Nonprofit Website Redesign = Identity + Brain

A new mindset is needed when you redesign your nonprofit organization’s website. This new mindset will help you establish your strategy as you approach redesigning your website. The truth is this strategy extends way past your website into all your systems you use for marketing, communications, and fundraising.

Many organizations previously viewed their website as only an online version of their organization’s brochure with some linked static pages and a donate button. Those days are over and you must now view your website as a dynamic place for engagement and transactions around your mission.

Breaking The 'Brochureware' Mindset - BackOffice Thinking

“Constituent User Interface” or CUI

You may still call it a Website, but as nonprofit leaders you need to think of it as a “Constituent User Interface”. As a designer and solution architect that is how I think of them to help put myself in the right frame of mind.

Maybe you’ve heard of CMS, CRM, EMS, UI, UX, maybe even GUI, but for nonprofits, I want you to start thinking about CUI -- Constituent User Interface.

I use this term because it helps me understand in a more holistic and clear way of what is being designed. We are designing an interface between an organization’s constituents and the organization and its people and its systems. It will be the central and most accessible place for humans all over the planet to learn, engage, interact, and transact with your nonprofit. It can’t be just a one-way, word-focused, bullhorn communication tool you maintain on the web. It must be a two-way interactive, multimedia, conversation space that is interconnected with all your systems and staff. In other words, it is an interface where they can interact and transact with your systems and databases in an easy, direct, and useful way.

First Impressions in Marketing and Fundraising

This CUI will be your potential donor’s or member’s first impression of your nonprofit organization. The user experience (UX) of your website will be a positive and effective one...or not, depending on how much thought, effort, and time you give to designing it.

First impressions get you to the next impression, which can lead you to the engagement and transactions you need to survive. So needless to say, that first impression is critical.

I warn you, don’t skip strategy and design in a rush to get something online. The objective is not just “get something up”, but rather build a place for making strong first impressions and lasting engagement.

Developing Your Interface

In developing your website, or as we are now thinking, our organization’s Constituent User Interface, we are going to focus on 2 primary areas:

  • Your Organizations Identity - BackOffice Thinking Your Organization's Identity
  • Your Organizations Brain - BackOffice Thinking Your Organization’s Brain

Your Identity

The identity of your nonprofit organization is made up of three components: Brand, Message, & Story. All 3 things need to be in place and thought of at a strategic level for effective communications, marketing, and fundraising.

Your Identity - BackOffice Thinking


In today’s world, effective branding is extremely important in helping to cut through the noise. Technology and the Internet have created the ability for anyone and everyone to “broadcast” to the world. This has created a lot of chatter or noise that can get in the way of nonprofits that want to communicate and mobilize people to change the world in a particular way. Branding is one of the things that needs to be done to help rise above this noise.

In many ways branding is now an expectation of the general public. If you don’t have a fresh brand image they assume you are not credible or permanent.


“If you can't explain it to a 6-year old, you don't know it yourself." - Albert Einstein

Make sure you can communicate your message quickly and with impact. Work up your messaging that can be used by those in your organization in various forms to get your message out. For the website it is important to satisfy your visitors on both a brief and detail level.


People are attracted to a good story. Hollywood understands this. Many marketing and communication professionals utilize story to grab attention and get people to absorb their message. Most Nonprofit organizations have powerful stories to tell. Stories of their beginnings and stories of impact. Telling these stories will help you establish your identity in your donors mind. A good story connects both on an intellectual and emotional level. Storytelling has a structure. Just look at classic books and movies. There is a pattern there that you can use to tell your stories. Donald Miller presents a great formula for telling stories...

A character has a problem, then meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action. That action either results in a success or failure.

Story Framework - BackOffice Thinking

The “Brain”

The “Brain” is the intelligence gathered and stored around your mission and your constituents. This can be anything from relationship data to specific data stored as a resource for your constituents or members. The “Brain” as I see it is the data itself and the use of your data through systems and automation to enhance your constituents user experience and forward your mission.

The most common and obvious data collected by your organization is contact information on your donors. This type of data is often stored in a CRM or Constituent Management System like Neon CRM, Salesforce, CiviCRM, IMIS, Salsa, Raiser’s Edge from Blackbaud, or DonorPerfect. The list could go on and on. Many of these systems can track and store more than just contact information including donation activity, event registration, notes, membership, and other types of activities.

The Brain - BackOffice Thinking

The data that websites can interact with goes way beyond contact and relationship data and depending on your mission may extend into all kinds of areas. If you’re a Land Trust you may have data around the land you protect. If you are a member association you may have a database of resources. Maybe you're a member association of surgeons and have a question bank that feeds your Learning Management System (LMS).

Data like these examples or others can be accessible to your website or accessed through your website. The data can be aggregated and used directly through visualization and live infographics or indirectly through personalization.

Infographic of live metrics or statistics

Incorporating live infographics of your data into your website is a great way to demonstrate the impact of your nonprofit orgnization in a clear way to visitors who are moving fast through your website.

Personalization can be achieved by displaying specific content based on criteria or data you have on your constituents. Emails and landing pages can be designed to focus on your constituents interests or focus.

Design: Bringing It All Together

Now we get to DESIGN. I like what Steve Jobs once said “Design is not just what it looks like & feels like. Design is how it works.”

I say it this way when talking about websites: Design is the art of bringing together personality, style, and function beautifully to fully engage and serve your visitors and constituents.

When designing a website for nonprofits on a mission I elevate 2 design principles above all others: clarity and usefulness. Without these it’s difficult to connect with your potential donor or member on an emotional and intellectual level. Connecting on this level will lead to people willing to give their time and money.


Donald Miller points out that “The human brain is drawn towards clarity and away from clutter.” We are all moving fast and bombarded with complexity and confusion throughout our day. We seek clarity.


Meet your visitor’s needs quickly. People are generally impatient when looking for something online. They are moving fast and want to find what they need fast. They may be searching for information or trying to do something like...

  • Volunteer
  • Make a donation
  • Find an event and register

Design is most effective when you have carefully considered and developed both your nonprofit’s identity and intelligence. An organization with a strong identity and quality data is in a position to develop a powerful and effective CUI (Constituent User Interface or Website) to further their mission and have a greater impact.

Utilizing your organization’s Identity and Brain in your strategy will lead you to employ some of the following advanced marketing and fundraising tactics:

  • Email segmentation
  • Personalized content
  • Resource center
  • Donor or volunteer login portals
  • Targeted campaigns

Website Connected & Integrated - BackOffice Thinking

When you start employing some or all of the above tactics you will know that you have moved from the old brochureware website to an interactive hub driving your nonprofit and mission forward.

Paul Keogan and I presented these ideas in a webinar for Land Trusts. We encourage you to watch this 53 minute webinar that goes into more detail. 


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