Top 5 website mistakes Nonprofits make and how to avoid them

Nonprofit websites have a number of unique requirements - and challenges - to address in order to maximise their utility.

Nonprofit websites have a number of unique requirements to make them an effective tool for both users and the organisation. Equally, they have unique challenges when it comes to designing their websites. In this article we'll talk about five common mistakes nonprofits make with their websites and how you can avoid them to achieve digital excellence for your organisation.

A nonprofit's digital ecosystem is the collection of its websites and data platforms that enable the community to engage with the organisation online. This engagement can be to seek support, learn about the organisation, and importantly, to provide support through charitable giving in the form of online donation or fundraising. An effective, high-performing digital ecosystem is important for all organisations, however for nonprofits this is especially true.

In its simplest form, Digital Excellence is measured by the effectiveness of a nonprofit outward-facing digital systems and how these come together to help achieve an organisation’s mission.

There are three signals of Digital Excellence that are easily identified. These are

  1. One Digital Home with Everything – Is an organisation’s main website a functional, comprehensive destination that serves all needs, or is it just a brochure that leaks audience to a multitude of thirdparty platforms or ‘digital islands’? 
  2. Easy to Convert Intention to Action – Is it easy to convert ‘intention’ to ‘action’ on the organisation’s main website?
  3. Single Source of Truth – Is it possible to see the complete engagement history or a client or supporter in one place. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Single View of Client (or Donor)”.

Many nonprofits fail on some or all of these points, however there are also numerous examples of small and large nonprofits who have embraced digital excellence and are reaping the rewards. PIXO has identified 5 main pitfalls to avoid on the road to digital excellence.

#1. Digital Islands

#2. Data Silos

#3. Donor, I Know Thee

#4. The Grandparent Test

#5. Test and Learn 

#1 Digital islands

The most common and avoidable pitfall in the nonprofit sector is the prevalence of ‘digital islands’. A digital island is a standalone website (separate from an organisation's main website) that exists due to capability gaps with the organisations primary digital web environment. Common examples include: 

  • External donation sites 
  • External peer-to-peer fundraising platforms 
  • External event ticketing or registration sites 

Digital islands create a number of problems that can hurt a nonprofit’s ability to achieve their digital goals.

Audience leakage

Whilst there are many circumstances where linking  to an external site is appropriate, doing so for your audience to perform a core act of engagement results in unnecessary audience leakage and reduced exposure to key messages.

Loss of brand continuity

External sites, especially those used for donations, fundraising and ticketing, are almost impossible to brand with consistency. Worse, these sites will often co-brand and cloud your audience’s perception of who is providing the service.

Data formatting, ownership and integration

Using multiple, external platforms to support eCommerce flows such as donations and fundraising results in disparate data formats that are difficult to reconcile and almost impossible to import consistently into an organisation’s CRM or financial management system. This often results in a poor use of resources to maintain your valuable data, which inevitably hurts a nonprofits bottom line and their ability to give back to their community.

In some circumstances, external platforms retain ownership of donor data. This poses potential donor privacy issues, as well as depriving your organisation of valuable data that can be used to better serve you audiences.


Nonprofit with many digital islands can allow these environments to decay over time (for example old campaign, event or fundraising activities) with little or no regard for ensuring ongoing data security management. As a nonprofit, you rely on the support of your community, and if security breaches occur that trust can be eroded.

PIXO recently helped Cystic Fibrosis Community Care, a national nonprofit organisation, consolidate its main website and 5 separate external platforms into one, consolidated main website. This consolidation improved audience retention eliminated the need for standalone tools for donations, event ticketing and fundraising.

#2 Data Silos

Many nonprofits are familiar with the problems associated with data silos. Typically, these manifest as dozens of separate spreadsheets of contact and donor data, often with overlapping information gathered from different systems over time. 

Data silos are the enemy of ‘Single Source of Truth’ data store and are solved by standardising on the way contact and donor data is gathered and integrated with an organisation’s CRM. Unfortunately, integration projects can be expensive and time consuming. Expense increases as more systems are introduced into the ecosystem. 

Data silos can be avoided by focussing on three priorities for any size nonprofit:

1.  Reduce the different ways data is captured to as few systems as possible

2.  Commit to a CRM early, such as Salesforce with the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP)

3.  Invest in integration between the website and CRM, and leverage this integration religiously across all data gathering opportunities

PIXO recently helped Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation collapse over 80,000 contact records distributed across dozens of spreadsheet into a single CRM, and created a real-time, API data integration between its websites, CRM, and email marketing systems

#3 Donor, I know thee not

A consequence of digital islands and data silos is lack of usable, donor intelligence. This creates two main problems for nonprofits:

1.  Inability to make informed decisions around campaigns and fundraising programs due to poor or incomplete historical data.

