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Why the Best Nonprofit Websites Focus on Strong Brand Strategy

Approx 6 min. read

Gabriella Cane

March 24, 2022

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graphic design of people holding a ladder to break the gap between two cliffs

Being not for profit does not mean not for brand.

In fact, successfully building and marketing your brand is invaluable when it comes to garnering sponsorships, volunteers, and the ultimate goal–expanding awareness for your cause. Mission, vision, and values are important for any brand, but non-profit organizations rightfully put this on a pedestal as they serve up their cause.

Brand engagement is significantly more challenging when you are marketing a cause, this is why brand strategy is so important for your nonprofit organization. Brand strategy is the best way to engage your competitive advantage and carve out your place in a sea of just causes. Nonprofit brand strategy is the key to building a basis of trust and loyalty for your visual identity. Conveying this initially via a well-executed website gives you the platform to create an exponential awareness, seek out volunteers and support networks, and boost financial support.

Your nonprofit brand is the story you are telling the world. Communicating your mission and having public access to exactly what you stand for is the first step in managing your unique niche of branding. Whatever your cause, your brand should become synonymous. Because this is not a market for profit businesses, the instant gratification from a good or service does not apply.

Your audience can be easily side-tracked and disconnected. It is connection you must seek, and connection you must sustain to promote that urgency to engage and set a foundation (or donate dollars and time).

Tips for Nonprofit Branding

1. The How and the Why

"In 1980, Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever." (Komen.org) This is the how and why of Susan G. Komen, a Goliath when talking about Breast cancer advocacy. There are a sea of cancer-related organizations, but having a powerful "how and why" calls to people. A mother, a sister, a coworker, a spouse–many of us are touched somehow. The fight can get personal, it should be personal.

2. Vision and Values So Clear They Resonate

Your values are your guiding beliefs, your vision is your hope for the future, and your mission is how you mean to get there. Charity: Water is a great example of just how powerful clarity in this can be. The name immediately evokes a sense of mission. There aren't paragraphs of "why," because there does not need to be. Millions of people lack a basic necessity to life–water. Values: We all deserve clean water. Vision: an end to the water crisis. "Help bring clean and safe water to every person on the planet." (Charity: Water)

How could that not resonate?

3. Consistency Across Platform

One more time for the people in the back: your nonprofit is a brand. Having consistent messaging across all your platforms is where brand systems come into play. Think logo, color, tone, layout. For example the MS Society is one of many organizations that employs color for identity. Orange is the official color of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month (March). It is also the official color of the MS Society. To be honest we aren’t sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but this is what we mean about being synonymous.

Something as simple as a congruent color palette is a winning ticket for brand awareness. In their words the orange triangle of their logo brings a sense of hope and forward momentum, consistent messaging by way of geometry. One of their values is “We act with urgency.” The color orange speaks to just that.

4. Be clear where the money goes

Being accountable and transparent when it comes to your finances is paramount. Looking at Charity Water’s site there is a direct link to “see our financials.” Knowing your dollars are actually getting through to the cause, aka trusting a nonprofit, is at the heart of fundraising. Allowing your paper trail to be accessible and transparent builds this trust.

5. Educate!

Education is important for a multitude of reasons when it comes to nonprofit organizations. Education is the bedrock of establishing trust, making sure employees are on the same page and implementing organizational strategy to galvanize support. Education is the only way to grow your target audience and get down to the true purpose of your nonprofit's work. Educate on your cause, educate how to get involved, how to donate, how your organization is having direct impacts. Financial support is important in most cases, but having the platform to spread awareness whether through marketing campaigns, visual elements, or social media is at the end of the day serving your mission and vision.

4 Nonprofit Website Examples to Inspire

Here are some examples of nonprofit websites that get it right.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

For each issue we work on, we fund innovative ideas that could help remove barriers. Some of the projects we fund will fail. We not only accept that, we expect it—because we think an essential role of philanthropy is to make bets on promising solutions that governments and businesses can’t afford to make. As we learn which bets pay off, we adjust our strategies and share the results so everyone can benefit.

