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Non-profits | April 22, 2024 | By Monika Halsan

How do I make a good charity website?

As a web developer, I can’t help but analyse every website I visit. Some websites have clearly been made by professionals and with a strategy in place, while others …well, not so much.

In this article, I’ll outline some simple but essential steps to setting up your website for success, as well as provide some examples of things to avoid.

A woman looking at a tablet with a mug in her hand.

TL;DR

  1. Clearly define your website goals before building your site.
  2. Stop writing what you want to say, and start asking what your audience wants to know.
  3. Take the guesswork out of your site by analysing and monitoring.
  4. Focus on the visitor before yourself.
  5. Maximise your website to increase donations and support.

First things first - what's your website's purpose?

Before building your website, you have to know what its main purpose is. That doesn’t mean its purpose is forever set in stone, but you need some kind of direction to start with.

Imagine this

Your partner/friend comes up to you and says “Let’s go away this weekend”.

Without knowing the destination, you won’t know what kind of budget to expect, what to pack in your suitcase, whether to arrange a babysitter or bring the kids along and so on.

The idea of going away might be intriguing, but you need more to go on before you can get excited, make travel arrangements, and book accommodation and activities – and possibly arrange a last-minute babysitter or book Monday off work.

Saying “We need a website” provides just as little information.

Just like your weekend away will have some sort of purpose (relaxation, work, partying, adventure, etc.), your website needs purpose – such as increasing donations, raising awareness, educating the public on your cause, and so on.

Before you do anything, ask yourself: What are our 2-3 primary website goals – and how much resource can we dedicate to it on a monthly basis? Make sure your goals are realistic and match the resources available, as ranking high on Google will be challenging if no one is keeping your site up-to-date.

What makes a good charity website?

With purpose in place, start planning your website. At this stage, you should know who your target audience is: Your website should be for them, not for you to “show off.”

Let’s look at some key elements to building a good charity website:

01. Build trust

As a non-profit, building trust is more important than ever. Show that your organisation is worthy of support, through social proof such as testimonials, impact/annual reports, your registration number, ratings from watchdog organisations, links to social networks and so on.

Testimonials can be extra powerful in video format (where possible), or when represented in a case study to give more in-depth information.

02. Intuitive navigation and funnel

I’ve left many websites in my lifetime simply because the navigation annoyed me. You want to make every click as simple as possible, and you want to reduce the number of clicks to the very minimum.

Do this by straightforwardly categorising your content, and setting up funnels that direct users towards what might be interesting to them.

Your donation process

Possibly one of the most important calls to action on your website are donations: Make this as simple and obvious as possible – without being in people’s faces. You want to make it easily accessible, but remember that not every visitor will be interested in donating at this stage.

With that in mind, ask yourself whether a large “Donate Now” button immediately on your homepage is the right approach, or if you should give people a chance to get to know you better first (I’d recommend AB testing it.)

As one of your most important elements, your donation button is also one of the trickiest to get right. But here are a few pointers:

  • Make it easy to find your “Donate” button.
  • Use clear, concise button labels such as “Donate Now”.
  • Keep your donation page/form as simple and straightforward as possible.

Many people want to know where their donations are going. Consider how transparent you wish to be, but at the very least give some examples of what amounts could contribute to – e.g. “A £15 donation can help us provide our students with take-home resources, and a £25 donation pays for a 1-hr study session with one of our mentors.”

03. Clear and digestible content

We’ve become impatient, and you need to master the skill of simplifying your non-profit content. You need to clearly state who you help, how you help them, the outcome of your work, and your why.

This should be explained in a simple manner straight away. That means, no jargon or sector-specific language, no fancy ChatGPT filler words, and no long history lessons.

Elaborations can be available on for example your About and Services pages.

A great rule to follow:

Stop writing what you want to say, and start asking what your audience wants to know.

04. Strong visuals

Depending on the nature of your initiatives, finding strong visuals will naturally be more challenging for some. Whether you can use your own, or need to opt for stock imagery or even illustrations, make sure your visuals are of high quality and that they add value to your content.

Your visuals should add cues to help your visitors better digest the content they’re reading, or even eliminate the need to read in the first place. When using the right visuals, you help your visitors build a strong mental picture of who you are as a charity, and how you are serving your cause.

05. Consider your Calls to Action

It’s easy to want to place your donation, volunteer sign-up, newsletter sign-up, wishlists, fundraising efforts, social media and all your other links everywhere. But doing this will only confuse (and annoy) your visitors.

Remember the funnel I mentioned in step 2? Organise your CTAs accordingly. Users who are starting a fundraiser for you might not be interested in also donating at the moment – they’re already in the process of preparing a larger donation for you. On the other hand, someone looking to volunteer with you, might be interested in your newsletter, too.

Optimising to meet different user journey’s behaviour, rather than taking the same approach with everyone will yield much better results.

06. Ask but don't manipulate or guilt-trip

Chances are, you’d like to build lasting relationships with your supporters. After all, recurring donations tend to add up to higher amounts over time, than one-off donations.

And while manipulation and guilt-tripping might be (unconsciously) tempting, it’s not the way to build loyalty.

