How to plan a charity website?

Learn how to get ready and plan a successful (not stressful) web design project for your charity. Todo list for a charity web design project.
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Visitor-centred web design

Visitors are becoming more impatient, regardless of whether the site is for a charity or a business. When users navigate a charity’s website, they come with a purpose – they need to find where to go quickly.

To ensure this, a good charity’s website must have a clear vision of what it wants to say and what it wants the user to do. This means users’ experience is focused and tailored to meet specific goals. For example, a charity intends to recruit more volunteers or get more people to sign up for a newsletter or event. Occasionally, charities want more donations from public members and inspire interest from grant agencies or corporations.

Some of the other objectives of a web design project can be as follows:

  • Reporting on research progress and publications
  • Making downloadable content available
  • Facilitating discussion among members
  • Managing all sorts of forms, including recruitment and referrals 


Failure to have a clear vision with an instant impact message for the user is a risk to the organisation. It risks:

  • Losing potential donors – Real, immediate financial impact
  • Losing potential supporters – Sign-ups to newsletters and potential future donors
  • Losing potential partners – Potential commercial sponsorship or ongoing donors


This means no clear vision and vague objectives can jeopardise achieving a successful website regardless of web design and development quality.


Preparation – do your homework

A good charity website ensures thorough preparation is being carried out before a supplier has even been appointed. This means that when reaching out to suppliers, the organisation can explain their requirements effectively and establish which supplier will best meet their needs.


Important things to consider:

  1. Project Manager – Committees often govern charities. Board members bring a wealth of knowledge and a wide range of views, suitable for web design projects, but multiple voices can present decision-making challenges. A good charity website project will consider having a single point of contact for both parties. Web design agencies allocate a trained project manager to oversee the process from beginning to end. The value of having a single point of contact for both parties (organisation and supplier) is immense, as it helps communicate effectively. Not having an appointed project manager could significantly extend the timeline of a project and create confusion and delays.  
  2. Brief – A web design brief is a document created by a client for an agency. It consists of a description of the project, a list of requirements, time, budget, and more. The brief doesn’t have to be pages and pages long; it can be simple and bullet-pointed. The purpose of the brief is to state the main reasons and quickly list the project’s requirements and aims. Using this document, suppliers can quickly and easily assess how they can help and follow up with questions where necessary. A good supplier may even assist with refining the brief.
  3. KPIs (key performance indicators) – Meeting these indicators will evaluate the success. Examples of KPIs: number of visitors, value of donations, participation in events, time spent on the website per visit, number of forms submitted, improvements in website loading time, etc. Justifing budget makes sense with KPIs.


Make it accessible

Accessibility should be at the forefront of every website at every stage of development. It is crucial for charities and even more so for those who deal with users who may have accessibility requirements when navigating a website.

Websites are now required to meet a set of minimum standards around accessibility (WCAG web content accessibility guidance) when being built. These standards should be considered at the beginning of the process when planning to create a new website or redevelop an existing one. Following best practices is good because it shows that the organisation is considerate of its audience and current regulations and is suitable for search engines, too.

Accessibility is not about allowing users to make the text on a web page more extensive or change the background colour. Accessibility is impacted by the technology used to build a website, including alternative photo descriptions, language complexity, etc.


Who is it for? (Audience)

Charities usually are very good at knowing how to talk about:

  • Their background
  • Their purpose
  • Their impact
  • Their achievements

But what’s important to realise is that, in fact, the website isn’t about the organisation. It’s about the people using it. Knowing your audience is vital for a successful web design project.

Everything from the navigation to the layout, the copy, the images and more should be catered to the user and their experience.

The focus should be on the existing and potential supporters of the charities, and the entire experience should encourage them to donate, sign up to be a member or complete the relevant call to action for that type of user.



There is always the temptation to add as much information as possible to the website, whether relevant to users or not. Adding copy that acts as a filler may pad out the page, but it needs to be more valuable to the organisation or the user. Good charity websites are cautious about what information is presented to the user and how it is presented to them.

A good practice for charity websites is to review their copy and ensure that it is presented:

  • to a specific user group
  • in the particular area of the website
  • for a specific purpose

For example, a Contact Us page should have a paragraph about parking or visiting arrangements. Add a piece of practical, simple, and helpful information for users.

Consider bite-size chunks rather than long paragraphs. Separate copy with relevant images to keep the user engaged.

