Posted on 31st May 2020

How to write a digital project brief for your charity

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Over the past few years I’ve spoken with dozens and dozens of charities about their websites and wider digital presence.

Discussions have ranged from short phone calls with the comms manager to lengthy video conferences with several stakeholders. Some have had a clearer idea than others of their strengths and weaknesses, and some have felt more confident than others.

But here’s something I have noticed: the way that charities come to outline their digital requirements differs, from one organisation to the next.

Unsurprisingly, there appears to be no standard approach to scoping out a digital project.

This is unfortunate, because it means that charities are often thinking about the wrong things, or thinking about the right things, in the wrong way.

End results vary, but the process is the same

Every project is different, because each organisation is unique in its own right. Its history, the team, its service users and supporters.

Therefore, the end result will undoubtedly be unique to that organisation. But the process you follow to get there doesn’t need to vary significantly from one project to the next.

I’m going to share with you my approach to uncovering project requirements so that you can, internally or by working with a provider, develop a much clearer vision for your digital project strategy.

Why are you doing this?

One of the most powerful questions to ask when embarking on a new digital project is to ask why.

“Why do we need a new website? Why do we need to pay for Twitter ads? Why do we need an ad grant? Why am I writing this blog post?”

Interrogating the “why” enables you to see not just the project goals but helps you to uncover any weaknesses that are currently hidden.

This is important to identify, because sometimes a solution is put in place based on false assumptions. Let’s take a look at an example:

Your website delivers no real value and you surmise it is because it “looks out of date and ugly”. That may well be contributing to your problems, but perhaps the real issue is that you have very few visitors. Or perhaps your content is simply not engaging your readers. In this case, building a new website would be an exercise in futility: investing in building your web traffic and tightening up your content would be a much wiser use of your time and money.

Your perceived need for a new website is based on (mostly) false assumptions.

Be sure to validate your ideas by producing a clear explanation of why each requirement is needed.

Look at your analytics data, conduct user research through surveys and hold internal stakeholder conversations. If you can’t do any of this, just be mindful of your speculations, and try to challenge yourself when you notice an assumption being made.

Describe the destination, not the route

When scoping out a digital project it is important to clearly define your goals. Your goals are essentially what you want to achieve:

We need a new website so that we can confidently position ourselves as experts in the field. This will result in more consultation work and grow our income.

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We need an integrated donation form so that we can deliver a better supporter experience. This will lead to more recurring donations.

I’m calling these goals “destinations”. It is the place you’re hoping to get to with your project. Once you’ve defined these destinations, it is often tempting to start prescribing the route.

By route, I mean a plan outlining how you are going to get from A to B. Your brief is not the place to do this, and the problem with trying to define a route at this point is that:

  • You get bogged down in the details, unable to see the wood for the trees (keep your eye on the prize!)
  • You risk hemming yourself in to a specific piece of technology or solution before you explore the market
  • You miss out on enlisting the knowledge and experience of a professional.

In my years of experience, a project brief is best kept light and focused on the goals. It is only once a project has been agreed that the route should be explored.

Include your means of execution

So far we have explored the “why” and “what” of our digital project: the driving motivation for change, and the result of those changes.

But it is as equally important to define how you’re going to achieve your goals.

It doesn’t matter whether you are seeking internal buy-in, external funding or working with a digital provider, your brief should include the following:

  • Who are the delivery team? What’s their experience and what will be their specific responsibilities? For example: who has final sign-off? Who will write content?
  • Over what period of time will this project run? Is this project time-bounded or ongoing?
  • What is our budget for this work? Is an ongoing fee expected, if so, how much?

Those final two points in particular are tricky if you’ve never worked on a digital project before. If this is the case, my caution to you is that the work involved is probably more than you think.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to dig into project pricing but if you’re looking for transformational change, prepare to invest in it, in terms of both time and money. A good way to think about this is by asking “when do we need this done by?” and “what’s the most I am prepared to pay for it?”

Your brief is a conversation-starter

Don’t feel the need to have all the answers. The goal of a well-written brief is to provide clarification on why you want to do something, what you’re hoping to get out of it, and to ensure you have the means necessary to fulfil those requirements.

If you need help starting a brief, get in touch for a consultation to find out how I can help, and be sure to pick up a copy of The Digital Charity.

Questions? Tweet me.