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These days a large number of not for profits rely on voluntary funding to deliver their services and work. In many cases, this funding is usually collected through a charity’s website. It is therefore important for a charity to make the most of its website to encourage people to make donations online. Here’s a 10-point checklist for not for profit communications professionals looking to design and build a new website or develop an existing one.  

1.      First impressions count

Design is important: good design, created with your target market in mind, will provide a clear pathway for users to navigate the site.

2.      Flexibility  — what you want now may not be what you need tomorrow

Perhaps the most important decision to make when embarking on a website build is which content management system (CMS) you should use. Choosing the wrong CMS can result in:

a slow, complicated and non user-friendly system

organisations being forced to employ a large team of tech savvy individuals just to get content online

an inflexible system which is built to do a very specific job, but is unable to grow and develop as the charity requires

being tied into working with the company providing the CMS

So where does that leave a charity on a budget? How do you secure a proper web presence with limited funds? The key questions to ask potential website developers are:

How will we update content on this site?  Ask for a demonstration.

Will the site be future proof?

How easily can we add new features to the site when needed?

How will people find the content on our site? Is it search engine friendly?

If we decide to stop working with you, what will happen to our website and its content?

Does the price include backups and disaster recovery?

3.      Hosting – always assume the worst! 

Never underestimate the importance of backups and disaster recovery and plan these in from the start of a website build. Ideally, also make sure that your web developer has their own server to host your website.

4.      Are you talking to me?

Who is your website aimed at? You can't write relevant copy if you don't know who your audience is. Be clear about the type of visitor you want to attract to your site  demographics (male or female, social group, age, geography, lifestyle and attitudes). Then construct a basic customer profile. Keep referring back to this throughout the website build.

5.      Is your website a needle in a haystack?

How to optimise a site for search engines is a separate article in itself, involving technical build, copywriting, content structure, page titles and tags, inbound links and image captions. It’s important to take expert advice. If budget means you need to do a lot of the work yourself, here are a few tips:

Research the searched-for keywords relevant to your brand and services. Google has tools that will give you monthly averages for searches, so that you can optimise your site titles and tags with the most relevant traffic terms.

Make sure you have a sitemap to make it easier for Google to find your web pages and rank them.  Any good developer will suggest this.

Optimise page titles and meta descriptions for each individual page using the most relevant keywords —  a good CMS system will let you do this yourself.

Register for free directories that will help get your website indexed (this is when Google discovers your website).

List your charity and any branches for free on Google Places (which some people still call Google Maps). It helps with SEO as well as making sure your charity appears when people search for relevant not for profits in your area. 

Try to add links on your website from relevant, reputable sites. Go for quality not quantity. External links are important for SEO, plus the more you have from reputable domains, the higher value Google will place on your website.

6.      What do you want me to do?

The majority of visitors are unlikely to donate or sign-up for volunteer work if you don’t have clear calls to action, especially on the homepage.  The Donate Now button is important so it should be prominent and feature on every page. You might also want to use: Sign Up For Our Newsletter buttons and Follow Us on Facebook or other social media sites.

7.      Keep In touch

Talk to your website users, interact with them and build relationships. There are thousands of charities out there chasing the same available funds; you need to grab people’s attention. Make sure you capture data from your website and input it into a database so that you can communicate with people in the future through  newsletters and other communication materials. This will help you to build long-term relationships. There are tools such as  AddThis which let you add social media buttons to your website.

8.      Knowledge is power

Make sure your site has Google Analytics installed and, more importantly, review the statistics monthly. Understand how traffic comes to your site, how people are moving around the site, what the most popular pages are and where people click. Analyse your website’s performance like you do your staff or your suppliers.

9.       Integrate software

If possible, integrate key software into the backend of your website and make sure everything works seamlessly together. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that integration means throwing everything but the kitchen sink in. Don’t  try to make your website a fundraising or accounting system; it is better to make sure that the most appropriate system can be integrated into your website.

10.  Do your homework

Read up online about the various options open to you, whether you are building a new website from scratch or developing an existing one. Talk to various companies before you make a decision. Keep asking questions until you are sure you understand the options and the pros and cons of each decision you need to make. Don’t be rushed into a decision until you are ready. Good luck!   

Gallery Partnership has provided software and professional IT support services to charities and non profits for over 20 years. It offers tailored solutions including case management software, cloud-based services and information management, grant management software, and network and IT support services. Gallery’s knowledgeable and friendly staff are dedicated to delivering innovative and effective IT solutions to suit the needs of clients, on time and in budget.  

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