on the website’s graphic design and technical functionality and rarely on its messaging. That’s unfortunate because research shows that first impressions are design-related, but commitments to act are message-related.


Think about it this way. Your organization’s relationship with a prospective stakeholder is similar to other relationships in life. First, you must gain their interest or make them curious. Second, you must nurture that initial curiosity by enlightening them about your organization and its role in their lives. Third, if the relationship is nurtured properly, you are likely to gain a commitment.


As crucial as the messaging component is for businesses, it is even more significant for nonprofits. Rather than marketing a product or service, you are convincing prospective donors and volunteers that your organization fulfills their desire to be generous or be part of a mission bigger than themselves. Instead of listing product features or offering value propositions, you are building relationships and cultivating a long-term support network.


This is not to say that graphic design and technical functions aren’t necessary. They’re quite important for conveying professionalism and showcasing credibility. However, when building out a website, a nonprofit should first ask, “What is our core message, and how can we convey it most effectively through the website?” only after answering that question should we ask, “What type of graphic design and functionality best carries the message?”


Approach the website not as one initiative but as the hub for all your initiatives.


Twenty-five years ago, an organization’s website functioned as one vehicle for communication and not an especially important one. Today, however, the website functions more like the hub to which all other communication vehicles are connected.


Unlike a traditional brick-and-mortar office, your website operates around the clock. While you’re on a lunch break or out with friends, your website is busy showcasing the vital significance of your mission and inviting prospective stakeholders to take a closer look.


Unlike other communication vehicles, you are in 100% control of the architecture and content of your messaging. You are in total command over your content. There are no character counts for your posts, no shifting algorithms, and no restraints on the depth of content or the choice of imagery.


What’s more, all roads lead back to the website. It’s the landing page for social media followers, Google searches, and traditional media audiences. It’s the first stop for prospective donors who want to do a little research. It’s the centerpiece for your email subscription database and email campaigns.


So, if you’re looking for the one thing you can do to improve all your key performance indicators, look no further: hone and refine your website messaging. If you focus on this low-cost, high-value initiative, all ships will rise with the tide.


 *If you’re ready to get started, the Ashford Agency is here to help. We follow the Storybrand model for messaging, which is research-proven to boost nonprofit key performance indicators, and we partner with Knapsack Creative Co. for any technical and graphic design needs. Schedule a free consultation to discuss how we can partner to create a website messaging strategy that reaches out, grabs the audience by the hand, and pulls them into your mission.


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