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Improving charity website effectiveness

Author's avatar By 16 Mar, 2016
Essential Essential topic

7 success factors for managing charity websites

Balancing the interests of diverse audiences of a charity site is a real challenge, magnified by the diverse communications needs of different teams within a charity. Given these diverse needs, it's no surprise that many charity websites struggle to communicate effectively and encourage interaction with different audiences. I have seen some truly compelling charity websites which we feature in the new Smart Insights guide to website best practice for Not-for-Profits and charities, but there are many more that don't, some with lack of focus shown by a confusing carousel or slider on the home page.

In this post, I take a look at some of the common challenges that charities need to recognise before embarking on redesigns to improve effectiveness.

Management barriers for effective charity websites

Some of the key barriers to success that I have seen when working in NfP organisations are:

  • 1. Lack of clear aims. Gaining a balance between what you would like web visitors to do and what most web visitors would like to do is core to achieving a successful website.
  • 2. Balancing the need to fundraise and provide services. Service-focussed charities can find it particularly challenging to provide useful content for key users as well as be effective commercially.
  • 3. Poor digital audience knowledge. Lack of understanding of key stakeholder’s digital needs and preferences can hinder development and prevent website designers from gaining the insight they need to effective project delivery.
  • 4. Insularity. Sometimes charities can look at best practice only within the NfP sector, however, web visitors don’t make these distinctions as journeys often traverse a broad range of needs and interests.

Charities have such a wealth of emotive and genuinely useful content. With much to capitalise on, a strategic and often courageous approach needs to be taken to make your organisation’s website truly shine.

Some of the key success factors for effective redesigns include:

  • 1. Create a collaborative review process. Building and maintaining a strategically-focussed website takes a wide range of skills - vision, inspiration, creativity and robust analytics. Drawing on key strengths and knowledge from across the charity is essential to successfully developing and delivering your web project.
  • 2. Seeing the project as more than communications. Very often charity websites are ‘owned’ by the communications teams. While comms teams often have great insight into providing content, they do not tend to focus on understanding customer behaviour and prompting action – these skills are much more likely to reside in the fundraising teams.
  • 3. Understand the past to inform the future. Although your current website may not be performing as well as you would like, there may be lessons that can be learnt from looking at current web analytics to understanding current website behaviours and preferences.
  • 4. Embrace debates. Web builds can provoke fierce discussions which can be at odds to the way many charities operate. However, these debates should be seen as part of a healthy process.
  • 5. Establish priorities. Knowing what your aims are with your website and creating a hierarchy of these aims is business critical to providing a charity website that is fit for purpose and justifies the significant investment.
  • 6. Create personas. Creating fictional characters can help teams visualise different types of web visitors and understand their needs. Having a suite of characters like the well-known ‘Dorothy Donor’ will bring the project to life and add flavour to your metrics.
  • 7. Create clear targets. By establishing very specific goals will help you not only demonstrate success but address areas of poor performance. Additionally it will help provide the website designers with clear aims.

The  journey that never ends

There is no such thing as a finished website! After launch and once all the initial bugs are ironed out, this is really only at the beginning. To ensure the website is more than just updated but continues to satisfy and even delight website users on-going dedication is required.

A couple of pointers for creating a long-lasting benefit are:

  • Create a content strategy. To avoid the potentially hazardous organically grown website, it is important to have a web content group that is represented across the charity. By looking at broad themes and important highlights in the calendar, you can ensure that the website reflects the ‘big stuff’. This strong structure can in turn help inform the content planning for email and social media.
  • Keep on measuring. Structures need to be established so that the website performance is monitored in a number of ways so that any changes to the web development are evidence-based. Website analytics can be complemented with qualitative survey findings and user testing.

While not simple to achieve, my key recommendations are simple to summarise:

Have a plan. Don’t stick to it; develop it.

The updated guide to website best practice for Not-for-Profits and charities which I have written for Smart Insights Expert members provides guidelines and inspirational examples from the sector. It also includes lots of practical suggestions and checklists on how to develop a strategy; define key audiences; produce hard-working design and create compelling content.

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