Sometimes best practices for nonprofit websites seem obvious, but let’s begin with a story that illustrates how fundamental these features are for success.
For years a neighborhood association asked members to join and renew at its 4th of July parade. But not everyone attended the parade or reached the membership table. The association had a PayPal button for dues payments on their website, but no one was automatically reminded to renew. As the parade outreach effort faltered, the organization resorted to inconsistent, volunteer-led member retention efforts.
After setting up membership software with automatic recurring credit card payments, the association quickly doubled its renewal rate. They were also shocked to see that many members also opted to add on significant additional recurring donation amounts beyond their dues payment. Making this one change possibly saved the association from extinction.
Recurring donations or memberships
Nonprofits with paper membership processes or PayPal donate buttons are losing significant revenue. Certainly setting up membership management software requires time and resources. But proceeds from auto-recurring payments and one-time renewal payments spurred by automatic reminders should more than compensate. Be sure to set up multiple past due/failed payment reminders in your system to accommodate today’s distracted members.
Email list signup
The people most likely to become donors and members are those already on your prospect email list. Set up an account with MailChimp or another email marketing platform. MailChimp is free for up to 2000 subscribers as long as you send less than 12,000 emails per month. Add an email signup widget to your website.
Automated blog post emails or an e-newsletter
Nonprofits that are volunteer-run or short-staffed find it hard to draft a regular e-newsletter. But how else will members know what you are doing for them? In some cases, writing blog posts that are automatically sent to your email list is better than an e-newsletter because:
- A post doesn’t need to be designed in an email marketing platform.
Information reaches your subscribers sooner.
- If your recipients are just as likely to open one email from you as another, why put so much effort into an e-newsletter?
- Headlines from your blog posts (which should be your email subject line) are more click-worthy than a subject line like, “Our Monthly Newsletter.”
But be careful not to send communications too often or you risk unsubscribes. Check your unsubscribe rate after each mass email.
Pictures and good design
Like the adage says, “A picture is worth 1000 words.” Your current and prospective donors and members want to see themselves as part of an energetic organization. Pictures are the best way to tell that story. You have around seven seconds to prove to visitors that your site is worth exploring. Consider running a usability test to be sure you are doing a good job.
Members only content or benefits
Members join because they want to belong, but benefits play a role. Your welcome and renewal emails should link to a page where you list all of your benefits. Create content such as articles or a member directory that only members can see. Offer events or tickets just for donors. Your membership software should allow you to limit access to specific pages, posts and events.
Donors may be diverse in term of age, education and tech savviness, so offer them different ways to connect. Older donors like to reach out by phone, while younger members may want to be able to message you on Facebook. Meet members and where they are, but only if staff can fully support each method (such as regularly posting on Facebook or having set times when you are answering the phone).
Scalability for desktop, mobile and tablets
Half of visitors to nonprofit websites are using a mobile or tablet device. If people receive your emails and want to take action, be sure that they can complete the entire task on their phone without having to scroll right or zoom in to read. Google also favors mobile-friendly sites in search results.
Events — in person or virtual — are a core function of most nonprofits. Your membership software should support online event registration and payments. If your site is in WordPress, your system may offer widgets to promote a list of upcoming events in the site-wide sidebar or footer.
Is it clear what action you want a first time or returning website visitor to take? If the main goal is driving membership, there should be a benefits list on the home page as well as a Join button. Ask friends to look at the home page. Can they accurately answer, “What is the primary action we are asking you to take?
- Include a volunteer link in the website navigation.
Maintain an updated list of volunteer opportunities.
- Designate a volunteer coordinator to connect volunteers to opportunities and stay connected to this key group.
- Ask members to indicate what volunteer opportunities interest them.
Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments.
This is a guest post by Amy Hufford, a Technologist at MembershipWorks.