Backdrop of fresh fruit and vegetables, overlaid with the words 'Your website is ot a window on your charity. It's a whole supermarket'.

Your website as a supermarket. Key ingredients in your plan. 4 questions to ask yourself. 7 planning steps.

Your website is more than a window into your charity. It's a tool for identity, service delivery, and organisational growth. It's even a tool for income generation if you choose it. Most importantly it's a place for your users to get information that is relevant for them.

“If your users don't feel that your website’s content is relevant and fresh and trusted what do you expect them to do? They won’t hang around trying to find it”

Your website as a supermarket

>>Watch from 0.00 to 3.59 of ‘Why your website isn’t a window on your charity. It’s a whole supermarket’.

If you’re building a new website, your process needs to start way ahead of deciding what the site will look like. It needs to start by asking what your website needs to do to support the success of your organisation and its users. 

This process applies whether your budget is £1,000 or £100,000. You need to feel confident that every pound you spend will positively impact the people you’re supporting. This means your website must align to the plan your organisation has, whatever that plan may be. 

Key ingredients in your website’s plan

Your website plan needs three ingredients to work. 

  1. Your leadership team. They need to be involved and understand the process.
  2. Your charity’s strategic plan
  3. Your ‘users’ - your audience. These people are the reason your charity exists. Your success depends on how you treat, support and engage them. And so does your website’s success.

4 questions to ask first

So if you’re starting a website project, down those design tools and take a step back. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What does this website need to do to make my charity a success?
  2. Who are my users? 
  3. What do they want to do?
  4. What do we want them to do?

To answer these you’ll need to plan a ‘discovery’ phase (working out what you need to do and why). This phase will give you:

  • the knowledge to make decisions
  • reassurance that the design decisions you make are either right or worth the risk.

About this guide

This guide explains what you need to do and, perhaps more importantly, who needs to help you do it.

1. Make sure you have a project sponsor

It’s likely you’re a digital or comms manager or officer, maybe a ‘head of’. You will be managing this project, but your project sponsor should be accountable for it.

A project sponsor should be someone in your leadership team with oversight of organisational objectives and budgets, such as a director or CEO.

This person doesn’t need to be involved day-to-day, but they need to know what this website needs to do and where the money is being spent. If a request for non-core functionality is pushed into the plan, this person gets to say yes or no. And if it’s a yes, they need to understand that it takes money and time away from the core project. They take on the decision and therefore the risk.

“Your leadership team must be involved as the success of the organisation is ultimately on their shoulders.”

2. Make sure you involve the right internal people

Alongside your sponsor and your core team, you need to involve others in your organisation (you also need to involve your users but not just yet).

The first phase of your discovery will involve workshops with internal stakeholders. Get a cross section of your colleagues involved, from every team. Together, you can talk about what’s important for your organisation… the answers will surprise you!

Hactar (design and tech digital studio)always says ‘invite the most difficult person in your organisation’. Not only do you need to know how a website supports your colleagues (or makes life difficult), but you need buy-in and understanding from them too. A differing view further down the line can cause issues like delays, changes in scope or budget creep.

You might be tempted to create a project board or working group. However, when it comes to decision making, too many voices can be difficult to work with. Instead ensure you, or your boss, are trusted to be the decision makers and use any working groups for research and opinion only.

3. Understand what’s important for the organisation

This is not about your mission or the nice strategy in your desk drawer! It’s about what your organisation has to do in the next 1-5 years to be the organisation it wants to be.

Charities have had it tough in the past decade, so it could be that one of these is increasing (or sustaining) income. But it might also be growth in membership or an increase in online service delivery. It could be that your organisation is working towards a big change of direction in the coming years, so this website needs to adapt to that.

If you ask your internal stakeholders this question and are met with silence… you’re not alone.

So many charities work day-by-day and do great work, but it’s very common for internal stakeholders to not know what’s important beyond their role or team. This is where your sponsor is important - they can bring this guidance. And if they can’t, then down tools and get clarity on strategy before you go further. If not, you’re throwing thousands of pounds into a dark well to build something with no idea what it needs to do.

You may get lots of answers for objectives, so prioritise together, as a group. Vote on it and agree.

Tip: If you’re doing this in person, use post-it notes on a wall and get everyone talking about them. Facilitate a conversation and challenge people on their answers. If you’re doing this online, Miro and Mural are great tools.

