Your charity website is your digital front door.
Managing and updating it tends to be part and parcel of any marketing and comms job within the charity sector, whether you’re solely responsible for it or work within a wider team.
Overseeing an existing platform is one thing, but what happens if you need a new website? It may no longer meet your charity’s needs, it might need to accommodate new services, be a major part of a rebrand, or maybe you need a more flexible system.
We’ve just done this at TLC: Talk, Listen, Change so believe me when I say we understand what a big undertaking this type of project can be. So… where do you start?
There’s plenty of advice online about the benefits and drawbacks of different platforms, lists of agencies and freelancers you could use and best practice examples of user journeys.
This is all helpful, but doesn’t tell you much about where to begin if it’s the first time you’ve been responsible for a new website. If you’re feeling stuck and need to know where to begin, hopefully the below can help…
1. Assess your needs and start creating a brief
It sounds simple, but you need to begin with research. Make this research its own project – one that aims to understand the needs of your charity. Why does your charity need a new website? What is liked about your current website? What needs to change? What does it not do? What do you and the site’s users need, or want it to do?
You can make these lists yourself from a comms perspective, but also speak to each department lead to understand and incorporate their thoughts too. If it’s an option, it’s recommended to do service user and stakeholder research, which can be invaluable to understanding your audiences.
Remember the website has to work for everyone.
Once you’ve done this, combined with step two below – you need to write a brief. This could be as simple as a 1-3 page word document explaining a bit about your charity, examples of websites you like design wise and a list of what you want the website to do. There’s templates online you can use too and remember, the more detailed your brief, the better the output is likely to be!
2. Decide the budget
Once you have a more refined understanding of what changes need to be made as per your brief, you’re in a better position to know what budget will be required.
In my experience, the average charity website for a medium sized organisation is anywhere between £25-50k. If you need something smaller, you can go to smaller agencies, or freelance website developers which may do it for as little as under £10k for something quite simple.
However, the more things you want the website to be able to do – the more money you’ll need to spend.
You also need to understand your internal capacity and what you can and can’t do. For example – is it just a website, or also a rebrand? Do you need photography, illustrations or typography? Will you provide all the copy, or is that part of the project? These things will affect how much you spend.
In charities, we work within tight budgets and every penny has to be accounted for, so it’s likely you will definitely have a maximum figure. You need to know that figure before the next stage, and always build in a 10% contingency budget.
3. Pick a platform
Platforms, called Content Management Systems (CMS) refer to the ‘back end’ of your site. From do-it-yourself platforms such as SquareSpace and Wix, to sector favourites such as WordPress and Drupal – depending on your needs, there’s a platform for you. I recommend researching the benefits of each online, specifically in reference to charities. For this, Charity Digital’s breakdown of the best platforms is a great place to start!
If you have existing digital systems within your charity, speak to the people responsible for these to see what would be most compatible. For example, you’d need to know about any systems used for finances – such as taking payments and donations. If you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system – what functions does this already have that you could use instead of using your website? Most platforms have what’s called “Plug Ins” which are additional features to add to the ‘back end’ of your website and they allow you to connect to other programmes. Tip – WordPress is particularly good at this!
However, if you don’t have a preference or you’re not sure, that’s okay too. Once you start interviewing agencies and freelancers, they can make recommendations. It can be helpful to make a document which outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms in relation to your charity. You can share this with colleagues, gather their opinions and create ownership for the decisions across the organisation.
4. Source a provider
This can be the most time-consuming part for you.
There are thousands of agencies and freelancers who could build you a website, hundreds of them specialise in the charity sector. It can be quite overwhelming to know where to begin.
Depending on the size of the project and how your charity works, you may put this out to tender which is a longer and more formal process. If this isn’t what you do, you still need a structured and fair process to ensure you find the right people for the job.
A good place to start is the Charity Comms Freelancer and Supplier Directory for reliable and experienced people who specialise in our sector.
I would recommend narrowing it down to around five, who align with your organisation’s values and have example websites which you like. Contact them via email – sending your brief, your budget and your rough timescales.
It’s likely they’ll want a call to discuss further, or they will offer to send an initial ‘pitch’ which is likely in the form of a PDF explaining more about who they are, what they’d do for you and how much it would cost.
You can then assess the pitches, narrow them down to your favourites and invite them for a meeting with you and ideally, other members of your team. Prepare questions, as you would for an interview and it is up to you and your team how formal this process is – are you going to score them? Are you going to have an internal discussion after to decide?
Whichever way you do it, make sure you develop some form of fair process to understand the strengths/weaknesses of each provider so you can make an informed decision.
After this, you can select your provider and you’ll be ready to go! It’s likely from this point they will take the lead in project planning, helping you refine your needs and doing some research before they start the development.
We recently just completed a website project in my charity – Talk Listen Change, and my final piece of advice would be – don’t underestimate how much time it will take and be prepared to manage it internally. Discussions of a new website had been on the cards for us for some time, but I spent around 2 months on researching and assessing our needs. Start to finish, the project took around 1 year and whilst we launched in February 2022, we are still ironing things out and making improvements now.
However, once you get to the end, you will (hopefully) have a beautiful digital front door, that works for your comms needs and your charity.
Further reading from CharityComms’ Knowledge Hub:
- Taking a thematic approach to websites
- Using content principles to keep your charity website fresh
- Tearfund’s journey to building an accessible website
- Improving search on your website: the quest for meaningful web content
Banner Image: Andy Hermawan on Unsplash