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Volunteer Website Designer

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Click. Scroll. Click. Click. And back.

We surf the pages of the web without much thought, especially when they're designed well. In fact, the better a website is designed, the less we think about its design.

Yet well-designed websites are essential to the success of businesses. And nonprofit organizations aren't any different.

However, many nonprofits can't afford to hire website designers. So they turn to volunteers to build and improve their websites pro bono (for free).

"Most charities are computer illiterate," says Toe Kyi. He's the volunteer manager for an organization that matches computer-savvy volunteers with charities needing computer help. Designing websites is not the job of charities, he says. Providing social services, helping people -- that's their job. But still, everyone needs a website.

Volunteer web designers bring websites and pages to life, guiding our clicking and information finding. Volunteers may build websites from scratch, or redesign sites to look more professional. They may add graphics, photographs and animation, post new content, or add features like blogs, calendars and picture albums.

Cathy Khoury is volunteer webmaster for a nonprofit called In Their Shoes. She says volunteer web designers should have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. HTML is the computer language used to create web documents. CSS is a style sheet language used to style web pages written in HTML and other markup languages.

Khoury gained her web design knowledge through online tutorials and Google forums. Web designer Cindy Morrow suggests buying a book on basic web design and HTML, or taking a web design course. Most web volunteers can work remotely - from the comforts of their home. But there are other benefits to volunteering.

"A lot want to add to their portfolio," says Megan McDonald. She's the recruitment coordinator for Taproot Foundation, which matches volunteers with nonprofits that need professional services. "A lot of people like to network," she adds. "If they're thinking of switching to the nonprofit sector, they get a taste of what that's like."

When a few friends founded a nonprofit called In Their Shoes, Cathy Khoury agreed to build the website. In Their Shoes works with adolescents to raise awareness of poverty and conflict, locally and globally.

"I've always liked the idea of international development and education," says Khoury. She's taking a graduate degree in communication studies.

With two brothers into IT and computer coding, Khoury picked up the basics of website design. She rounded out her skill set with information from Google forums and websites like

It took two months to build the website. Now the nonprofit's webmaster, Khoury spends up to three hours per week maintaining the site.

Khoury already has her hands full as a full-time student. But she enjoys her volunteer work. She's gaining knowledge of international development, a field she may pursue when she graduates.

"I like the whole awareness idea," she adds. "And I think the Internet is the best place to bring awareness."

David Martinez is the interactive art director for his own web design and development company in Long Beach, California. In addition to his paid gigs, he has offered pro bono work to charities.

"If I had all the money in the world, I'd just do these [charitable] sites all the time," he says. "They're super fulfilling.... It's a huge help to the people that need it."

Martinez improved the website for the Elizabeth Lulu Scholarship Foundation, a charity that helps children with cystic fibrosis go to college. Since the redesign, the charity's donations have increased.

It's important for web designers to communicate with clients and understand their needs, says Martinez. Also, designers need to understand what resources the nonprofit has in-house. For students, it can be overwhelming to create an entire website, he explains. So for instance, if a charity already employs someone versed in HTML or Photoshop, a volunteer could bring the writing or photography to the website.

Pro bono work can be a great way to add to a portfolio, and the skills gained look great on a resume, adds Martinez. "Also it's a reflection of me and what I was willing to do," he says.

Cindy Morrow was organizing an art auction for a charity in California when she realized they didn't have a website.

She had been working in the animation industry at the time. Creating the website for the charity was her entry into web design.

She has since designed the website for The Living Love Foundation Inc., which uses the arts to help young children. Morrow created a homepage for the foundation, and embedded a blog that the staff can update themselves. She added a picture album of events and fundraisers.

The website design also incorporated some broader goals. "They really wanted to be able to provide more information to people," she says. "[The existing website] lacked creative design. They wanted it to look a little bit more professional."

Morrow enjoys the impact she can have by creating websites. "I like the creativity behind it, connected to the immediate purpose that it serves," she says. "I can design something that potentially many people can see right away."

Taking photographs and editing them is like therapy for Sandra Fabria. So it's no wonder she finds her photo stylist volunteer job rewarding.

As the photo stylist manager for Yes! International's website and online magazine, Fabria is responsible for the nonprofit's photography. She oversees the other volunteer photo stylists. They e-mail their photos to her, and Fabria screens their photos. She makes sure the photos are high resolution, and crops and resizes them as needed.

Fabria works full time as an analyst for an investment group. Still she manages to volunteer two to three hours per day for the organization, which helps youth at risk. "It's like a second job," she admits.

But Fabria enjoys the feeling of volunteering. "I don't have money to give," she says. "But I can give my talent. This is one way of sharing my wealth of knowledge."

How to Get Involved

Search for website designer, webmaster and other web-related volunteer postings. Or contact Taproot Foundation or These organizations match web designers with nonprofits needing website design. Many web-related jobs can be done virtually, so you don't necessarily need to find a local nonprofit.

Web designer David Martinez suggests building a site and indicating that you want to do pro bono work. He says you'd be surprised at how many requests you get. Martinez built a site himself and stated that he was willing to take on pro bono work. He received about two requests per week from a wide variety of charities.

Matches volunteer web designers with nonprofits across North America

Taproot Foundation
Connects professionals, including web designers, with nonprofits in seven cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington and Los Angeles. Volunteers must live in one of these cities.

Find volunteer opportunities across the United States

Find volunteer listings in your area. Or check the "Search for Virtual Opportunities" box to find opportunities - virtually anywhere!

Design Tips
Read website design tips from Grantastic Designs

More Design Tips
Read tips for effective website design from Smart Webby

Offers free HTML and CSS tutorials to learn about coding for the web

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