Think: Don’t write what the organisation wants to say; write what the organisation wants their users to know. 


Consider impactful visual elements.

Impactful, striking, and engaging photos and videos are essential to secure a successful charity website. The images and/or videos selected for the website must be relevant to the cause. For example, a cause helping people of retirement age should not prominently display only young people throughout. This can happen often, as obvious as this sounds, mainly if stock images are used.

Try using real-world images and videos for the website (from events or workshops, for example). While stock images and videos can be compelling when used correctly, content from actual events or experiences can show the reality of the charity and cause and have the biggest impact. With stock images and videos, you can also run the risk of having duplicated content from other websites if it is a commonly used asset.


Plan calls to action

Ultimately, charities want to attract users to their website to take action, whether donating one-off or regularly, signing up as a member or taking other action; a good charity website needs to have well-signposted, clear calls to action buttons.

For example, a charity wants more newsletter sign-ups. A call to action SIGN UP NOW! with no additional information for users will not work well. Sign-up rates will be improved by adding a description of what this newsletter will bring, how often it will be distributed, and who is writing. Only expect action if the reasons are clear.


Having a call to action somewhere on the site is not enough. A good website puts genuine thought and effort into making it as easy as possible for the intended audience to get directly to the desired call to action.

Let’s say that a charity has two audiences to cater for. In this example, each audience will have their own areas on the website and different calls to action. The website needs to guide each user group to their area. In this example, the audiences are:

Member of the public – Call to action = Make a donation

Potential Corporate Donor – Call to action = Complete contact form. While this isn’t always easy, taking the time to think about each user group’s journey can significantly impact the experience. Planning these paths is a main task for skilled user interface designers working with web designers and clients, as well as planning and testing. 


Consider mobile devices first.

An excellent charity website considers all platforms and devices when creating and developing a website. More than 50% of users will visit websites on their mobile devices, so ignoring these users is essentially dismissing more than half of your potential audience.

Consider the user’s journey on each device and platform during development to ensure all users get the best possible experience and can easily navigate to their relevant pages.


Make the donation process seamless.

Whether you want your users to make a one-off donation or sign up for regular, ongoing contributions, the experience must be simple and fast and show the impact it will make.

Where possible, removing barriers between the user and donating is essential. For example, it is not a seamless experience if users are sent off the website to external platforms to complete donations. Or to a blank payment page with little or no branding, reassuring that payment is legitimate and secure.

However, sometimes the process is dictated by outside factors such as budget. A simple PayPal butting is inexpensive to implement, while a seamless, custom-made payment module is more time-consuming and more complex to build. Yet still, a simple PayPal button can be surrounded on the page by enticing descriptions and photos that encourage action.

The ideal donation scenario looks like this: a user clicks a Donate Now call to action button that takes them to a dedicated donation page. That page offers donation amount choices, the impact it makes (3 is a good number), a choose your amount field sign-up newsletter agreement tick box, and a GDPR agreement to process personal data. The whole process happens without navigating away from the page, offering Apple Pay, Google Pay and other payment options, and once the transaction is complete, a receipt and thank you email is sent, and the user is redirected to the Success page with social Share buttons. 

That would be easy and satisfying.

If a payment system takes the project over budget, consider setting up a PayPal account and embedding the code into the site. It isn’t as professional or customer-friendly as the previous example, but the user can still donate towards the cause via a recognisable, safe payment method.

If the platform has been chosen for specific elements, such as contact forms, for example, then work within the parameters of that platform, but make sure everything else around it is as clean and as intuitive as possible to offset any slight inconvenience caused by the platform’s restrictions.



10 years ago, having a simple website with 5-10 pages may have been enough to attract and engage users. But as mentioned at the beginning of this piece, users are becoming even more impatient. A website needs to engage visitors quickly and make them feel that what they are doing has an impact.

How do you plan a successful charity website project?

  1. Invest time in creating a website brief.
  2. Allocate resources in the form of time, budget and people.
  3. Think of your audience, how they are, what they want.
  4. Anticipate user journey and call to action,
  5. What the success of the project looks like (KPI),
  6. Gather content (copy, images, branding),
  7. Design for mobiles first,
  8. Consider accessibility,
  9. Make the website applicable for users and your organisation by adding functionalities – donations, forms, recruitment, etc.
  10. Enjoy working with people who care about your cause as much as you do.


If you would like to learn more about charity websites and how we can help, please get in touch.

Call Mike on 01296 769369

or email




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