Posted by Jay Wilkinson

It’s one thing to look great online. But the real question is—what do you offer your online visitors beyond just a good-looking homepage?

Here’s where your website’s functionality comes in. It’s not enough for a nonprofit website to look awesome; it needs to serve a purpose and offer something substantial to the people who land on it. Functionality refers to the online tools that make it possible and, in some cases, necessary for users to connect and engage with us.

These tools give people the ability to donate, view an event calendar, register for an event, sign up to volunteer, access a private area for key people and more, depending on what our website visitors need. All of these tools work together to create a worthwhile nonprofit website.

For example, let’s say I’m on the board of directors of an organization, and I’m traveling during an important board meeting. No matter where I am, I should be able to connect to the internet and access a web page that includes the minutes from that day’s meeting—maybe even chat with other board members. I’m a much more effective board member when I can stay engaged and connected with the organization I’m serving. Proper functionality is crucial that way.

Here’s the most important thing to remember about functionality: It’s crucial that our nonprofit websites provide the right tools for all different types of end users, not just one kind. We may have supporters, volunteers, prospective donors, media folks, board members, other nonprofit professionals and people curious about our cause all visiting our website, each one looking for something different. Our job is to identify our users and then make sure we have what they need to reach their goals.

One of the most important online tools that every nonprofit should have, of course, is email marketing—this will allow you to engage with just about all of your users, regardless of which category they fall into. The third party tools on the market today are easy to use, inexpensive, and have a high rate of return. Plus, it’s so easy to measure results. If you don’t have a “Subscribe” button on your homepage and the ability to capture visitors’ email addresses, you’re missing out on an important opportunity to engage with your visitors in a meaningful way.

Evaluate your site’s tools and be sure the functionality is meeting the needs of your users. Your nonprofit website can look great and serve up interesting content—but if it doesn’t provide engaging tools, your visitors won’t stay long and are less likely to come back.