Screenshot showing a nonprofit working and a thumb being scanned for lunch


The landing page is a stark bright white with their mission in black italic running across the screen:

We are a nonprofit fighting poverty, disease, and inequity around the world.

It is the first thing you see before your eyes then dart to the stunning visuals and powerful statistics. As you click through the links each new page has a full screenshot or video so vivid it grips you. The foundation does an excellent job placing emphasis on education with real case studies and engaging blog posts. The ease of navigation through the site makes manifest this idea of “breaking barriers” that is at the heart of their call to action.

Black Girls CODE (BGC)

Radical action is needed if we are to close the opportunity gap for Black women and girls.

The web designers for BGC knew what they were doing. It is vibrant, artistic, emotionally charged and nothing short of inspiring. Bright like the future BCG is actively working to make a reality for girls of color in tech. Larger than life statistics showcasing the stark reality of gender inequality that is even more pervasive for women of color.

Key part of black girls code with a girl saying the future looks like her

BCG also gets the creation story right, making the issues personal, relatable, and inspiring. The site does a great job at making donations and volunteering really accessible. There are four direct action points available to click to get involved. Clear delineation of their volunteer needs and the different events available to partake really speaks to the inclusivity of this beautiful organization.

 

School and State Finance Project

Our staff is the heartbeat of our organization. What started as three individuals working around a lone 6-foot table has grown into a thriving, diverse staff of a dozen committed individuals who work each and every day to move Connecticut forward through more equitable education funding and state finance policies.

nonprofit organizations website split into three columns that share news on Connecticut School and State Finance

The School and State Finance Project (SSFP) is a local based organization, and their website is simple, clear, and user-centric. They advise on educational policy in the state of Connecticut as a trusted partner with communities and stakeholders alike. They stand by the values of transparency and approachability and that is clearly mirrored throughout the site design. Clearly stated mission and goals with consistent messaging echoes this.


Campfire Circle

Childhood cancer changes lives, so does camp.

Creating fun and joy for children with cancer and their families seems like a pretty tall order, but Campfire Circle is a year-round community that strives to do just that. The branding and colors match the name and what they do. Their links to impact reports go back to Day 1 and are pages of color-filled images and stories of children and families who have been helped through the years.

campfire circle's, in the nonprofit sector, logo and organized page about recording

Something interesting about Campfire circle is that it is undergoing a name change. They have a support site dedicated to the smoother transition to their new name and brand. All the information is accessible along with a Q&A link. Name changes can be really tough to navigate especially when they are tied to funding and a cause where time is the usual currency for clout. Campfire circle gets this right.


CS Dental Foundation

We are all in this together for the patients we treat, the students we cultivate, and the great community we serve. Compassion and ethics guide us not only to do what is right, but also to put others before ourselves.

Nonprofit branding for CSDF showing a strong brand with purple and a woman in a lab coat who is a dentist in the hero

The CSDF site is clear and concise. They clearly define who they are in four short statements with matching visuals. The foundation does an excellent job with building connections. Easy links to get in touch via multiple platforms and then distilling it for specific needs such as seeking funding or providing donation.

Consistent messaging and transparently communicating its connection to the Connecticut Dental Association helps establish CSDF as part of a family and gives them access to a wider audience. They tastefully and clearly delineate themselves as “the charitable arm” while establishing their own web identity.

Strong Nonprofit Brand

Top-notch nonprofit websites should effectively communicate the value of your mission with an intuitive interface. Your nonprofit brand is more than aesthetic elements, rather the user experience dictates whether or not your audience is able to form a lasting connection to you and your cause. Flexible scalable design that grows with you, clear and concise “call to actions,” and streamlined navigation are key. Harness the power of primal branding to maximize your potential. Implement your brand strategy across all of your platforms and watch your audience engage and expand.


Your brand strategy and the way you communicate your nonprofit's brand online matters. Your brand is more than any one single visual identity or element. Yes, it is important to state who and what you are, but the key to connection is how your audience experiences this. Leaving this to chance, you risk missing out on shaping this conversation. Volunteers and donor dollars are important, but so is awareness. You serve a cause, but a well-designed and thoughtful web site with a strong strategy serves a purpose.

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