Nonprofit Credibility: Does Your Website Help or Hurt?

Do you look at other nonprofit websites and think yours pales in comparison? Once that seed of doubt is planted, you’ll inevitably arrive at an alarming thought, “Is our website hurting the way that people look at us?” No one wants to put their nonprofit credibility on the line, especially when they’re already working hard for the mission.

The reality is that your website—much like other public-facing parts of your organization—can offer immediate ease or send people running in the other direction. Building trust is important as you work to build your supporter base. And when it comes to websites, there are some immediate ways of doing this through both design and content.

There are also some strategic things to do to make your site authoritative and trustworthy in the eyes of search engines, but we cover that in a separate post.

Nonprofit Credibility, One Page at a Time

When someone wants to check if a charity is legitimate, they’ll probably be directed to a few standard places: the organization’s website, its financial records, and an external review or certification site, like GuideStar. But what are people looking for on your website that will make them trust you and prove your nonprofit credibility? Here’s what we recommend.

A simple and conversational writing style

Having a professional-looking site is great, but offering approachable content is just as important if you want visitors to fully grasp who you are and what you do. Writing conversationally is a foundational piece of building trust and giving your nonprofit a unique voice.

Information about your leadership

You don’t need to include a headshot and bio for every staff person and board member, but you should have a place on your website where the people leading your organization are mentioned by name and title. If you can include photos, even better! It adds accountability and shows real people putting their name and careers behind your organization.

A way to contact someone directly

It’s tempting to put up a contact form and have visitors send messages into the abyss, but providing a way to directly contact a staff or board member adds to your nonprofit credibility. Consider adding contact information for specific programs or services to gather feedback and be transparent.

Easily accessible financial documents

The Financials page is a part of every website structure conversation we have with clients. Give visitors (especially donors, grantmakers and journalists) easy access to the documentation and reports that show you’re a well-run, organized and active organization.

Proof that you make an impact

Financials don’t give the whole picture. What about all the good you’re doing in the world? Whether you provide stats about your services, share case stories about the people you impact or fill your site with photos of your mission in action, it’s vital to communicate what donations do exactly.

Third-party validation and social proof

When someone is researching your organization, they want to know what others have to say. It’s a way to validate that you are who you claim to be. You can control some of this on your website by sharing testimonials, featuring partners, and including any seals of approval or certifications.

Responsive design that displays properly

Oh yes, how your website looks is still important for nonprofit credibility. Not because you need something super modern or expensive—but because it needs to function well if you want people to trust you enough to share their contact information (or credit cards). This means a responsive design that displays well on all devices. And a smooth, secure donor flow.

Realistic and compelling images

I’m sure there are some organizations out there with really nice graphics and illustrations on their website. And some types of missions make it difficult to use real images, like when working with vulnerable populations. But peppering in high-quality photos, even if they are stock images, helps build a human connection with your cause.

An active blog with a purpose

If you can keep up with a blog, posting timely updates about the work your nonprofit is doing and why reinforces your legitimacy. If you don’t have the time to post at least monthly, visitors could be disappointed by the lack of activity. Use an editorial calendar to stay on track and plan your topics.

Expert, vetted sources of information

No matter if it’s a blog post or a page about the issues that your nonprofit addresses, try to back up your content with high quality sources when you can. Link to vetted publications, reports and official data sources. You’ll validate the story you’re telling while also doing a little search engine optimization with external links.

Leverage Credibility to Boost Engagement and Donations

Strengthening your nonprofit credibility is a key step before focusing on big picture goals like raising awareness and money. Whether you’re planning to update your current website or are considering if it’s time to make a new one, keep credibility top of mind. It will influence your decisions from the very start, including choosing a website partner.

At the end of the day, the more credible you look, the better job you do signaling to potential supporters, partners or program participants that you’re ready for them to take the next step. If you find that you’re not ticking off all of the tips we’ve shared, it’s time to do a little housekeeping.

What things have you seen on nonprofit websites that help or hurt their sense of legitimacy? Did we miss anything in our list of things to boost nonprofit credibility online? I hope you’ll share in the comments below.