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Website design for a charity organisation requires a unique approach and skills.

Here at NerdCow, we are of an opinion that there aren’t two identical websites. Just as there aren’t two the same people. A versatile blueprint doesn’t exist, because a website is a direct reflection of your company’s mission and culture. At the end of the day, you started a business because you wanted to bring something unique to the table. You had a vision, which unravelled into this fantastic journey that made others want to join.

While all firms start in similar circumstances, charity organisations quickly hop on a separate train. Their business model isn’t wrapped around generating a stream of revenue. Instead, they focus on making our planet a better place to live on by bravely tackling poverty, illness and hurt. Although it remains obvious they can’t prosper without money, they put their mere existence in ordinary people hoping they would support their cause.

That is why we love working with charities. They remind us of important topics, which we need to address on a daily basis while making us appreciate smaller things in our routines. We wanted to take this opportunity and give something back to them as a thank you for their good doing. As a web agency, we decided to use our expertise and write this comprehensive website design guide for charities so that they can take full advantage of their online presence.

Don’t jump straight into web design – prep first

As much as one would love to jump straight into the development of a website to see it online sooner rather than later, it is much better to hold your horses and do the homework first. It is a vital step in the journey which eliminates hiccups down the line, ensures on-time delivery and saves you money in the long run.

A website build can be overwhelming at the beginning. While a good web agency will guide you through the process in baby steps, they will still need some information from you to plan the project. We compiled a few major points that you should discuss internally before talking to website experts.

Pick a Content Management System

The age of static websites is gone. You can expect to have full control over the content on your website. That is when a Content Management System (CMS) comes into play.

You most likely have staff who writes blog articles or announces events on a regular basis. Thanks to using a CMS, they can manage the content as if they were editing a Word document.

There is a plethora of database-powered systems, so you will easily find the one that you and your team feel the most comfortable with. If you decided to work with NerdCow, we would recommend using WordPress. We have been a big fan of the system for years now, and for a good reason.

4 Reasons To Use WordPress For A Charity Website

The bespoke requirements of a charity website come into play even before the design phase of the website build. Choosing a web agency, website hosting and a content management system (CMS) adequately to the modest budget and specific requirements of a nonprofit organisation is crucial. We recommend choosing WordPress for a charity website. The open-source platform is free, easy to use, popular and reliable. Here are all the reasons to use it for your charity website.

Sign up for premium hosting

There is no need to state the obvious. An offline website isn’t that useful. Nevertheless, for some businesses, an online website is more of a lifeline than for others. It is especially true when a company or an organisation uses it as a main income channel. In other words, each minute they remain disconnected from the web, they lose money.

We think a charity organisation falls under that category. If you are accepting donations through your website, you need to be up and running all the time. With this in mind, you should consider signing up for a premium and reliable hosting plan.

Organise your brand guidelines

Two pencils

It’s not always about the looks. In fact, it never is when it comes to websites. A brand is so much more than a logo and a colour palette. It also includes a mission statement, cherished values, tone of voice and culture. Providing your web agency with such information helps them to understand your business in-depth and flawlessly integrate the new website into your existing brand.

If you are unsure whether your business could use a brand refresh, you should consult with a branding agency first before moving on to building a website. As we know, websites adapt to your brand image, so it is good to nail down the branding first. A wrong online presence might cripple the efforts.


Includes tools to maximise your website potential.

Draft a brief technical scope

You will need to decide what you expect your website to do. There is no need to go into the nitty-gritty, but a general list, which includes things like receiving donations, a blog or a newsletter is a great starting point.

Hold an internal brainstorming session with your team to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. Then, prioritise all the ideas. We suggest an approach called MoSCoW, which stands for:

  • Must-have – A list of features that are critical to the current project in order for it to be called successful.
  • Should-have – Requirements that are important but not necessary for delivery. They are often less time-critical than the must-haves.
  • Could-have – These are desirable but not necessary and could improve the user experience or customer satisfaction for a little development cost.
  • Won’t-have – Features listed here are the least critical, provide the lowest payback, or are not appropriate at that time.

Try and label each requirement with the aforementioned categories and present them to your web agency. It will not only help them to build a realistic roadmap for the project but also provide precise cost.

Decide on a budget

Know how much you want to spend. If your web agency utilises the agile development method to deliver projects, you can divide the cost into instalments rather than paying it all upfront.

An estimated spend enables a service provider to say what is feasible and what is not. That is why we asked you to prioritise features using the MoSCoW method first.

You cannot succeed in website design without content

There is no argument about the power of well-written content. It tells the story. Your story. Its role is to catch the attention of a user and keep them engaged for as long as possible. Here are a few steps that will help you make the most out of it.

Determine the purpose of website content

Each piece of content on your website needs to serve a purpose, which guides your visitor closer to the desired action. At this stage, you should focus on proving why certain pages should make it into the sitemap.

