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Tips on Great Web-Site Design With Donors in Mind

The problems with most nonprofit Web sites today are too much text and not enough great visuals, said Ann-Laura Parks at last week’s AFP TechKnow conference in Orlando, Fla., hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Charities can go a long way to make their Web site more reader-friendly so potential donors can scan a page and quickly pick up whatever information they need.

For example, instead of using a lot words, Web sites should contain strong visual cues to guide donors. “You can use design to move a reader’s eye,” she says. “Good design means never having to say, ‘Click here.’ ”

As a graphic designer and artist—and director of development and communications at  South Arts, a nonprofit arts group in Atlanta—Ms. Parks constantly monitors how her organization’s Web site comes across to visitors and often looks at other charity sites. Some of the other design flaws she says plague nonprofit sites:

All capital letters. It’s hard to read if it goes on for more than six words.

Too much bold type. Reserve it for section headers so people can scan and read the parts they’re interested in.

Light type on a dark background. Use it in moderation and only with big, chunky fonts, which are easier to read than skinny ones.

Underlined text. It slows the reader down and reduces comprehension. Use it only for links.

Overuse of italics. Use just for emphasis.

Too many fonts on one page. Two fonts can add interest, but more than that can look messy and unprofessional.

As an example of great visual design, Ms. Parks points to Lighthouse International’s Web site. And its Accessible Design page offers free instructions, such as how to make text legible and use color effectively.

To make a site even better, Ms. Parks suggests presenting data and other information in a variety of ways using these free, easy-to-use tools, which charities can customize to their own needs:

  • Visual.ly. For infographics, to make data come alive.
  • Tableau Software. To create interactive graphics from uploaded spreadsheets, such as this example from South Arts about recent grants.
  • Animoto. To create polished videos in 15 minutes using photos and unedited videos.
  • Prezi. To build an animated slideshow that pans and zooms. Perfect for annual reports or advertisements for events.
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