Nonprofit versus For-profit Websites

Nonprofit Versus For-profit Websites

Nonprofit Versus For-profit Websites: what’s the difference?

When a website, be it nonprofit or for-profit, is well thought out and branded, it will have a far better chance to exude the entity’s product and, or mission instantly than a website that is not. Moreover, it should appeal to the viewer’s sensibilities and be very user-friendly. In other words, the “user experience” (UE/UX) is vital for any website to compete in today’s WWW marketplace.

As for the website’s primary reason for being (most will think it’s always about revenue generation), this is where the two entities start to deviate.

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

For the nonprofit, success is not calculated as mere profit (though raising money is undoubtedly a significant 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, has to be sold to someone and generate revenue.

Where the Split Occurs

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

The nonprofit website, however, generally addresses two audiences—often split equally. One message is for the product buyer (the donor of the product or service), and the other is for the product user (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 and of good value—be it a widget for oneself or a critical service to another. For the for-profit, this singular focus makes creating the web presence relatively 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. (This client priority, by the way, is also essential to the buyer/funder who considers the overall user experience for clients as a reasonable ROsI.)


The ROsI continues beyond the product/service level for the funder or even how well the website offers equal space for donors and clients. 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 a mobile device? (Since donors tend to use desktops/laptops more than mobile devices when considering their involvement in an organization, good content is vital.)
  • Is the website engaging without a look of wastefulness? I.E., not too flashy and overly trendy, yet attractive?
  • How are the clients (recipients of their intended support) perceived? Will particular content direction (images and descriptions) turn off the donor—or, perhaps, the client? (For the donor, the pitch often shows the worst-case scenario, where when you’re addressing the client, optimism and non-judgment is critical.)
  • 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 more significant part of the organization’s community than just another income stream.
  • How has the website prioritized its giving, be it donations or volunteering time?


As for the client, their priorities may be:

  • Mobile device-friendly first: Is the website conforming well to handheld devices (is it “responsive”)? According to a Pew study, 50-75% of homeless and low-income people only have access to a mobile device, be it a smartphone or tablet. Considering this, the website should be designed with a desktop in mind for the donors and in responsive format for clients—which requires a judicial approach to paring down content, along with format tweaks, for the 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?

Unique Content for the Nonprofit

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

  • Client programs/services
  • HIPPA or other statements of privacy
  • Financial disclosure
  • Volunteer program and forms
  • Board of directors page
  • Access to departmental staff
  • Robust About Us / History page(s)
  • Achievements and 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 can make updates and new pages without needing 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.


This article was originally published on May 5, 2018. Last update: January 12, 2023

We would LOVE (that’s no exaggeration!) to work with you on your next (or first ever!) website. And if you think that having professional assistance may be outside of your current budget, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.