You might find it easier to start at the very beginning when you ask yourself why you need a website. Some examples of the purpose of a website are:

  • Get donations
  • Build awareness
  • Educate an audience
  • Grow a list
  • Sell something
  • Attract sponsors

Identify your users and their objectives

Defining the target audience can be rewarding and time-saving in the long-run. Not only it provides a basis for strategy and design decisions, but also optimises your marketing efforts.

Usually, businesses have a quite narrow group of consumers, which they target with their services or products. Charities often operate with broader definitions because, for example, everyone is vulnerable to cancer. Regardless, knowing your users and recognising their goals will help to maximise the success of a new website.

We recommend having an internal discussion and jotting down your thoughts based on your own experience. You can also use available data from the analytics tools to build a few profiles of typical website visitors.

Eventually, the exercise will lead you to user personas.

Map the customer journey

A customer-centric approach is a must in order to deliver a successful website. If you want to have an opportunity to turn a prospect into a lead, then visitors need to efficiently find the information they came for.

Since you don’t know the entry point, you need to make sure that every page encourages users to explore and provides an opportunity to convert. Creating a sitemap from the previous step will give you a great overview of the links between pages. Try to eliminate dead-ends and use the power of internal linking to enrich the customer journey through your website.

Figure out the call-to-actions

Call-to-actions (CTAs) frequently refer to standing out buttons, which call users to take definitive action, for example, “Buy Now”. They are used to conclude a section on a page, or the page itself so that user isn’t left alone wondering what they should do next.

In the light of Steve Krug’s rule don’t make me think, when a user lands on a page it should present them with a clear course of action. It significantly boosts the chance of a conversion.

If you’d like to learn even more about digital copywriting, we have a comprehensive guide on how to write the best website content.

Take care of the website interface and it will take care of your charity

The fact is we don’t read pages. We scan them. There might be a few reasons for it. We are usually in a hurry, we know we don’t need to read everything or we are simply good at it. Regardless, our role is to design a great interface that is perfect for scanning, not for reading.

In a blink of an eye, a new website visitor should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What site is this?
  • What page am I on?
  • What are the major sections of this site?
  • What are my options at this level?
  • Where am I in the scheme of things?
  • How can I search?

There is nothing like a good homepage

Notes about the interface

Being the most visited page on the website, it serves a specific purpose. It’s the one page almost every visitor sees, so no wonder the fight for the presence on this page is fierce.

A well-done homepage design has to accommodate a few things:

  • It tells the users what site this is and what it is for.
  • It gives an overview of what the website has to offer.
  • It is a shortcut to the most frequently requested pieces of content, so people don’t have to hunt for them.
  • It shows users the content they are looking for and what they might be interested in.
  • It makes it obvious what the first step is.
  • It establishes credibility and trust.

The navigation needs to be solid

The truth is there is no one around to ask for directions when you visit a website. You need to rely on the provided tools such as primary navigation, in-page links or breadcrumbs.

If we step into a user’s shoes, they typically try to find something. First, they will decide whether they want to use available links to reach a place where the information might be or they can utilise a search box if present. Eventually, if they can’t find what they are looking for, they will leave.

When you decide on the website structure (which the navigation naturally follows), ensure it doesn’t make users feel lost. Instead, it should tell the users what is on the page and how to use the website. It decreases the chance of confusion but also gives visitors confidence in the people who built it.

Make it accessible to everyone

If there is a business type that benefits the most from the accessibility, it is a charity organisation. They constantly work with people with disabilities and their website design needs to reflect that.

When you build a website with accessibility as the priority, you need to make sure it can be easily navigated and understood by people affected with blindness, deafness and mobility issues. You need to test using the website with a keyboard, voice, screen readers, and similar devices.

Don’t forget about the colour scheme, satisfying font size, comfortable leading and spacing between layout elements. It all makes a big difference in how everyone experiences your website.

You need to measure your success to improve

When you finally launch a website you should start tracking its performance. In most cases, a primary objective for a charity website is donations. Therefore, it is imperative you keep a close eye on the effectiveness of your donation funnel.

That is not all, though. While not every page will have a monetary goal, it will certainly have a job that can be measured. For example, the about us page will try to introduce your charity to a reader. Thanks to tools like HotJar or Google Analytics, we can see through the reader’s eyes to better understand how they consume the content.

Google Analytics can be overwhelming and they provide rather broad metrics. Trying to derive meaning from them might not be the best. Instead use the gathered data from all your tools, with each tool building on one another to tell a more complete story.

A website is an ongoing project, which can be constantly improved. When you find a problem, try using Google Optimise to A/B test an alternative and see if that helped. Then iterate, iterate, iterate, until you get it right.

Good luck!

There is plenty of information to digest, so if you feel a bit lost or have a question, don’t hesitate to talk to us.

Originally published Nov 21, 2019 10:15:38 AM, updated May 21 2022.

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