Purpose Driven Sites – Nonprofits

There are many reasons to have a website. Sometimes those reasons are obvious and sometimes they are not. Today’s websites need not be static they are dynamic and can move and change to meet the evolving needs of the site owners and to justify the purpose for which the website exists.  Today’s websites can and do change, sometimes continually depending on the purpose of the site.

Often there are several reasons you have a website, there are several things you want your site to do. Still many times people place a site up and just leave it without looking hard at the reasons the site exists. Your website has a purpose, it may have many purposes, today more than ever understanding that purpose is critical to successful online marketing.

I have found that it helps clarify to the designer and to those who own the site to clearly state the main purpose of the site and list in order of priorities what the purpose(s) of the site is.

This can start out as a simple list in order of priority. I’ve found that after organizations do a bit of brainstorming the answers they come up with can help guide the site towards fulfilling the reason it exists.

To start the exercise you ask:

What is the main purpose of your website? 

Again this may seem to be obvious but it’s not always as obvious as it first appears. If you have a store and you sell widgets you might answer this question with “To sell widgets!”

If the site’s main purpose is to sell widgets then you design the site to make it easy and painless to get people to the checkout page where they pay for the widgets in their shopping cart.

Selling widgets is pretty specific but even with something as obvious as this example, further investigation often discovers that the real purpose is to sell widgets to people online or to sell to a younger crowd or to reach a new market.

Perhaps there are too many widget stores locally and to stay competitive and survive finding new markets is critical.

Understanding these purposes and forces will help determine the structure and the way a site is designed. There are many tools available today, from newsletters to social marketing, understanding what you want your site to do is critical in designing the site.

If you understand this you can start on the path towards building a purpose driven site.


Working with nonprofit organizations I often find that the site has many reasons to exist.  Many times when working with a nonprofit we start with a mission statement to clarify what the purpose of the site is, but often the organization has an annual event, or they want to collect donations, have a raffle, expand awareness of their mission, or even sell widgets!

Sometimes the mission statement reflects deep meaning for the organization but is not specific enough for designing the site.

Nonprofits can prove a challenge to the designer because there are often various purposes and expectations for the site and sometimes they change throughout the year.

Today’s website technologies provide a plethora of tools to help a website fulfill its purpose whatever that purpose may be. Deciding what is the most important mission of the site is critical to devising a strategy for your site.

In cases where there are different reasons and expectations for the website it’s easy to lose sight of what exactly the main purpose of the site is and thus the exercise of writing down a list and determining an order of priorities becomes very helpful.

Knowing the purpose of the site can help in deciding where elements go on the site’s pages, how you design your navigation, and what pages link to what resources.

Annual Events

If the main purpose of the site is to advertise an annual event then you design your user interface and social marketing program in a certain way. If however the main purpose of the site is to raise awareness in your community about your cause, then you will want to concentrate on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and other tools that help the site achieve this goal.

A website is a square amount of space that starts at the top of a screen and generally allows you to scroll down or sideways to reach other content.

The most important part of the site are the elements that you see ‘above the fold,’ that is the area of the site that is visible in the screen without having to scroll, i.e., the area you see when first arriving at the page. The most valuable real estate is the area above the fold on the home page. But the area above the fold is precious on any page. This content will determine if the user clicks through, signs up, or in our simple example buys a widget.

where visitors spend time reading - above the fold


Corporations spend millions of dollars designing what the end user sees in the area of the site that is ‘above the fold,’ so this area is generally dedicated to fulfilling the site’s purpose and everything from color to font is taken into consideration.

The area ‘above the fold’ is often the first impression you get to give to your site’s visitors and we all know the value of first impressions. So designing your website with purpose means you understand the value of content placement.

Dealing with different purposes

What happens if your purpose changes during the year?

Many times nonprofits who have annual events will change their home page during the year when the event takes place, in fact an organization may have one, two, or even three home pages during the year to meet different needs at different times.

For example during 7 months of the year the purpose of the site is to raise awareness or raise funds so the area above the fold on the home page reflects this during these months and at that time emphasis may be towards social networking, or distributing newsletters, or raising awareness through video or testimonies about success’s the organization has had.

Then 3 or 4 months prior to the annual event the site will change the home page to move the event information above the fold and make it prominent on the home page. Information about the event is not removed from the site but its location changes, similar to how a super market moves products in an aisle to make one brand easier to reach or be placed at eye level.

This is fairly easy to do and is often an effective way to help a site fulfill different but important purposes.

Today’s sites are dynamic and can move and flow reflecting the needs of the users and site owners. There is no steadfast rule that content cannot change locations on a page.

What is the purpose of my site?

Is a question only the website owners can answer, but it’s a very important question that requires a bit of thought and planning so that in the end you come up with a purpose driven site.

Example of a priority list

  1. To raise awareness of _____________
    1. To do this we will use video on our home page as video is powerful
    2. We will use images of _____
    3. We will tell stories about ______
    4. We will link to social networking sites to engage and begin a conversation
    5. We will provide a mobile applications that work on any screen to tell our story
  2. To raise money
    1. To raise money we will use Facebook advertising to drive users to a landing page that allows users to donate any amount painlessly via PayPal
    2. We will place a “Donate Now” button in the header of each page and tell the visitors to our site what their donations will do
    3. We will sell raffle tickets for a prize of some kind
  3. To promote an annual event
    1. Home page will feature information about the event 3 months before the event and one month after
    2. Featured speakers or events will be displayed prominently on the home page
    3. Event registration will be simple and easy
    4. Mobile signups are available
  4. To sell widgets
    1. Our shopping cart will be easy to navigate
    2. Our shopping cart will allow users to move items in and out easily and intuitively
    3. Testimonials about our Widgets will be on the home page above the fold
    4. Linking pages will show videos of how to use our widgets

Again, this step and the questions and answers you come up will vary according to your needs but this exercise can be very helpful in devising a design and strategy for your website.

Also it is common for nonprofit organizations to have priorities change throughout the year. Changing the home page or rearranging content is commonly used to meet needs that arise at various times of the year this exercise can help determine what pages are placed at what times of the year.