The web is an increasingly crowded place. Getting your message out in the sea of other website and connecting with potential volunteers and donors is becoming increasingly difficult. That isn’t even counting the other forms of media that fill our eyes each day. While there is no silver bullet to slaying the perfect website dragon, there are several best practices that can make your nonprofit website stand out and speak up.

Best Practices

1. Be Professional

This is huge. There are so many websites out there, even outside the nonprofit world, that are simply ugly. They could have been designed by the founders six-year-old. We aren’t in the 90’s anymore where any old design will do. Today, visitors expect clean design, well written copy and images that aren’t clip art. While great design can be quite expensive, it doesn’t have to be.

Nonprofits on a tight budget can take advantage of things like well coded, well designed templates. While I believe that every professional should be adequately compensated for their time and experience, there are many options and those that will work with agencies and nonprofits to find a solution that will fit within your budget. By choosing a strong design and staying away from outdated ideas, you can use this best practice to leap ahead of a large percentage of the websites out there.

2. State Your Mission Quickly and Clearly

One of the most frustrating things that I often see on the web is that while the design of the website is beautiful, I have no idea what the organization or company does. That full screen video playing in the background is beautiful and trendy, but it doesn’t tell me what you are trying to do in the world.

You want your site’s visitors to know exactly who you are and what you do as quickly as possible. This is more important than your pretty picture or that catchy headline or your latest tweet. So make your site’s structure make sense and present the most important information at the top. You’ll thank me later.

3. Stay Updated

Keeping content, imagery, and events on your website up to date is imperative. No one likes to visit a website trying to find when an event is only to see the last event listed is from eight months ago. If you aren’t going to keep your blog updated, don’t have one. It isn’t worth the negative reaction that you are going to cause.

Another piece of this is that you must have reliable hosting  and keep your software and applications up to date. Keep CMSes like WordPress updated and make sure your web host is installing security patches for server applications. It is your job to make sure both you and your website are following best practices in all areas.

4. Keep It Positive

Don’t be negative. Just don’t do it. While it might seem easy or smart to attack the competition or point out a competitor’s flaws, it ends up making you look pitiful and could bring legal ramifications. Positive, encouraging messages as well as strong relationships with peers in your industry can forge powerful bonds and create new opportunities in the future.

5. Trust is key

In the end, trust is the key ingredient for a great online experience for any visitor. They are only going to interact and communicate if they trust your message, your mission and your voice. So make sure you pay close attention to issues both with security and messaging. Deal with problems immediately and with patience and understanding. Maintain a cool head when interacting with detractors and keep records and logs that can help you track down potential issues.

While there are many more best practices that can help your nonprofit succeed online, this list provides a solid foundation to getting your message heard and your platform established. I’d love to hear what others you have found that have been essential to your success!