Instead, focus on inspiring them. Make them want to be part of your cause, through stories that communicate impact and purpose. Consider setting up a members club, for example, so that they can feel part of something bigger, not just make a transaction and be done with it.

Ongoing monitoring and analysis

How do you know whether your website is good or not?

There’s a massive difference between making assumptions about your target audience’s expectations and experience of your website, and knowing how they interact and feel about it.

If you really want set your website up for success, add tracking and/or analytical tools. There are multiple tools available – from free tools like GA4 (formerly Google Analytics – free training available), to recording tools that generate heatmaps based on real user clicks, AB testing tools that can determine performance difference between your test elements, and so on.

Common website pitfalls - and how to avoid them

Many things can get in the way of a pleasant user experience. Here are some of the top ones that can have a tremendous impact on how long people stay (or don’t stay) on your site – things I see being done time and time again.

01. Homepage main heading: "Welcome to XYZ"

The problem: You have about 3 seconds to convince people to stay on your website. Don’t waste that 1st second on reiterating that they’ve landed on the link they clicked: unless people are already familiar with what you do, they have to keep looking for that information. It also doesn’t do any good for your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts.

The solution: Use a more result- or service-oriented approach. For example “Supporting neurodiverse children thrive in school”. Unless you’re a big brand like Nike or Apple, people don’t care about your name. They want to know that you can benefit them one way or the other.

Key takeaway:

Focus on the visitor before yourself.

02. Adding text as an image

The problem: Static images don’t adapt to different devices. Sure, the overall size might change (hopefully), but on mobile devices you might end up with very small text size, or the length of each line might get too long for a desktop device. You also will have little control of the overall text size across the site, unless you always use the same image format.

Another problem with this practice is that you need to find, edit and re-upload that image every time a text change is needed. And, again, this is a terrible practice for your SEO efforts – if your text can’t be read by search engines, they will not be able to find it.

The solution: Don’t upload text as images. If you’re struggling to find a way to upload text as editable text, speak to a professional.

Note: This refers to paragraphs, bullet points etc. – the name in your logo and so on can of course go on as an image.

03. Overlaying text on images

The problem: This can often look cool, but often reduces legibility.

The solution: Not doing it in the first place can obviously be one simple solution. But in case overlaying is what works best for your brand:

  • Add a text box: Place the text comfortably within a box, adding some spacing around the text. Set the box to around 90% opacity, or even lower and give it a “blur filter” to blur the photo in the areas the box is covering.
  • Use images with a lot of white space: The more details and elements within an image, the more it will interfere with your text. Avoid unnecessary clutter, opting for images with large areas of “nothing.”
  • Check the legibility on multiple devices: Your text might be legible on desktop, when it’s positioned “just right” – but it might be a whole different story on your mobile. Make sure you check that you really can read (not skim) it on all devices.

04. Not optimising for mobile devices

On the topic of different devices, many websites are difficult to use on a mobile device.

The problem: Look around you when out and about – are people on their phones? Do you ever visit a website on your phone? Chances are, you do. And guess what, so do people around you. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you will lose out on users. (And if people enter your website, then leave because of a poor user experience, search engines like Google will eventually see that as a red flag.)

The solution: Make sure your website is just as accessible on a mobile as a desktop. While you might need to cut down on fancy transitions and interactivity, your visitors should have a pleasant and intuitive experience no matter the device.

Frequently asked questions

Let’s return to our travel example: Depending on the type and length of your trip, you may wish to hire a travel counsellor. Someone who can get all your bookings into one package, advise on your final destination with in-depth knowledge and experience, and who can suggest activities based on your needs and wants.

Websites are the same. While you can do quite a lot of work with basic computer skills, you might want to speak with a professional to set your website up for success.

Furthermore, a web developer who understands your sector and even looks at elements such as text and content will likely provide a much stronger result than a “generic” developer.

While there are generous souls (and even agencies) out there who would be happy to build charity websites for free, I would recommend doing your research before opting for those services.

In my non-profit framework Win Momentum, a unique website is only part of the strategy: We also plan out your website to make sure it’s set up with all of the best practices mentioned above in place (and many more), and you can rest assured the site will be intuitive for users no matter what device they view it on.

To publish a website, you need 3 main elements set up:

  • Platform (for example WordPress or Wix)
  • Domain (your website’s address/URL)
  • Hosting (the server on which your website is stored)

There’s no right or wrong option for any of these.

Most reliable hosting providers will give a similar experience and satisfaction, and your domain just needs to be one that represents your organisation and that doesn’t already exist – more often than not, choose your organisation’s name. I have a separate guide explaining more about domains and hosting options if you want to understand more.

In terms of your platform, or CMS (content management system), you have many options. Some would require more development work than others. My personal preference is WordPress, but Wix and Squarespace are also good alternatives.

Are you effectively using your website to increase donations?

If built properly, your website can act as a 24/7 partner. In turn, it can help increase donations and overall support. With clear information and simple navigation, more people can be informed about your cause and be inspired to support you.

Unsure of the next steps for you? Why don’t you book a free call with me to discuss your unique needs?

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