How to Build a Focused, User-Friendly Website for Your Community Foundation

As a community foundation, you serve a wide variety of audiences. Learn to optimize your website to best communicate with them all.

April 14th Articles 6 min read
How Cosmic helps community foundations balance Website

By Eric Ressler

Like the organizations they represent, community foundation websites have many jobs to do. They must convey important information to a range of different audiences, from donors and grant writers to local nonprofits and students seeking scholarships. They must help each audience quickly locate the information they need. And they must also tell compelling, emotional stories that inspire people to get involved by making a donation, housing an endowment, or initiating a planned giving project.

As far as websites go, that’s a pretty tall order.

So it comes as no surprise that many community foundation websites are more convoluted than clear. But just because poorly designed community foundation websites are common doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. You see, your community foundation’s website serves as the first major touchpoint for many potential donors and investors, nonprofit organizations, media, and others. If it causes confusion, your foundation won’t be as effective in furthering its mission of supporting the local community.

Here’s what you can do to ensure that your community foundation’s website is clear, impactful, and effective — for all of your many audiences.

One Website, Many Audiences: What Goes Wrong with Community Foundation Websites

Your community foundation’s key stakeholders include individual donors, financial advisers, nonprofits, local organizations and institutions, community members, students, and so on. Your website must speak clearly and directly to each of these groups. Of course, that all adds up to a lot of content. For example, your website will likely include the following elements (among other things):

  • Information about how to make a charitable donation or set up a fund
  • Information for investors, professional advisors, and current donors, including a possible donor portal
  • Information for nonprofits, individuals, students, and other groups who want to apply for a grant or scholarship
  • Educational resources for nonprofits
  • Financial reporting and other legally required disclosures
  • Information about what your community foundation does, the people and projects you support, and your impact in the community
  • Details about community foundation-sponsored events and round tables, as well as space rentals and other convening-type activities
  • A compelling brand story that ties it all together
  • With so many non-negotiable functional components, you face two immediate problems. First, your website’s navigation is at risk of becoming overly complicated and hard to navigate. And second, your overarching story could all too easily end up buried beneath a mountain of pragmatic details. Both of these problems will only mount over time as you add fresh content to your website to address new needs and programs.

    To make matters worse, while most community foundations have a keen sense of their mission and vision, they often lack a strong brand. This typically means there’s no clear communication strategy to back up the foundation’s mission and drive decisions about how to structure the website. If your community foundation doesn’t have a well-defined brand, that may be the root cause of your website woes.

How to Design a Stronger, More Effective Community Foundation Website

Whether you’re building a brand new website or revamping your existing site, it’s critical that you design your community foundation’s website to be clear, informative, and — perhaps above all — reflective of your brand. In our work with community foundations, we have found the following tactics to be essential in crafting a successful website.

  1. Begin with an audit. If your community foundation already has an existing website that is content-rich, then your first step is to audit the existing content on your website. Is there any content that should be preserved as-is? What about content that’s still relevant but needs to be updated or revised? Finally, which content items are no longer relevant and can be jettisoned? Once you’ve done that, you can rework your information architecture to produce a streamlined and simplified user experience.
  2. Conduct target audience interviews. If you haven’t already conducted target audience interviews, now is the time to do so. This will enable you to streamline and solidify who your website speaks to and what it conveys. In addition, because you almost certainly have several target audiences, you will need to determine a hierarchy. Who is the site geared toward, and in what order? This doesn’t mean neglecting the needs of any stakeholders. But it does mean prioritizing the needs of your various audiences and structuring your website accordingly.
  3. Make your website about the people you serve. Your website should absolutely communicate your brand. But it shouldn’t really be about you. It should be about the people and organizations and community you serve. By keeping these external stakeholders top of mind, you can make smarter decisions about how to structure your website.
  4. Develop a content strategy. Make sure your content strategy can be maintained by your internal team. This includes writing, photography, and reporting responsibilities. In addition, work with your internal team to determine which pieces of your website’s content will be evergreen and which will need to be updated frequently. Be sure to realistically assess your team’s ability to create ongoing, dynamic content. Now, apply those decisions to your site’s information architecture, site map, and content strategy.
  5. Plan for content obsolescence. Keep in mind that your website will grow and evolve over time. If you aren’t careful, it might slowly revert back to its old, unruly form. Moving forward, you’ll need to be intentional about what content you put up on your site — and which content remains on the site. Plan to assess your site’s content on a rolling basis and remove any content that is outdated or no longer relevant.
  6. Don’t forget imagery. You must include a budget for professional photographs or imagery, whether that comes from a photographer or another source. Remember: images aren’t a one-and-done project. You’ll need to collect or create new images on a semi-regular basis for your website and other communications, like emails and social media.
  7. Nail your donation user experience. You’ll need to work out a donation flow for the website, including communication around what types of funds and monies you are raising. You will likely also need to integrate with a donor platform solution, so make sure you have someone on your web development team who understands the technical implications.
  8. Create an ongoing promotion strategy to drive people to your website. It’s not enough to build a website — even a really excellent one. You will also need to put together an ongoing promotional strategy to draw your key audiences to your website. This should include both outbound (email and ads) and inbound (content strategy and organic search) marketing efforts.

Want to learn more about how we work with community foundations to design their websites and refine their brands? We’d love to talk.

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