Posted by Jay Wilkinson

It’s not enough that websites for nonprofits just look awesome—they need to serve a purpose. If your end users can’t do what they need to on your site, they’ll get frustrated and leave. That’s why your site’s functionality is so crucial. Functionality refers to the online tools that make it possible, and in some cases necessary, for supporters to connect with us through our websites.

These tools give end users the ability to donate, view an event calendar, register for an event, sign up to volunteer or maybe even access a private area available only to key people. All of these tools work together to create a functional site, and it’s imperative that a site provides functionality for all different types of end users.

Make it easy for volunteers to sign up.
You’re going to have people who say, “I want to volunteer for this organization,” and they’re going to look online for a way to do that. So you don’t want them to get to your website and wonder, how do I sign up? The ability to view an event calendar is important, so prospective volunteers can see what’s coming up and plan accordingly.

Some may say, “That’s a cool event—I’d like to register for that.” And they want to be able to do so right on your website. So when I say you should have the functionality for a user to register, I’m not talking about having a PDF available that they can click on, print out, fill out, then fax, mail or scan back to you. Who wants to do that anymore?

We need to allow users to register on our websites, and give them the ability to pay registration fees as well. If you want to make it easy for people to engage with you, this kind of functionality is not optional, it’s necessary.

Make it easy for supporters to give.
The ability to donate online is another must-have for nonprofits. It’s 2013—most people are not writing checks anymore. There are lots of tools you can use for online donations. Take widgets, for example. I’ve seen this in several chapters of The Arc across the U.S. where they build in widgets, so that if someone is donating clothes or personal goods to the organization, they can list what they’re donating. The widget will give them a little calculator that figures the dollar value of their donation, so that when they file their taxes at the end of the year, they can appropriately report the donation’s worth.

Make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.
Whether we’re talking about making life easier for volunteers, donors, or even your board members, another example of an important online tool is email marketing. 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.

Evaluate your site’s tools and be sure the functionality is meeting the needs of your users. Your 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.

For more on functionality and the other elements, be sure to check out this video on just what the perfect nonprofit website needs.