The State of Nonprofit Websites in Minnesota:
Strategic Business Tools Or Just Virtual Filing Cabinets?

While completing my M.A. in Strategic Communication at the University of Minnesota, I conducted research on how Minnesota nonprofit organizations use their websites to communicate with key audiences. Through a review of academic literature, an analysis of numerous websites, and interviews with web and marketing professionals, the research reviewed:

  • Audience(s) served – Are websites created for donors, people receiving service, volunteers, or someone else?
  • Functionality – What functionality and content strategies are utilized?
  • Investment – How do organizations spend time and effort on their websites?
  • Measurement and purpose – How is success defined?

Managing a nonprofit organization’s website myself, I found it beneficial to learn more about the current state of websites in this sector and to develop a series of best practices for developing effective digital presences.

Key Findings

  • The primary audience(s) served aligned with business needs. For 45% of sites, this was people accessing services and for 40% of sites this was donors.
  • Basic websites contained cohesive content, design, navigation and strategy. A next level website was more common amongst organizations with $20 million+ annual revenue and often also contained news, events and blog posts.
  • Many nonprofits did not have clear owners for sections of content and struggled to keep all of their site’s content updated. Many organizations worked with consultants to refresh the design and technology every few years. Some organizations did this work internally.
  • Organizations placed different amounts of emphasis on measurement. Some did very little, some did rudimentary measurement on an ad-hoc basis, and some had key performance indicators they reviewed regularly.
  • The purpose of nonprofit websites was to inspire and drive action – no need for flashy graphics, just impactful content.


  • Work to define the site’s primary target audience(s) and purpose.
  • Provide organized and error-free static content – this is the most important component for most sites.
  • Develop an ownership and maintenance plan to ensure the site stays up-to-date.
  • Define a few key metrics to track frequently.
  • Do not forget to tackle the most important components of non-profit websites: sharing the organization’s mission, making a connection with key audiences, and providing opportunities for people to take action.


Learn more about the most important components of nonprofit websites by reviewing the overview presentation or full paper.

Presentation (PDF)

Full paper

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.