2.  Inability to personalise in a meaningful way donor communication and asks.

On the second point in particular, there is a broad marketing shift toward hyper-personalisation. People expect organisations to know enough about them to tailor messaging, especially if the relationship is long established. For many nonprofit organisations, tailoring communication with donors often stops after the first name. Communications and ‘asks’ are often identical regardless of a donor’s level of engagement, giving history, or value to the organisation. Effective personalisation acknowledges a donor’s unique value and interest, and this can only be accomplished through integration of digital systems and good data hygiene practices

As an example, PIXO recently helped build a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, Frocktober, where both fundraisers and donors were acknowledged for their history of participation and prompted to fundraise with individually tailored asks based on their giving and fundraising history. This program helped boost revenue (in the midst of COVID-19) by 23% compared to the previous year’s results.

#4 The Grandparent Test

Whilst the pitfalls highlighted thus far relate to data, a key indicator of digital excellence is passing ‘The Grandparent Test’. The grandparent test focussed on the end user experience, sometimes referred to as ‘UX’, and how easy it is to perform critical tasks. The Grandparent Test goes like this

Step 1: Identify the three most important things a website should performs. Frequently, these are tasks like getting in touch, making a donation, registering for an event, or creating a fundraising page. 

Step 2: Next, write these tasks on a piece of paper, hand it to the least tech-savvy person you know (often this is a grandparent, but we try not to be ageist!), and ask them to complete the tasks on an PC, iPad or phone loaded with the home page of your website

Step 3: If this person completes the task effectively, you’ve passed the Grandparent Test and you can have confidence in the UX of your website. Failing the Grandparent Test means website usability is suboptimal and resulting in lost engagement and conversions of key asks. 

#5 Test and Learn

Digital Excellence is not achieved overnight, regardless of the size of the nonprofit or the level of investment. Digital Excellence is achieved through building an engagement baseline, testing new ideas, gathering data, and iterating. A common scenario PIXO encounters is “How do I know if my donate page is performing at its best?” There is no right answer to this question as each nonprofit's audience will respond differently to a donation page’s layout, content and key asks. Answering this question and improving donation page conversions requires a structured ‘test and learn’ framework where:

Test and learn framework

Step 1: A baseline conversion statistic is established. For example, this might be 12% of all visitors to a donate page make a successful donation.

Step 2: Make a change, such as a new page layout, with the aim of improving a data-based outcome, such as the conversion rate of the donation page in points 1.

Step 3: Data is gathered on the new conversion statistic over a period of time and assessed. If, for example, conversions improve to 14%, the test is a ‘success’ and used for other donation workflows through the website.

Many nonprofit organisations lack a structured ‘test and learn’ framework for their digital environment and rely on creative and content that ‘looks good’ but is not analysed with any rigour. This exposes nonprofits to ongoing digital investment without a clear sense of cause and effect, and little ability to improve over time.

So how does my nonprofit avoid these mistakes?

One stop website

PIXO recommends a nonprofit organisation's main website brings together content management along with a full suite of eCommerce capabilities designed for nonprofit organisations. These capabilities should encompass:

  • Content Management 
  • Donations & Regular Giving
  • Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
  • Event Registration and Ticketing 
  • Campaigns and Appeals 
  • Online Shop 
  • Membership  

At a functional level, by integrating these capabilities into a single site, nonprofits can avoid unnecessary audience leakage and ensure data ownership and privacy is fully controlled by the organisation.

Constituent Management System (CRM)

Along with your website, we recommend using industry leading CRM platforms, such as Salesforce with the Nonprofit Success Pack, as a platform that enables ease of data integration and a consolidated ‘Single Source of Truth’ datastore. Selecting a website platform that integrates natively with your CRM enables a zerotouch approach to data integration, and creates the foundation for superior, personalised engagement.

Marketing automation systems

Once supporter data is reliably captured and stored, it can be segmented and integrated into email automation platforms that enables personalised, relevant communication. The days of mass, impersonal email blasts are over. Using marketing automation platforms, such as Ortto, gives you access to powerful yet affordable email automation that integrates seamlessly with both CRM and website systems. Marketing automation tools enable the creation of email ‘journeys’ that are informed by the CRM contact data, and also support ‘Smart Segments’ so that contacts with similar attributes (e.g., first time donors) can be grouped to receive relevant communications that encourage the next logical action (e.g. become a regular donor).

Always on analytics

Tools that gather data on audience engagement and action are required to support an organisation’s test and learn program. PIXO recommends free, industry leading analytics software such as Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager to support data collection and analysis. Whilst most websites do have Google Analytics operating in the background, thoughtful configuration of these tools is required to extend analysis beyond the basics of “How many people visited my site” to answer better questions, such as “What did people read that triggered them to make a donation for our End of Financial Year appeal.” 

Want to learn more?

Call, email, or send us an online message to learn more about growing your nonprofit through digital excellence.

Written by
Matthew Foster
Digital Marketing Lead

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