Monday, May 17, 2010

6 Reasons Your Website Sucks

Get ready.  This is a rant.  I look at at least 10 new nonprofit websites each day for work.  Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised but mostly I'm dismayed by the state of nonprofit websites.

We've got to do better folks.  Here's why.  NO ONE (Well, almost no one) is going to give you a donation online without first visiting your website.  In fact the majority of online donations in 2008 ($15 billion) came in via nonprofit websites.

I KNOW you want some of this cash!  Unfortunately, you're not going to get it because here are 6 reasons your website sucks.

1. You have NO pictures on your site or the pictures you do have are bad, stock photos of people who everyone knows are not part of your organization.  There is no excuse for this.  Go to or iStockphoto and buy or borrow some new beautiful photos.  (Just be sure to give proper attribution.)  Better yet, give some cameras to the people you serve and ask them to take video and photos for you.

2. You have WAY TOO MUCH text on your site.  People DON'T READ websites. (Actually, people don't read period but this is a topic for another blog post.) Use short phrases and choice words to describe your work, especially on your home page.  DO NOT include a "Letter from your Executive Director,"  unless, he or she is famous!  Instead, consider doing a 3 minute podcast or video so people can hear what your organization is all about.  Keep it short and sweet and make it good!

3. I can't find your "Subscribe" button.  News flash!  I'm not going to donate to your organization unless you ask me to.  This is why email marketing is key to your online fundraising success.  However, I may give you my email address to learn more.  THIS is the most important "ask" you can make on your site.  Invite me to engage with your organization by subscribing to your e-newsletter, so that you can CULTIVATE me into a new donor over time.  PLEASE put your e-newsletter subscribe button front and central.  Don't have an e-newsletter?  Start one!

4. You are still using Flash and this means it takes way too much time for your your site to load.  I'm busy and I'm not interested in your "clever" intro.  Just take me to the meat of your site.

5. This is corollary to point 4.  Your website is old and by old, I mean built on an outdated template.  This is BAD for your branding.  It is an automatic flag that you are not web savvy.  Unfortunately, this perception may also translate to what you do, i.e. make me feel like your mission/theory of change is out of date.  There is no excuse for using old, cheesy website templates.  Contract with a student at a local university studying web design and development and PAY him/her to build you a new website on Wordpress or another blogging software.   You will update your look; you'll also make it easier for everyone on staff to update your website on the fly.  Blogging software is super easy to use.

6. Your content is out of date.  This is a no-brainer.  Don't serve up news items from 2008 on your homepage, even if your Executive Director was quoted in The New York Times.  Archive them somewhere else on your site.  I want to know what you've been up to lately, as in - this year!

I don't have the heart to show you bad websites.  Besides, you know who you are! :)  So, here are some example of good websites.  Note: These are not brand name charities with tons of money. (Sorry you'll have to stop using lack of money as an excuse for your bad website.)   

Your website is your window to the world.  Care for it.  Make it beautiful, clean, functional, and clear.  You only get one chance to impress!  

Pilgrim Africa - This is a beautiful site.  I'm drawn in by the photos.  Notice that the photos take up almost all of the real estate that is "above the fold."  This is good design.

Architecture for Humanity - This site is really easy to navigate and I love the tone.  Note that the e-newsletter sign-up box is at the top of the page on EVERY page of their site.

Push for Peace Corps - I like the use of BIG fonts on this site.  And, the logo is great.  It helps me visualize the organization's goal, i.e. to get more funding for Peace Corps.

Got any examples of great websites from smaller, less well-known nonprofits?  Please share them in the comments.



Karen Zapp, copywriter said...

Excellent points, Jocelyn. With regard to the amount of content - Jakob Nielsen (usability expert) has research that shows people only read 18 - 20% of the text on a page.

Ouch. I smile as I say that because I'm a copywriter. But the point is that we need to make the messages succinct, on target, and clear. It's harder to write short copy but the pay off is worth it.

I hope more folks follow ALL of your points / tips.

Jocelyn said...


Thanks for your comment. I couldn't agree more. Writing short, concise and engaging content is a real skill.


Mike said...

We just redesigned our website and would love some feedback.

WindsorEssex Community Foundation

Jocelyn said...

Hi Mike,

Hate to give you advice AFTER a redesign since I know how painful these can be. :) But here goes.

1. I like your use of pics. Although, I'm not sure pics of people with checks is the way you want to go. How about more images which show the IMPACT the Foundation is having on the community?

Also, it looks like you're using some stock photos. Switch these out! Use real photos of people from your events?

I think your site is pretty text heavy. Is there any way you can scale it back?

