In my 12 years at Pixel, I’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of charities and third sector organisations on their new websites. From my first venture with Wakefield Hospice back in 2012 through to our latest work for the likes of YMCA Humber and a new, currently under-wraps, charity site we’ll launch later this year.
So, here are my top 5 tips for ensuring your new website hits the ground running:
Understand your audience, their language and their requirements
Private/B2B sector websites tend to have streamlined target audiences – new customers, existing customer, new employees, and existing employees. If we’re honest its ‘customers’ and ‘employees’ at its most basic. Charity websites tend not to be like that – typically we find there are 6+ audiences at least that are core – service users (patients for example), carers/family of service users, supporters, volunteers, employees (existing and new), professional bodies, the media, and local authorities/NGOs.
The risk here is a patchwork quilt of a website. Content and UX that speaks to everyone and yet no-one all at once. It’s imperative you map your content and sitemap to these users – find out where the overlaps are and where they definitely aren’t. Use the right language and content for each audience – if you’re a hospice for example, professionals will likely want to see medical/scientific language but to patients this may be too scary or cold.
With open navigation sites, you can’t stop people reading elements you don’t expect them to – but at least if they’re in the area you want them to be, make them feel at home.
Structure is key
Leading on from the above, we segway nicely into structure. A well thought out and planned site structure can help alleviate some of the issues noted in point one. Clear sign-posting and content segmentation will help users from each audience find the content that is relevant to them.
The other issue that comes with large numbers of audiences is lots of content. And with lots of content comes lots of priorities. The temptation here is that everything needs to be in the menu – no fundraising campaign is more important than another, no service is better than another. Everything must go in the nav and then all of a sudden… decision blindness. The menu is unusable, a list of 50+ links that offer no insight or help to the visitor.
Sometimes you must be ruthless – does that one week campaign really need to live in the main menu? Is that service that’s only for a niche audience who can only access it via medical referral really need to be on there?
The other option is to look at content levels/hierarchy. We all know about minimising clicks from the homepage to a detail page – but sometimes, one extra level helps (and if your nav displays second/tertiary level pages you don’t add a click anyway). So rather than Fundraising > Campaign A-E. Why not have Fundraising > Our Current Campaigns. Then 5 campaign pages becomes just one in the navigation – each can still have a landing page underneath of course, but it helps the user and they can decide what campaigns right for them once they can view them all on one listing page.
Focus on the ROI centric features
Like point 2 led on from point 1, point 3 kindly does the same. Focuses on ROI can really help you decide what goes in the menu, and what ends up being in-content linked or landing page only.
However, they key aspect here is that focussing on what will deliver ROI for you when looking at functionality. Use your own experience, and your agency’s, to ensure every penny you spend will result in some form of ROI. In the current climate and with ever increasing spend, its so important your resources (both monetary and HR wise) are deployed in a way that help your organisation to continue to serve and to grow.
ROI is not just the number of event bookings, shop purchases or donations. ROI is about efficiency – does your website help you recruit, does it answer those repetitive questions that service users have and use up valuable time on reception asking, does it appease the minds of families and carers that you guys are the right people to help them and can it help sector professionals with their enquiries/research in the only time they can sit down to do it – out of hours?
Also, don’t be afraid if a feature or function works better on a third-party platform (I see another segway into point 4 on the way).
For example, we have typically found that online stores on charity sites under-perform. They have an uplift at Christmas (Cards and calendars anyone?), but typically they don’t sell too much else. Why? Its not the right audience. People simply don’t come to charity websites wanting to buy a pen or a branded teddy. Nor do they come looking for second hand furniture/clothes etc which are a big income stream for many third-sector clients. So why spend resource on a store when eBay can help with those second-hand items, it’s got an active in-market audience looking for those products and, irrespective of which charity you are, I can guarantee it has much bigger traffic volumes.
Choose underlying systems wisely
Firstly, lets start with the CMS. We use Umbraco or Kentico for all our sites. Importantly they are non-propriety and non-bespoke. Not that we’d ever want our clients to use someone else, but we want to ensure, particularly with charities, that you have future security should anything go wrong. By building on platforms other agencies use and partner with is a key aspect of that (and something you should ensure is in your procurement practices).
With a good CMS they also give you and your team control – you should be able to edit 99% of content on your site. Don’t be fobbed off by support contracts being required just for adding news articles – it’s 2022, that practice should have died out 15 years ago. CMS’s that use block/widget development rather than fixed templates are also much more flexible and cost-effective.
Security should be a key feature of what you’re looking at too. Even including Penetration Testing your site. In most cases you’re taking personal details, and if you’re a medical charity, likely enhanced personal information – so the whole data privacy and security aspect of your site needs to be watertight.
Finally, as with the eBay comment in point 3 – don’t be afraid to use third parties to deliver function and reduce the impact on you. For payment use hosted gateways or JustGiving API integrations to reduce the PCI-Compliance requirements on your team and for events look at specialist providers like Enthuse. It’s not a failure to use the right tool for the right job
Expand how much exposure you give recruitment
“Recruitment”. The answer I’ve heard most often over the past 2-3 years to the question of what is your biggest problem? It’s not just tied to the third sector either – its across the board of all our clients.
In the past, I think we were all guilty of a careers page being one page under about us, a paragraph on how ‘awesome’ the organisation is to work for and a list of current roles.
We all know that, currently, it’s an applicant’s market. Your recruitment efforts need to be changed into a full careers section now, not just a page.
With the next wave of employees coming from ‘Gen-Z’ (if you want to feel old like me, that’s people born after 1996) the whole approach needs to change. Its not particularly about salaries or pensions – its about culture, non-financial perks, training, variety of role and (good news for charities) social awareness/involvement/action – they want to be part of something doing good in the world.
So, revisit your HR-term riddled careers page, look at it through different eyes. Get stories from current team members, explore why your values make you the perfect place for that rising star to work, shout about the good you do, the opportunities that await and ensure you beat the private sector to the best people around.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list – but its based on some common, real-life issues we’ve helped our clients solve over the years. Charity sites are often highly complex – much more than the brochure sites they may seem to be. Take the time to plan and define them properly; it’s worth the return in the future.