The Dos and Don’ts for creating a successful charity website

With any luck, you’ll already have a lot of these sussed. In the early days of building your website, though, it’s always handy to have a checklist to keep you on the straight and narrow.

The Dos

1. Be clear about your cause and goals

You know exactly what your primary goals are but it’s important you are conveying them correctly to your audience. Making sure your mission is clearly outlined is an essential first step, even before website design.

If you can’t communicate your goals effectively, it immediately lowers your chances of donations. You want your websites landing page to have all the essential information a reader needs to at least develop further interest.

  • Be effective with your use of text on your homepage
  • Don’t have large paragraphs of indigestible content
  • Emphasise key points or statistics to stress importance
  • Have a clearly explained goal that donations will help achieve

It is likely that if someone is searching for a charity like yours, they have at least minimal interest in the cause. If you can capture what they’re looking for in the top 350 pixels of your homepage, you’ve taken a great first step.

It is important your landing page harnesses this interest and makes clear what impact the readers input can have. For example, Oxfam offer a clear outline of what each amount of money can do. Donors know, therefore, when they donate £20 they are providing 12 toilets to a deprived community.

2. Keep your brand consistent

It may seem like the word ‘brand’ isn’t as applicable to charities; in fact it’s just as relevant.

Charities like Cancer Research or Great Ormond Street Hospital for example have clear and consistent colours, fonts and logos. These help make their brand’s memorable. Your charity should do the same, and it should be consistent across all channels. If you haven’t considered this prior to designing your website, it’s definitely worth doing so.

  • Consider no more than 2 types of font you will use
  • Select a colour scheme of no more than 5 colours
  • Consider the ‘mood’ of your website, whether it’s gentle or striking

If you’re a children’s charity, for example,  you may opt for soft-edged text and bright and light colours as a better fit to the beneficiaries of your cause.

3. Choose a good domain

You can consider your domain like your shopfront, it can be messy and unappealing or clear and inviting. Having overly long or complex domains means they are immediately less memorable. As some good general rules:

  • Keep it as short as possible
  • Avoid unnecessary keywords
  • Minimise the number of hyphens, forward slashes or ‘messy characters’
  • Make sure it matches with the content

It’s tempting to introduce other keywords to try and benefit your SEO. Unfortunately, Google is smarter than that, and in most cases these just elongate your URL and make it less fitting.

If you’re looking to get started with a domain, GoDaddy offer a bundle that provides a domain name and a year subscription to their business website builder and SEO services. This is a great bundle whether you’re getting started or simply don’t have enough allocated man-power for web design. It’s also available as a donation on tt-exchange making it happily affordable for charities.

4. Make it easy to navigate

It is all well and good that someone has found you easily and is interested in your cause; now it’s time to ensure they act on this interest. The best ways to do this is by:

  • Encouraging exploration of your site
  • Making call-to-actions clear
  • Giving easy options for donating or subscribing

It is important that the user-experience is the primary focus of your web design. Try and start looking at your website from an outsider’s perspective and consider what may or may not be all that clear.

It’s best to have a donate button that’s visible, and ideally in the same position, on every page. This consistency ensures people always know where to look if they want to donate.

This applies to any type of call-to-action, whether you take donations or not. It may be that you want subscribers of volunteers instead. In this case, you’ll want a sign up form to be easy to find and simple to fill-out.

What can work quite well is a double opt-in process, whereby you ask for the very basic information at first, and are then able to email them directly to find out more. This makes the process seem less long-winded at the surface, and minimises the number of people who drop-off. You can read a little more about that here.

 

The Don’ts

1. Don’t overdo it on images

The main reason for this is the impact it has on loading time. If you have a high number or large sizes of images it will negatively impact your loading speed.

Unfortunately, we’re indisputably a generation of impatient browsers. Studies have shown that websites that take more than just 3 seconds to load have a considerably higher drop-off rate on average.

Even just 500KB can significantly slow things down if someone is using a weak dial-up connection. If you need to resize images so they are not as chunky on your site, this can be done easily using Photoshop. Photoshop Elements is available as a donation on the tt-exchange programme meaning there’s absolutely no need to break the bank doing so.

Of course, we aren’t meaning don’t use any images at all. In fact, images can be highly effective at communicating your mission, especially for charities. Photos and infographics work brilliantly at showing your work in action, or the importance of it. It is important, though, that these pictures are high-resolution.

You want your images to be of the highest possible quality so that your site looks professional and arguably even more trust-worthy.

It’s great to be able to use your own images, but while you build up your library, you may also find it useful to use stock-images. Fortunately there are a range of free sites for this, including Pexels and Unsplash.

Alternatively, the Adobe all apps plan offers Adobe spark, which allows you to create your own image backed text. This is a useful tool for your site but also for social media posts and printed campaigns.

2. Be careful with plugins and special features

This goes back to making your site as user-friendly as possible. As a general rule, you don’t want to make it remotely difficult for someone to view your content. If it’s something that someone had to additionally download or run, it doesn’t really work in your favour.  It’s crucial you don’t use anything that may not work for others.

Some plugins like Flash Player won’t be compatible on certain devices, and Adobe have announced they are ending mobile support of flash player. These users will therefore miss out on this content regardless of their potential interest.

This isn’t to say that all plugins are a negative. WordPress actually has numerous available plug-ins that work effectively. It’s understandable, and smart, to be sceptical of some which may not be fully secure or that simply distract from your content, but equally some are a huge bonus.

Some good example plug-ins for WordPress, one of the most popular CMSs, include:

  • WordPress Forms: This is the most beginner-friendly plugin for producing contact forms for your site. This way people can subscribe, volunteer or even donate.
  • Yoast SEO: This plugin means you can optimise the way your WordPress site performs on search engines in the hope of driving more traffic to your website
  • WordPress Rocket: This increases the loading speed of your site with a crawler that simulates a visit to preload the cache.
  • WordPress Migrate DB: If you’re faced with the task of moving from one web host to another, this plugin makes moving your database or files much less of a chore.

These are just some examples of useful plugins that improve user-experience and ease of running your website. For more examples there are lots of resources online including this charity specific list.

3. Don’t take external content without permission

It’s great when you can share useful information and resources with your readership; it improves understanding of the cause and shows you are ethically-motivated with the cause at the centre of what you do. It’s crucial, nonetheless that you get sufficient permission to do so.

If your charity is designed, for example, to aid the homeless by providing information and opportunity, it could well be in your interest to give information on local council initiatives. Having a shared cause can be something to unite on, it’s just worth ensuring it’s allowed.

Doing so simply involves communication with the author of the original content, and an acknowledgement to be included in the content you post on your website.

This rule works both ways; if people want to use your content the same principle applies. It’s important you remember to add a ‘Creative Commons’ copyright message to your content to make sure people ask you for that same permission.

4. Don’t ignore analytic tools

This may be last but definitely isn’t least. Once you’ve created a website you’re happy with: well branded, clearly laid out and easy to run, it’s important you start tracking how well it’s all working for your users.

Google analytics is one of most popular options for this as it offers a free and easy-to-use service. We’ve written a separate article if you’re looking to get clued up on Google Analytics capabilities.

There are additional tools available if you want even more detail on certain things. Though Google Analytics can broadly tell you most of what you’d need to know, if you have specific concerns there are some tools that isolate certain analytics.

One example is Hotjar, a heat mapping tool for exploring the way people navigate your site. This can tell you what people gravitate towards and where they have a tendency to drop off.

 

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