4. Figure out the website goals that will make those important objectives a reality

Once you know where the organisation is going, you’ll find it easier to see what the website needs to do. 

You will inevitably have a list of things your colleagues want to ‘fix’ on the website - missing content, editing issues - or functionality they’ve seen on other sites they like.

But you can’t please everyone and shouldn’t promise to. 

By prioritising and voting as a group, you can choose the goals that best align with your organisational objectives: what will help that income grow (or be a barrier to it), how can you better surface that essential advice or how can you push that campaign at a time when it will resonate with the public?

Avoid specific functionality, like ‘a button to download a PDF’ - your agency will design that for you. Instead, think of the bigger picture - the reason your website needs to exist and the function it has for your organisation.

For example, if income generation through individual giving is essential, then focusing the budget on donation pages and a good payment gateway is a goal that aligns. Equally, if growing membership is important, then an improved sign up process might align best.

If you end your workshop with a goal that doesn’t align to an objective (something everyone really wants), then your project sponsor needs to know and understand this. They should be the ones to say yes or no to it.

5. Know who your users are and what they want

So far, all the things you've discovered from your objectives and goals workshops are opinions. You don’t yet know if they align with what your users need or want. You’re hoping, and making necessary assumptions.

You need to validate these assumptions by working out who your users are, what they want from you and, critically, what you want from them. 

User research is the most effective way to do this and it’s often worth the budget. It doesn’t need to be expensive - you can have a lot of 30 minute chats in two days.  It’s a good idea even if you’re designing a website flexible enough to tweak content and journeys post-launch (and your website should be this flexible!).

List your users - any and all you can think of. Choose the ones that align to your organisational objectives - perhaps the ones that bring in the income, the active members, or that new beneficiary you're targeting in your change of direction. 

Turn them into real people using personas.

Personas are stereotypes, in a good way. They sum up who a user is and what they need in order to engage with you. You absolutely can’t and shouldn’t plan everything for everyone. If you do, you’ll create barriers for your most important users. Too many pop ups about emails might stop someone donating. Asking for too much data up front might put off a potential member from signing up. 

Make your persona feel real. Give them a name and a personality. Base them on someone you know so you feel a connection with them. 

‘Everyone who can vote’ doesn’t tell us anything, but ‘26 year old baker and mum of one Sarah, earning £17,000 a year, volunteers with her local food bank, is a carer for her mother and enjoys cycling’, does. 

Knowing this much about Sarah will help you think more carefully about what she wants from you and how you can give it to her.

Map your user’s journey from entry to goal, chipping away at any barriers that arise and focusing on any opportunities that help them on their way.

6. Can you afford this?

Once you have clarity on what you need to build and for whom, you need to ask yourself… is the budget enough?

If not, what can you remove or scale back? A good agency will help you find solutions, building the smallest and easiest thing possible. Something that you can test and iterate on later.

Anything you can’t build now you can roadmap, which means you have a product plan and estimated budget for the next phase of work.

If you still don’t have the money, you do at least have the research, so use this to build a case. Ask your leadership team for more budget and explain the risks in organisational strategy if you can’t continue. You may be able to use this research work to help you apply for funding.

7. Congratulations… you’re ready to start design

If you now have a map that shows an ideal user journey through your site and you can see clear wins where your users have reached their goal, then you’re ready to start design.

But hold your horses!

Design is not about how your site looks - it’s about structure, taxonomy, navigation, how your content works, and the tools editors need. 

Work this out first, prototype it, test it and then…only then…should you add your brand and visual identity. 

It’s important to note that a design is not a technical scope, so always take designs as a concept only and leave yourself room to iterate as you build in order to make the best possible website for your organisation, your users and your editors.

Summary

  • Your website is an essential tool that should help your organisation be a success.
  • What this success looks like depends on your organisational plan - what does it need to do, where is it going, what’s important?
  • Don’t do it alone - get your colleagues on board and ask their opinions.
  • Design and build for the users that will make it happen.
  • Make sure your leadership team not only understands this, but takes responsibility for it.

Get more resources about building a website for your charity.

About Gemma

I'm MD of social good design and tech digital studio Hactar.

You can contact her by email or on Twitter.


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