Why I want to design websites for charities
I had a very privileged lockdown in my flat in Southern France. But every night when I clapped for health professionals from my balcony, I couldn’t help but question my own contribution to society. I don’t mean to be melodramatic about it, but honestly, it wasn’t much.
I always thought someday I’d work in the humanitarian sector. But when I’d be older, stronger and more mature. A bit like when you don’t feel like having children because you don’t know enough about life. But with this pandemic, I realised there was no time to waste to support the causes I believe in. And chances are when I reach 50 years old, I’ll be exhausted.
Choosing organisations to support
First, I looked for organisations to support. This is no heroic move, you can get tax relief matching up to 75% of your donation. And since you’re going to pay taxes anyway, why not decide where this money is going?
One could argue there is misery in France and that I didn’t need to go that far to find people to help. Travelling has trained my mind to focus on faraway lands over my own neighbourhood. But the social system we have in France, however limited and imperfect it may be, is simply non-existent in the countries I chose.
The UX challenges charities are facing
I’m not sure I decided to give money to the organisations who most needed it. But on some websites, I faced some obstacles that I couldn’t be bothered to overcome. I chose simplicity, safety and clarity instead.
The charities I decided not to donate money to all shared the same issues:
- The homepage featured blog articles from years ago, at best. That made me question whether the organisation was still active at all.
- They didn’t explain how my donation was going to be used. As a potential donor, I want to know how you’re going to spend my money. Is it a mosquito net? School books? Food? If that is more complicated than this, can you educate me on this?
- They didn’t have newsletters or active social media accounts for me to keep track of their progress. It felt like I’d send money without knowing what would happen next.
- Some websites were not mobile responsive. Although, as a web designer, I can appreciate the challenge it can be, other users won’t always make the effort to zoom in and scroll around your site. It’s just not accessible.
As potential donors, our decisions are either encouraged by a well-structured site or prevented because of the assumptions you couldn’t change. Those assumptions are not necessarily solid or true. But online navigation is done in private, where we don’t have any peer pressure. So unless I’m sure my payment is safe, I’m not going to take any chances. That’s why transactional websites need to be designed strategically, tested and developed without flaws.
The digital needs for charities in 2020
You don’t have to be a genius to know that those clunky websites are made by people already trying to do a million different things on restricted budget and time. You could also argue that when you’re saving people from starvation, you’ve got better things to do than polishing a website.
So when I heard that big NGOs are spending over 25% of their budget on marketing, I felt really uncomfortable. Why would you waste so much money on marketing when it could be used on people? That was, of course, a very naive way of thinking. There is no way the remaining 75% of the budget will reach a charity unless you make it visible.
In the 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report, I found that British charities are perfectly aware of the importance of a digital strategy. With better digital skills, they know they can grow their reach, get more from their data and increase awareness. This has become particularly true with the pandemic, where 66% of British charities are delivering all work remotely.
But what’s the point of investing time and money in marketing & communications if the interface you’re sending people to is unclear? Too many charities’ websites don’t inspire trust. They don’t offer necessary information for potential donors, social workers or volunteers. It’s a waste of everybody’s efforts. That’s part of the reason why I want to help charities and humanitarian workers with their online presence.
What a great website can do for your charity
Knowing your audience
First and foremost, if you’ve been supported properly by your designer, you’ll know exactly what you’re trying to achieve with your website and who you’re going to talk to. Is it just donors? Social workers? How about health professionals? Are you also recruiting volunteers and staff? If you’re supporting battered women facing domestic violence, are they likely to use your website? Is it easy for them to get help? How about friends and relatives? Can they find the information they need to safely support a potential victim? All these questions matter when designing a website.
More time and money
A great website will save you loads of time. You’ll attract donors you’re not reaching out to already. People who just want to make a donation, quickly and safely. And you can automate everything, up to the thank you email they receive.
For 68% of British charities, growing reach is the number one priority in 2020. So you need to have a solid SEO strategy and make it easy for people to find you and your content. If your website has been designed and developed properly, Google will rank it higher in search results.
These are just examples of the benefits you’ll gain from having a great website but I encourage you to think about them before you invest any time or money in making changes.