What’s different about a purpose-driven website?

If you’re a purpose-driven organization, your vision is bigger than making—or even raising—money. And when it comes to your website, that distinction is no small thing.

Maybe your foundation exists to raise awareness.
You’ve got resources. Now you need readers.

Maybe your organization wants to disrupt a systemic issue.
You’ve got authority. And you need content that inspires trust.

Maybe your purpose is nothing less than to start a movement.
You’ve got passion. Now you need a story that lights a fire and makes change happen.

In other words, purpose-driven websites have a very, very tough job to do.

Whether your revolution is loud or quiet, global or local, translating your mission into a modern website hinges on getting two very important things just right.

#1 What’s Your Story?

You know your mission backward and forwards. If someone handed you a megaphone, you’re ready to rally your people with energy and passion.

The problem is your website has to get both new and familiar people excited about your cause. In short, your site needs to be story-driven. And your story is powered by your organization’s mission.

When people think about a mission, they often think about words. Mission statements are a perfect example of this. But the reality is that no one wants to read four paragraphs on your homepage, even if those blocks of text are super meaningful and exceptionally articulate. Your website visitors need more than information: they need an experience.

How you tell your story is bigger than a combination of images and text—it’s also about controlling the pace of information. How much you give at once needs to work for every kind of visitor—the curious and the initiated.

Allowing site visitors to experience your story at their own pace saves you from overloading them with too much information too fast and from scaring them away.

Your website visitors need more than information: they need an experience.

In our recent project with the Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg Foundation’s Lean In, controlling the pace of information was one of the problems they needed help solving. A big part of their mission is to disseminate important research about women in the workplace.

One of the criticisms they’d received since Sandberg published Lean In was that the challenges of working women described in the book seemed to ignore the more complex experiences of Black women who face both gender and racial inequities. When the Black Lives Matter movement started, the foundation knew they wanted to do more to support Black women specifically.

They had loads of current research that spotlighted the challenges and ambitions of Black women in corporate America. But a website isn’t an academic journal. How could they inspire people through facts and statistics?

Our designer, Darion McCoy, worked closely with a select team within Lean In—an accomplished group of Black women—to create a series of pages that tell an inspiring story, celebrating the strength of Black women and calling out the status quo. Curated images and powerful statistics draw in visitors and let the audience choose how much they want to engage in a single visit. This approach prioritizes the vision without overburdening the audience. When you want more followers to join your movement, this decision makes an enormous difference.

Another important aspect of this page included giving website visitors a clear way to engage further and take action. And it’s also an example of the second quality of a purpose-driven page: creating with a goal in mind.

#2 What’s Your Goal?

So, your story is what gets people excited and inspires them to share your message. It’s one of the ways you’ll gain followers and traction when you need your audience to take action in some way.

But your website’s goal is something more specific and strategic. Having a purpose-built website requires a shift in your thinking. It starts with remembering your organization’s mission, pivots to imagining a visitor’s purpose in coming to your site, and then returns to making a decision about what you want them to do.

This shift becomes something like a dance between your story, their story, and your plans to change the world. Sounds easy, right?

The good news is that every page on your website gives you a fresh opportunity to build with purpose. In our current digital landscape, visitors come from all sorts of places—ads, email forwards, social media posts, article mentions—and each page needs to anticipate these differences while at the same time remembering your goal for visitors.

For a purpose-driven organization this awareness is vital because you especially need to inspire trust, belief, and passion in the variety of people that show up at your site—no matter where their journey to you originated.

Considering how your website functions, as informed by your goals, is different than thinking about what it looks like. And don’t get us wrong—a good looking website is something we value too. But when we build a page, we always think of it as a blank canvas. From there, we build with purpose. This approach is an essential starting point for every page we create, and it’s something we leaned into on our project with industry disrupter Pashion. 

Pashion’s mission is to change the way women wear shoes. They want to end unnecessary shoe suffering without sacrificing style. How do they do it? They make attractive heels that convert to comfortable flats. Or comfortable flats that convert to attractive heels. It all depends on your perspective. 

The problem is Pashion’s innovation is pretty far outside the shoebox. Buyers naturally will have questions around comfort, durability, safety, and more. We knew their story would be important, and the goal was to sell more shoes, but what about all those questions? Our solution was to create a page devoted to the story of how they work. With a combination of video, facts—and of course images of their stylish footwear—we bypassed the standard FAQs and made a fun page that feels like you’re inside a secret shoe laboratory.

Ensure Your Website is Story and Purpose-Driven

Thinking about your reason-for-being is something most organizations are really good at. It’s the subject of retreats, strategic plans, board meetings, and fundraising events. However, when it comes to your website, most groups struggle to bring that big vision to life.

While your team may have a marketing department or even a designer, websites are different. They demand both vision and advanced technical know-how. On the surface, you may want users to have a simple, heartfelt experience with your message. Behind the scenes, your website may contain layers of sophisticated maneuvers to make this happen.
Thinking about all of this can be overwhelming. Before you make a big investment in a site rebuild or launch a new website, remember that while your site has a tough job to do it’s also a very important one. Bigger than any event and far more lasting than a social media campaign, your website is a digital home for your mission.  And when you want to change the world, that’s a pretty significant place.

First + Third specializes in a narrative approach to web development and design. Their visual storytelling strategy allows them to create modern websites that fuse the user’s experience with an organization’s greater purpose in order to achieve big results. First + Third’s totally remote and collaborative team serves a diverse client base from industry leaders like Billboard and Facebook to social changemakers like Lean In and LIVEKINDLY.