Finally, when I'm on the home page, my eye goes directly to the two hands holding the heart. Clearly this is your "call to action." If I click on the link, I go to a donation page from Canada Helps. You don't list any suggested donation amounts. This is a "no-no." Instead, give anchors for how much people can give so that you don't get a lot less in donations than you're looking for.

I suggest you do some informal usability studies. Here is a great reference. This will help you determine how well your site is working for you and give you some tips to make it better


Paul Moment said...

Hi Jocelyn, thanks for the kudos on the Pilgrim Africa web site! I'm the strategist/designer/developer of the site and it's an honor to make the "non-suck" list. Thanks for providing the great info on this blog - it's now in my bookmarks next to Seth Godin's site... :)

Karen Zapp, copywriter said...


Today I found a nonprofit website via a Tweet. I think it qualifies as an example of a well done site and thought it would be good to share it with you and your followers.

Here's what I like about

- Great photos of kids

- Can definitely find the donate button. Although I would make the entire graphic clickable and not just the phrase "Make a Gift Today." And a problem I encountered was ... after landing on the donate page I couldn't get back to the home page easily. The back button and home pg link to me to a diff sits; a hosting site.

- The scrolling photos all have a short sentence that explains what the charity does. People can clearly and easily learn within a few seconds of landing on the site what they do.

- Current news, upcoming events, and few paragraphs of copy on "how you can help" all start above the fold.

- Simple home page design

I didn't go much deeper into the site. But I think they have done a good job on the home page.

What do you think?

Diyfilms said...

Great post Jocelyn. Love that the Architecture for Humanity site actually puts how their money is spent on the homepage.

Craig Hilton said...

Thanks for the article. would love your input on our website;

Erika said...

Great article! I stumbled upon your blog but I think I'll become a regular reader.

I just learned an interesting fact that people spend 6 minutes on a website with video verses 57 seconds on a website with text.

I would just like to say that with digital technology today there are companies that can make very professional videos for websites for a $1,000 or less. I actually just started interning for one in San Diego,

New Evolution Video.

Keep up the amazing work.

Ivan Ray said...

I really agree with what you said. It's true that web site architecture is important to consider. Simple web design is going out of style. There's a sea of change going on in the world of web design and web site architecture is one of the great changes. We enjoy creating sites with complex web site architecture so that it can be presented to the visitor in a user-friendly way with content management systems Drupal and Joomla. Our site is

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JCD said...

Hello, haven't you heard? There is an economic crisis in our country for over a year now. Regardless, of how attractive sites are, most people are not spending, period.

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Steve| local seo said...

Yes, posting long articles make the visitors bored, keeping it short and interesting the best way to keep them stay longer and check more of your posts, right? Great post.e

Cindy said...

I definitely agree with you, keep the site simple and interesting and informative, like you have here.

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I would like to add two more things. It sucks if it doesn't have the Facebook social plugin and google +1 button.

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Seattle Non Profit Professional said...

I think you make some really good observations here. I work in the non profit world in Seattle, Washington. The largest weaknesses I have observed in a general resistance to integrating current efforts with proper technologies that would increase the efficiency and effective application of available, and restricted, financial and human resources. The method that most aplty describes what I have observed is what could be referred to as a 'seat of your pants' approach, that responds to crisis as they surface and fails to proactively plan for issues in an effective and thus sophisticated manner. Training is largely inappropriate for the work, and the candidates recruited are often ill prepared for the responsiblities faced. Metrics and data to better grasp the situation is avoided so that, and as a consequence, transparency is unavailable. Damage control, as a post hoc methodology, is emphasized over proactive strategic planing that is based on an honest and courageous evaluation of the challenges faced. As a result, the processes, policies, systems, and structures in place that are supposed to be supporting employee efforts, in teh pursuit of service quality, are inadequate and derailing.

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Anonymous said...

"Your website is your window to the world." I completely agree with this statement. You should have a website and it has to be professional and clean because if it's not, potential clients might get away.

Chris, the branding division

Anonymous said...

As an seo specialist, I must say that what is written here is all true. You should invest in creating a professional and optimized website if you want your customers reach you and your message conveyed to your target market.

Joseph Donaldson said...

I agree with all these reasons. Let me just add that your website may also fail if it's too company-focused, it's too complicated, or it's too generic. Joseph, Internet Marketing Product Reviews

Anonymous said...

For someone who's from the branding division, I would like to commend your article. These are indeed the reasons why a website sucks. Learn from these and create a professional, responsive, and effective website.

Claudia Goffe said...
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Carmen Babe said...

This year, your website be able to cope up with the trends or else, you will be left behind. Always go with the basics, SEO, responsiveness, and engagement. - thomas oldman seo

Frank Bowers said...

It's already 2016 and if your website still sucks, you better go to an expert. Perhaps, you're site is not mobile friendly. - Frank, from

Miriam Steve said...

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