Putting together an effective charity website design strategy that provokes donations, makes information easy to access and encourages peer sharing can be extremely difficult. That said, as with most large projects, things become much easier when divided into smaller, more manageable tasks.
Here, we urge you to try and think like a user which means trying to view your website through the eyes of somebody who knows little or nothing about your charity. When you do this, you take a step back and begin to see things with an unusual level of clarity. Improve your charity’s website by asking – and hopefully beginning to answer – the following questions.
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Table of contents
- Does my website convey trust?
- Is information easy to find?
- Does my website reflect our brand?
- Summary – think like a user!
1. Does my website convey trust?
The nature of the web means that in almost all cases, your website visitor isn’t going to speak to a person and therefore they will navigate your website unaided. This means your website has a lot of work to do to earn their trust.
Trust is the “cornerstone of long-distance relationships” and as such it is vital that people coming to your website are not turned off by mistakes or accidental transgressions on your part. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when trying to earn a visitor’s trust:
Your website doesn’t work on the user’s device
Broadly speaking this could be a tablet, desktop computer or mobile phone, and if your website is not optimised for any of these differing screen sizes and input methods (keyboard, mouse, touchscreen) this can plant a seed of doubt in the visitor’s mind. Why should they trust your organisation if their experience on your website is poor?
Your content contains spelling mistakes
If your website text contains errors, or if it is needlessly lengthy or in some other way gets between your user and the information they came to find, this can be frustrating or confusing to the user. Take the time to carefully proofread your work before publishing it on your website.
Your website is not secure
As we discovered in a previous article about charity website security, user protection is now critical in establishing confidence in your organisation. Web browsers are now telling visitors if the website they are on is not secure, and this can instantly put doubt in the mind of somebody who may have originally intended to donate.
2. Is information easy to find?
This can be a thorny question because it very much depends on the context of who is visiting your website and the reason for their visit. Establishing good information architecture is in striking the right balance between organisation goals and user goals.
A classic example in the case of charity websites is this: you want your visitors to make a donation, but they want to find out more information beforehand.
Establishing good information architecture is in finding the balance between organisation and user goals.
A strategy must be developed that satisfies both the goals of your organisation and the goals of the user. Here are some things you can do to help with this:
Do you tell people how they can help?
Simply by taking the time to explain how a donor’s money will be spent can not only instil trust, it will answer that immediate question of “why should I give to your charity?” Give tangible examples, such as “by donating £15 you provide a meal, shower and bed for the night for a homeless person”.
Similarly, by sharing success stories from your service users, or interviewing your volunteers, you start to build a positive picture about how the visitor can help you, and hopefully, provoke action on their part.
Are your main pages clearly available?
For websites with lots of content it can be tempting to relegate a lot of pages to the website footer, or as deeply-nested pages in other sections. In some cases we see entire menus hidden behind the “hamburger” icon, meaning the user doesn’t see any links until they press the icon.
Carefully select your most important pages of content and ensure that they are available in your main navigation. Reiterate this in your website footer or sidebars so that visitors can get to these pages no matter what page they originally came in on.
Are your core visitor needs met?
When structuring a website layout it can be useful to envisage the absolute key types of visitors. This enables you to write content around a select few questions and deprioritise the rest.
For example, if you are charity working to end violence against women, you might consider these to be some of the most important goals to visitors coming to your website:
- I am a victim and need support
- I know somebody who I suspect may be a victim and wish to help
- I am a supporter and wish to make a donation
When faced with these priorities you can then structure your content to focus on these points and ensure they get the most prominence on your website.
3. Does my website reflect our brand?
Having a strong brand identity is not just for the likes of Nike and Apple. Your identity as an organisation comprises your people, your processes and your products and services.
It is a common misconception that a good brand means a flashy, expensive logo, but really it just means care and consistency in how you communicate with supporters and service users. It’s important to develop a culture where staff at all levels recognise this, and it is of course vital that your website reflects this also. Here are a few things to look out for:
Your charity logo is out of date or poor
Of course, the visual side of your brand identity is important to your comms efforts. If your organisation does not have a memorable and positive connection with people it’s unlikely your supporters will get behind it. Find a designer who can develop a brand identity and logo for your charity who understands your message (some may offer pro bono charity design work).
Your tone of voice is inconsistent
A big part of establishing a brand is in ensuring that your tone of voice is not only appropriate to your audience but consistent. This means writing a few guidelines for internal use. This can be as simple as noting down phrases that should be avoided, or giving guidance on the demographic of the reader (such as age and education level). Refer back to this document when staff or contributors write content for your charity.
You don’t make good use of photography
Imagery helps to explain ideas and communicates in a way that words cannot. Photographs of people, in particular, can also help form an emotional relationship between your reader and your content. By carefully selecting relevant pictures you can easily help improve brand perception and provoke action from your website visitor.
Be warned though; poor image choice can turn people off extremely quickly!
Summary – think like a user!
The key to creating content that resonates is in trying to get inside the mind of somebody who doesn’t know what your organisation does. Even if most of your visitors do know your charity, when you cater for the lowest common denominator – i.e. those people who know nothing about you – the principal of thinking in this way benefits everyone.