Attracting Donors and Volunteers on Non-Profit and Charity Websites

2nd Edition

Report PDF cover image

This 222-page report contains 116 guidelines for improving the design of non-profit and charity websites. We discuss how to design non-profit and charity websites to encourage donations and volunteering.

This report is based on empirical observations of actual user behavior as potential donors used a wide range of sites. In total, we tested 60 non-profit websites, chosen to cover a range of categories. Most of the sites represented major national non-profits, but we also tested some smaller, local charities.


How to achieve the goals of non-profit and charity websites

  • Presenting information to entice prospective donors to give money
  • Encouraging people to giving non-monetary (physical) items
  • Volunteering opportunities
  • Selling products on a non-profit organization's website
  • Representing a nonprofit in social media (Integrating local chapters with the national/international site)

Knowing the donor and their expected process

  • What donors want
  • What kills donations
  • Biggest deterrents when considering a donation
  • Online donors, when and why they make donations

Building trust through quality content

  • Prioritizing content, what must you say first
  • Critical content on non-profit and charity websites
  • How to present information clearly
  • Information people want to know before donating
  • Information that persuades people to donate

Usability design guidelines for specialized pages and tasks

  • Homepage
  • About the organization
  • Leadership, sponsors, and endorsements
  • News and events
  • Chapters and affiliates
  • Social media and interaction
  • Asking for monetary and non-monetary donations
  • Attracting volunteers
  • Fine-tuning the donation process
  • Donations vs. e-commerce transactions
  • Selling products
  • Maintaining a relationship with donors and  volunteers

What you get

  • Checklist of 116 specific design recommendations: review your website and your online donation and volunteering processes for these 116 items, and you will discover several things that need improvement.
    • The average website typically violates about half of our usability guidelines. You might have the one perfect site in the world that does everything right, but the odds are against you. It is safest to score your design against a checklist of usability guidelines to make sure you don't do anything wrong.
  • Description of how donors behave when using a wide variety of nonprofit sites, including extensive quotes (often colorful, because they were frequently annoyed). Learn from the users' comments and reactions to common design mistakes in the sites we tested.
  • The differentiating factors that caused site visitors to give their donations to one nonprofit instead of another in the same sector: both attractive features and donor-repellants are covered, based on the actual behavior of people while they were deciding where to give money.
  • 220 color screenshots of nonprofit pages with descriptions of why they worked well for donors or caused them problems in usability testing.
  • $100,000 of user research with donors at 0.2% of the cost; find out how real people behave when they use real nonprofit websites.
  • Test methodology description, allowing you to run your own user tests of your own design.

Non-profits, Charities, and NGOs Tested

Arts, Culture, and Humanities

  • Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • National Gallery of Art
  • New Hampshire Children's Museum
  • New Hampshire Historical Society
  • Pro Portsmouth Inc.
  • Wentworth-Gardner & Tobias Lear Houses


  • Cocheco Valley Animal Shelter
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Kitty Angels
  • MSPCA Angell
  • NEADS, National Education for Assistance Dog Services
  • Paws with a Cause
  • Wildlife Alliance

Development and Relief Services

  • Acumen Fund
  • Global Links
  • Heifer International
  • Hope for Haiti
  • International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
  • New Israel Fund


  • Children's Scholarship Fund
  • "I Have A Dream" Foundation
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • Saint Anselm's College
  • Specialist Schools and Academies Trust
  • University of New Hampshire


  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • The Conservation Fund
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Resource Renewal Institute
  • Sustainable Conservation


  • Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer's Association
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Heart Association
  • Beverly Hospital
  • Brain Aneurysm Foundation
  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Lymphoma Research Foundation
  • Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
  • Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis

Human Services

  • 4-H
  • Adoption Exchange
  • American Red Cross
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
  • Boys & Girls Club of America
  • Child Advocates
  • The Friends Program
  • Goodwill
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • New Hampshire Food Bank
  • Seacoast Family Food Pantry of New Hampshire
  • Stuffed Animals for Emergencies
  • Team Hoyt

Public Benefit

  • Bread for the World Institute
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America
  • United Way
  • Waterstone


  • The Interfaith Alliance Foundation
  • Mission America Coalition

Who Should Read This Report?

This report has important information for:

  • Anybody who is responsible for the design of a nonprofit or charity organization's website.
  • People in charge of the organization's communications strategy or Internet strategy.

What’s new in the 2nd Edition?

This 2nd edition contains additional recommendations, increasing from 58 to 116 guidelines. It includes new insight on how people compare charities on websites and social sites, find volunteer opportunities, and purchase products from non-profit sites.

Note: The 1st edition of this report was titled Donation Usability: 58 Design Guidelines for Improving the Donation Process and the Usability of Essential Information on Charity and Non-Profit Websites.

Research Method

The information in this report is based on two rounds of research using a one-on-one usability testing methodology during which prospective donors and volunteers tested 60 non-profit, charity, and association websites. The studies took place in the United States.



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