Wildlife. Water. Habitat. Climate Change. The work of environmental nonprofits takes many forms across the globe. But when it comes to creating compelling websites, these organizations share unique obstacles and opportunities.
In some cases, making your cause relevant to a wide audience is a battle. (I worked in grassland conversation in mountain states. I’ve been there.) Other times it’s difficult to explain the value of your mission or a pressing issue in light of other things happening in the world.
Make sure that your nonprofit’s website is up to the fight.
Website Content Tips
I’ve compiled nine website tips for environmental nonprofits that you can use on your existing website or when you’re getting ready to make a new one. Help your site stand out from the crowd and offer outstanding value to your supporters.
Create a logical website structure
Many organizations make their first mistakes in their website structure, or how the pages are named and organized. Some will try to mimic their internal structure as an organization, which isn’t helpful to visitors. Or, they will try to group information for different audiences, which doesn’t allow for people to exist in multiple categories, like Donor and Scientist.
Instead, look for ways to put your pages into big buckets of like-things and forget about putting your most important pages front and center. For example, it might make sense to organize pages by the locations where you work, different animal species or by specific issues—regardless of how you work in these areas as a staff.
Use action-oriented imagery
While not every photo on your website needs to be cheery, don’t forget to create some balance between images of problems with images of what success looks like. Consider using before and after comparisons when possible, or showing artist renditions of the result you’re working toward.
By including visuals that are inspiring and show the results of positive action, you offer a more complete narrative for your website visitors. And it might just motivate them to click over to your Get Involved page or online donation form.
From connecting with the eyes of a grizzly bear, seeing a herd of elk on the move as they migrate, reacting to a child seeing an insect through a microscope for the first time or a moose emerging from water after feeding on lake-bottom vegetation, compelling photos inspire and engage people and help them get involved in the Yellowstone to Yukon landscape or just to appreciate the great outdoors. They’re not just photos, they’re a vital part of communicating the work we do and successes we have.Kelly Zenkewich, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
Propose solutions along with challenges
Just like the photos you choose, pair information about the problems you’re working to solve with details about how you’re planning to address them. Even if the next steps are out of reach, like a major overhaul of federal legislation, you can show your credibility and expertise by mapping out a path to success.
In practice, this could mean building strong internal links between pages about the issues and your programs. Also consider weaving in calls to action that encourage visitors to take the next step, like reaching out to their elected officials.
Focus on accessible, user-friendly language
Chances are you’ve already run into a situation where someone on your team wants to use highly technical terms to describe your work. While that might be fine for a subset of your audience, it’s probably alienating everyone else. Most people don’t want to read a report that sounds like it’s fresh off the professor’s desk, and journalists could have a hard time wading through complicated analysis in order to spread the word.
Write or rewrite your website content with the average visitor in mind, and choose page names that aren’t loaded with acronyms. Finding multiple ways of describing your work in terms that everyone can understand (and will want to read) is good for recruiting new supporters and could also help your content show up more in search results. Get more tips in our beginner’s guide to website content.
Talk about your impact in human terms
It can be hard to center your supporters when talking about the ways you work to conserve an ecosystem or animal. (Especially if humans are to blame for the current situation.) But a good fundraiser will tell you that it’s a crucial part of engaging donors and getting them to give again and again. People need to feel like they are a part of your success.
If your nonprofit website includes an Impact page, weave in examples of how your organization is making a difference for human lives or surrounding communities. You could also develop stories about the people who make your mission possible or share user-generated content from supporters who celebrate your wins.
Try interactive maps to communicate scale
Online maps aren’t only for environmental nonprofits, but there are many reasons why they can be a good fit for organizations working across multiple sites, like land conservancies or water policy advocates. In addition to showcasing specific project sites, interactive maps provide a different way for people to visualize change over time and complex data sets.
Thankfully there are a lot of great (and inexpensive) options out there for building interactive maps that don’t require a lot of digital skills. Start simple with a Google Map or look into more robust solutions like Mapbox. I’m also a fan of ArcGIS StoryMaps if you want to create a more immersive experience.
Leverage a blog to offer insights and inspiration
Websites for environmental nonprofits, just like those for large social services organizations, often struggle with how to keep supporters in the loop, share program news, and provide the latest resources. It can be time-consuming to continually update website content about your programs and evolving issues. And that’s where a blog comes in handy.
Publishing blog posts gives you an easy platform for communicating what’s happening with a wide range of audiences. In addition to sharing organizational news, your posts can take different forms, like interviews with experts, new report summaries, photo galleries, and thought leadership pieces that comment on the big picture. Plus, you can then share your blog content across other platforms like social media and email.
Provide virtual ways for people to connect
Your supporters might never see or experience your work in person, but that doesn’t mean they can’t engage with your mission in meaningful ways. Technology makes it easier than ever to connect people virtually anywhere, whether that means sending a basic email newsletter, recording podcasts or offering video tours. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a live wildlife webcam?
Before you get too far out there with ideas, prioritize the interests and preferences of your target audience personas (and what you can pull off). You don’t have to go big – maybe start a Facebook Group or offer an online volunteer opportunity. Whatever direction you choose, keep it mission-centric and use your website as a hub to promote virtual opportunities.
Don’t forget about financials
If your site doesn’t have a Financials page, it’s time to get on that. Sharing information about your organization’s spending and oversight is an important part of building credibility in the eyes of donors and funders.
But more than that, having a page dedicated to finances, annual reports, audits, certifications and more is a chance to explain things about your work that are different from other kinds of charities. For example, donors caught up in overhead or administrative expenses (which I think we can all agree isn’t the most helpful metric) might need to hear what those funds are used for in your specific case, like owning or managing property.
Environmental Nonprofits With Great Websites
So what does a stellar environmental nonprofit website look like? Here are some of my favorites and why they are useful examples as you look to up-level your web presence.
For a website structure that’s deceptively simple, check out how NRDC organizes content about their work, people, stories and more.
Looking for ways to feature supporters and the human element? The Ocean Conservancy does a good job of making a link between the issues and how people can make a difference.
If you’re sitting on a treasure trove of great imagery, see how the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative puts their photos to good use across the site.
Blogging doesn’t have to be boring or be limited to a single perspective. Just look at the Columbia Land Trusts’s Fearless Voices series.
It’s not always easy to provide background on environmental issues in a digestible way without sacrificing accuracy. Fauna & Flora International does an excellent job offering content that educates about conservation challenges while not leaving out the ways that people can help.
Making effective website content for environmental nonprofits means transforming your mission into an online portal for people to explore. If you provide multiple pathways for them to engage, and make it easy for them to get around, your website will do a much better job serving your organizational goals.
Know any conservation nonprofits with great website content? Or, if you work at an environmental nonprofit, what challenges are you facing with your website? See you in the comments!