Nielsen: New Usability Study of Non-Profit Sites

Jakob Nielsen recently conducted a usability study of websites for non-profits. Participants were people who had donated to charities in the past, people who had previously volunteered, and those who use Facebook.

Sixty non-profit and charity websites were tested to cover a range of categories:

  • Arts, Culture, and Humanities
  • Animals
  • Development and Relief Services
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Human Services
  • Public Benefit
  • Religion

Most of the sites represented major national non-profits, but also tested were smaller, local charities as well as international organizations.

Donation Process

It’s harder to give money away than it is to spend money buying stuff: Completing the actual donation process took the users in the study 7% more time on average than it took users to complete an e-commerce checkout process in a separate e-commerce usability study.

Non-Monetary Contributions

Users had much more difficulty making a non-monetary contribution than they had in donating money. One obvious reason is that giving physical items is a non-standard online transaction, so users can’t rely on a mental model formed from previous experiences with other sites.

Anytime a website asks users to do something new, the user interface should be particularly easy to help users overcome the hurdle of understanding a new process. Information about donating physical items was often hard to find and rarely sufficiently specific.

Volunteering Process

On a 1–7 scale, users gave a stellar rating of 6.7 for the task of finding out how to volunteer at an organization. Most sites had a simple, direct link to this information from their home pages. And most provided straightforward information about volunteering, including descriptions of typical volunteer duties and hours, which are details that prospective volunteers want to see up front.

Many sites also offered fairly simple forms for volunteering. However, people often want to talk to somebody directly before volunteering, so it’s important to provide contact information.

Social Media

People don’t use Facebook to research non-profit organizations or make donations. When we asked users to do this in the study, they were annoyed by non-profits that tried to push products or donations, or tried to get them to sign up for other things, like email newsletters.

People weren’t surprised that some non-profits or charities used Facebook, but they expected less information there than what they’d find on the organization’s official site.

Instead of seeking information about the organization’s mission and goals through social media, users were more interested in hearing from people who’d benefited from the organization’s work. They wanted social networks to showcase stories about real people who’d been involved with the organization.

Complete study results are available at