The COVID-19 pandemic hit the nonprofit and faith-based organizations hard. Churches in particular have needed to navigate keeping up their outreach and services without being able to meet in person. Thankfully, online communication offers many opportunities to stay connected, chief among them being a well-optimized website.
Building a website can be intimidating. Even easy-to-use platforms like WordPress have more than enough features and options to overwhelm, especially when getting started. For nonprofits with small tech teams, deciphering what is and is not necessary for your website is no easy feat.
To optimize your church’s WordPress website, you don’t need to be a coding or web design expert. Ignore the bells and whistles and instead think about what you and your church need from your website. Here are five tips to point you in the right direction:
- Choose the Plugins Your Website Needs
- Perform Regular Website Maintenance
- Present Clear Donation Options
- Adapt Your Website for Mobile
- Create an Easy to Navigate Design
You shouldn’t be afraid to bring in an expert to help, but your church can take easy steps on your own to make online communication that much easier. Updating your website shouldn’t be terrifying, and these tips should give you the encouragement to get started improving your website to meet your church’s needs.
1. Choose the Plugins Your Website Needs
WordPress has thousands of plugins to choose from, ranging from official add-ons to pre-built apps and third-party integrations. With so many options, combat choice paralysis by asking: what plugins does your website actually need?
Cornershop Creative’s guide to WordPress plugins lays out some criteria for assessing whether you should pick up or pass on a plugin:
- Ask if you need a plugin for the feature you want. Plugins can do amazing things to transform WordPress websites in almost any way you could want. However, not everything needs to be addressed with a plugin, and too many plugins can lead to long load times.
- Check if it’s legitimate. Almost anyone can create and advertise a plugin, so be careful before downloading. Look at ratings and reviews to make sure the plugin works while also scouting out any potential issues other users have experienced.
- Make sure the creator is active. Some developers stop maintaining their plugins, meaning they might not be compatible with new WordPress updates. Check when the plugin was last updated to make sure it will continue to be usable.
- Research alternatives before downloading. Don’t settle for the first plugin you see. WordPress plugins give you the luxury of choice so look around before deciding which plugin works best for your website.
Putting together a website takes time and work but is necessary if your church wants to launch any major fundraising campaigns or digital outreach projects. While regular plugin hosting websites will meet most of your website’s needs, some websites offer church giving software that integrates with and can be embedded on your website. These plugins are specialized for features related to donations and fundraising campaigns, which is most likely what your church’s website needs.
2. Perform Regular Website Maintenance
No matter how much you believe in a nonprofit, a broken or outdated website can make you question if your financial information will be safe if you donate. Your website should inspire confidence in your supporters, and that means routinely checking for anything that needs fixing.
Here are three questions to ask when it’s time for your church website’s maintenance:
- Does everything work? All the links and navigational tools on your website need to function for your website to attract and keep visitors. New plugins and WordPress updates can sometimes change your website’s code, so schedule a routine runthrough of your website after every major change.
- How secure is my website? Website security needs to be at the top of your priority list. Get SSL certified, if your website isn’t already, and look into HTTPS encryption to securely connect your visitors to your website.
- Is anything outdated? While you should regularly post new content on your website for your supporters to engage with, updating other mainstays will make your website look fresh and well cared for. Update your news page about upcoming events, add new pictures to photo carousels, and make sure you can always be contacted at the provided contact information.
- How long are load times? Long load times can lead to visitors getting frustrated and exiting out of your website. Check if any plugins are slowing down your website, if any images can be compressed, or if you have unnecessary link redirect chains.
If something goes really wrong, seeking a consultant is never a bad idea. However, with routine care, your website should always be safe and functional.
3. Present Clear Donation Options
While your website shouldn’t be solely about fundraising, our increased reliance on technology over the past year means that supporting online donations is vital for your church’s financial health. Churches want to cultivate giving as a habit with church members, and your website should meet them halfway by presenting straightforward donation information.
Qgiv has a few tips specifically for how churches should format their donation pages:
- Key information fields. Every donation page should require the basics such as the donor’s name and contact information, suggested giving amounts, and the option to be a recurring donor.
- Simple layout. A long and complicated form can lead to donor abandonment, donors exiting out of the page before completing their gift. Keep your donation form to a single page or a few concise, clearly-labeled stages to encourage donors to see their donation through to the end.
- Branded images and colors. While you should limit pictures to ensure your donation form doesn’t get too long, matching your donation page with your church aesthetically will help forge relationships with your donors. Add your church’s logo to the top of the page or pick a color scheme to keep consistent across your entire website including your donation form.
During difficult times, many nonprofits rely on a stable base of repeat donors. Churches who turn their congregation into recurring donors will have revenue streams they can depend on in times of crisis. However, you should never treat your donors like an ATM. Doing little things to show you value your supporters’ time and willingness to give can go a long way towards building relationships with your supporters.
4. Adapt Your Website for Mobile
Optimizing your website for mobile friendliness has become a necessity. In 2019, over 50% of all internet traffic came from mobile users, meaning half of your visitors are viewing your website on their phones.
Many web pages that aren’t mobile-optimized require lots of tedious scrolling, while some may be completely unusable due to unformatted images and lines of text. However, as more websites adapt to create responsive designs, most mobile users have become accustomed to mobile-friendly websites and won’t hesitate to press the back button if your website isn’t loading quickly or correctly.
When you start making your WordPress website mobile-friendly, you have options. While you could create entirely separate mobile and desktop versions of your website, building one mobile responsive website with the right plugins will likely save you time and a few coding headaches. Many WordPress themes have mobile-friendly options that can adapt based on whatever device your supporters access your website on.
Adapting to mobile doesn’t stop at just your website. Make sure your email correspondence, donation forms, and any other additional features on your website are also mobile-friendly. Take extra care with images and videos to make sure they won’t clutter small screens, and always test the responsiveness of your pages so your supporters can have the best experience possible when visiting your site.
5. Create an Easy to Navigate Design
You don’t have to be an expert in web design to create a website that looks good and is easy to use. Along with technical functionality, your website should have straightforward navigation that allows your supporters to find exactly what they’re looking for.
Not all websites are large enough to warrant an extensive navigation system. For example, some navigation strategies like breadcrumbs (a series of backlinks near the top of the page that help a user see what they previously clicked through to reach their current page) can assist visitors in figuring out where they are on your website and where they want to go. However, for a smaller church website, a clear and easy-to-find menu may be more effective than more complex navigation systems.
When you create your website menu, label your menu items based on what will make the most sense to your visitors. This can require brainstorming and sometimes user testing, but thoughtful and consistent labeling across your website will ease potential frustrations and help your visitors find everything they need to support your church.
If designing a website from the ground up is still daunting, try browsing similar sites. Click through their navigation and features to decide what would work best for your website. This guide is a good place to start your investigation for nonprofit-focused websites. Additionally, test websites on both desktop and mobile to see how they adapt to a smaller screen.
Building your website is an ongoing process. Do your research to figure out what features you need and what designs work best for those needs. When you finally launch your website, check up on it regularly to make sure all your hard work stays intact and up to date.
No matter how big or small your church, a well-optimized website is a necessity for interacting with your supporters and collecting donations to keep your church running. Devote the time you need to it, and never be afraid to reach out for help if you feel you’ve done all you can on your own.
Author: Ira Horowitz
With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations.
Ira oversees our project management team and works with clients to provide our clients with the best possible final product. He also manages all of our strategic engagements and helps guide nonprofits to determine their long-term strategy goals for online communications.