Nonprofit versus For-profit Websites

Nonprofit Versus For-profit Websites

When a website (be it nonprofit or for-profit) is well thought out and branded, it will not only exude the entity’s product and, or, mission instantly with a captivating presence–all the while appealing to the viewer’s sensibilities–but be user-friendly in the process. In other words, “user experience” (UE/UX) is vital for any website. As for the website’s primary reason for being (most will think it’s always about revenue generation) this is where the two start to deviate.

For commercial endeavors, the main goal is nearly always to make money. That’s a given. But for the nonprofit, the answer is a bit more complicated.

For the nonprofit, success is not calculated in terms of mere profit (though raising money is certainly a major priority if it wishes to survive) but rather how well it fulfills its overall mission. Therefore, the product, be it a widget or a social service, somehow has to be sold to someone and revenue generated.

Where the Split Occurs

The for-profit website targets the buyer of the product—who is almost always (save for gift cards) the end-user of the product. So when you are creating your website for the commercial sector, you are communicating to one audience: the buyer/user.

The nonprofit, however, generally speaks to two audiences—usually split equally. One message is for the product buyer (the donor of the product or service) and the other message is to the user of the product (the people in need of the product or service—the client). And, this sort of split-branding can be a challenge.

In both instances, the product needs to be well promoted as necessary to the buyer, as well as of good value—be it a widget for oneself, or service to another. For the for-profit, this singular focus makes creating the web presence rather streamlined.

But what about the nonprofit’s end user—the client. Their user experience will not be buyer’s satisfaction or even return on social investment (ROsI), but on when, where, and how to obtain the product/service and how quickly they can access it. (Which, by the way, is also import to the buyer/funder who considers overall user experience for clients as a reasonable ROsI.)

ROsI

The ROsI does not stop at the product/service level for the funder, or even how well the website is offering equal space for donor and client. The funder tends to look at multiple factors:

  • Desktop/laptop viewing first: Can they view the website well on their desktop/laptop as well as mobile device? (Since donors tend to use desktops/laptops more than mobile devices when considering their involvement in an organization, adequate content is key.)
  • Is the website engaging, without a look of wastefulness? I.E., too flashy and overly trendy?
  • How are the clients (recipients of their intended support) perceived? Will certain content direction (images and descriptions) turn-off the donor—or, perhaps, the client? (For the donor, often times the pitch is showing the worst-case scenario, where when you’re addressing the client, optimism and non-judgment is key.)
  • What is the call to action other than the donation request? The sign-up form or invitation to an event allows the donor to feel like a bigger part of the organization’s community than just another income stream.
  • How has the website prioritized their giving, be it donations or volunteering time.

Access

As for the client, their priorities may be:

  • Mobile device first: Is the website mobile-device friendly (“responsive”)? According to a Pew study, 50-75% of homeless and low-income people only have access to a mobile device, be it smart phone or tablet. Considering this, the website should be designed with desktop in mind for the donors, and in responsive format for clients—which requires a judicial approach to the paring down content, along with format tweaks, for best view on mobile devices.
  • How intuitive is it to locate the product/service? Are dates and times clearly stated? Are schedules, directions and maps provided?
  • What are the limitations and “need to know” messages?

Special Content for the Nonprofit

There are pages and applications that are geared more for the nonprofit than the for-profit:

  • Client programs/services
  • HIPPA or other statement of privacy
  • Financial disclosure
  • Volunteer program and forms
  • Board of directors page
  • Access to departmental staff
  • Robust About Us / History page(s)
  • Achievements and/or profiles
  • Membership/subscription
  • Dynamic social networking center-point
  • Calendar
  • Donation options page (from one-time donations to planned/estate giving)
  • A very user-friendly “back end” so that in-house staff and/or volunteers can make updates and new pages without the need to have a dedicated webmaster.

In a nutshell, the user experience differs between nonprofit and for-profit websites, and we get that. Dot Org Web Works stand out from other website developers because we only work for the charitable nonprofit sector.