How to spot a bad charity website
At a glance...
Most charity websites fail. They fail their beneficiaries, their supporters, their funders and the causes they're set up to support. Paying attention to a few details can help your nonprofit's website rise out of the doldrums and start working for you.
Have you looked at your own charity's website recently? Have you ever suspected it's a bit rubbish? Here are a few things to look out for.
Here are some of the main complaints we hear about charity websites, and some inexpensive ways you can go about fixing things.
It looks out of date
It doesn't matter how well-written, interactive or effective your website is if it looks like it's been there since the dawn of the Internet.
Take a look at the World's worst website and see if you recognise some of the elements used, such as:
- scrolling text
- centred text
- animated backgrounds
- unnecessary "welcome to our website" text
It's not just design elements that make your website look out of date. Consider what impression your words are making.
- If you're going to have a "News" section with date stamped items, make sure the news isn't two years old.
- Make sure your most recent annual report is available for download, not last year's or the year before's.
- Make sure your information, research and statistics quoted are still relevant.
If you're struggling to think where to start, take a look at 40 beautiful & inspiring .org websites or read a Usability review of charity websites taking the lead for some inspiration.
It doesn't tell people what you do
If your website hasn't been updated for a while, chances are it doesn't highlight all the new work you've been doing recently. If you rely on public funding, you could be making yourself irrelevant if you don't seem to be addressing the latest social initiatives.
A tagline is all well and good, but make sure it's not vague ("supporting people, changing lives") or unachievable ("ending racism"). Take a look at Getting Attention's Nonprofit Tagline Awards & Report for examples of good & bad practice.
It's about you, not your cause
Many organisations talk about what they do on their website, but they talk like an employee, using jargon and acronyms that only other people familiar with the organisation could understand. If you want to win new supporters, talk to them like they don't know anything about you or what you do, because chances are, they won't!
If you take donations,don't make yourself the subject of reasons to give. People want to help other people (or animals), not organisations. Avoid phrases like "A donation of only £5 will help us build a well for a small African village" if you could say "a donation of £5 will buy enough grain to feed a chicken to sustain an entire family for a year".
Make it clear where the donor's money is going - many people already think their money is going to pay for your organisation's administration, staff & rent.
It doesn't demonstrate your impact
Do you know how much impact you have on society? How would the world be a worse place for your beneficiaries if your organisation didn't exist?
According to a recent report by New Philanthropy Capital, even the biggest UK charities are not effectively reporting their impact.
If your website isn't addressing the following issues, it probably isn't communicating your impact:
- What's the problem you're trying to address?
- What are you doing to address that problem?
- What are you achieving?
- How do you know what you're achieving?
- What are you learning and how can you improve?
If so, start rewriting your content, focussing on outcomes rather than outputs (for example, report the number of homeless people now in work after training, rather than the number of homeless people trained).
If you produce an annual report, reuse the content throughout your website - it's no good contained in a PDF hidden away where no-one can find it. You'll also have lots of other valuable information about your cause and your impact lying around in box files, email inboxes and on desks. Put it online and let everyone know anout the good work you do!
It doesn't give any feedback
Do you know how many people visit your website every month? How many people download your annual report? How many people have been inspired to become a volunteer for your cause?
How can you be sure that the improvements you're making are driving more people to your website and are generating more incoming links from relevant organisations, unless you know where you're starting from?
Before you make any other changes to your website, install free Google Analytics and take some time to understand how to use it to get the best information about your website's users.
Have you asked your website users what they think of your site, its design or the information on there? You don't need to design a long survey or present them with annoying pop-up boxes each time they visit the site, but providing a simple feedback mechanism - whether it's an email address or an online form - show people you're happy to receive their views and open to making improvements based on their feedback.
It's not interactive - you can't take action online
In the olden days (circa 1998), most websites were flat, uninteresting online brochures, with text and images copied and pasted from the paper version. Some organisations moved on as the web grew to be more dynamic and more interactive. Others didn't and now they're lagging behind or obsolete.
Websites are an effective, inexpensive way to deliver services directly to your beneficiaries, cost a fraction of their former paper-based equivalents and are availabe day or night, 24 hours a day. Are you addressing your beneficiaries' problems online, or are you just using your website to drive even more traffic to your already under-staffed telephone helpline, which is only open for a few hours a week?
Can your supporters make an online donation or do they have to download and print a multi-page form before posting it back to you? It is easy for people to become volunteers or do they have to go through a laborious pre-screening process? Can they offer words of support or suggest corrections to inaccuracies by commenting on your articles? If your website's not engaging your stakeholders, your organisation isn't either.
It's not accessible
This is an important issue, and one that's mostly hidden unless you access your website using a screen reader or other assistive technology.
Your website is subject to two significant pieces of legislation - The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and, if you provide educational services, the Special Education Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA). Your website could be discriminating against people with certain disabilities if it doesn't adhere to certain standards, leaving you open to prosecution.
If your website was designed years ago or is maintained using very old software, you may be blocing access to your information, resources or cointact details to people with specific disabilities. This is especially unfortunate if you're an organisation which works with disabled people, or pride yourself on your commitment to equality & diversity!
If you recognise any of these points, chances are you have a bad website and it might be doing your organisation more harm than good.
In part two, we'll look at the reasons why charity websites go bad and suggest some other tips on how to make yours work for you..