How important are charities’ websites, really? Surely organisations in the third sector need to focus primarily on their core operations, their end users, the services they provide and the donations they generate?
Well, yes – and yet a clear, compelling online presence can be central to all these elements – and more.
Organisations’ websites are among the most powerful of means of establishing and maintaining brand awareness – and this rings as true for charities as it does for big businesses. They are increasingly the first – and primary – means for people to find out about a charity’s operations, and this means that their credibility and the clarity of the information they offer need to be absolutely perfect. Just as with B2B or B2C websites, visitors to charity websites generally want to take in as much information as possible before they commit their money to a cause.
Looking beyond the website itself, digital marketing is a tool that is increasingly being used as part of charity communications – consider campaigns such as #ForTheGirl and the Ice Bucket Challenge, which were initiated and spread almost entirely online. The internet is a powerful resource to help spread memorable and effective charitable campaigns, enabling compelling messages to be shared at lightning pace, and enormous audiences to be accessed in a relatively cost-effective way. Indeed, high speed and mobile internet access is increasing, which means that third sector organisations have an enormous – and growing – potential audience for donations, volunteering and other support at their fingertips – if only they can reach it.
61% of all respondents had donated to charity over the past year, while 56% had given goods to a charity, 37% had sponsored someone else for a charity, and 17% had volunteered.
And that, once again, brings us back to websites. While digital marketing encompasses a wide range of disciplines, from social media to email marketing and search engine optimisation, websites are the shop window around which all other digital activity circulates. All other digital marketing tactics will ultimately link back to the website. As such, charities exploring any digital marketing, whether to simply raise awareness of an issue or to directly generate funds or action, need to ensure that their websites are as effective as possible as a basic starting point.
But what does ‘effective’ mean? Here are some of the most important factors for developers of third sector websites to consider:
- Standing out. The third sector is a crowded landscape, with many charities working in very similar spaces. In an ideal world all charities are working towards the common good, but in reality, there is fierce competition for donations. Even the most generous donors and volunteers are simply unable to contribute to all the charities they might wish to. As such, just as in the private sector, it is vital for third sector websites to communicate clearly and simply exactly what they do and what their impact is.
- Route to donation. For most charities, this is the most important online call to action of all, and the one that all other digital marketing campaigns lead to. As such, it is vital for it to be as clean, simple and easy to use as possible. Factors like the number of clicks it takes a user to complete their donation are hugely important in terms of reducing drop-offs.
- Mobile responsivity. As internet access via smartphones and tablets continues to grow, having a mobile optimised website is no longer a nice to have – it’s essential. Remember that most potential charity donors or volunteers will browse charity websites in a spare moment rather than at their desks.
- Reliability. Visitors to charity websites typically fluctuate significantly, with marketing campaigns or calendar events leading to unusual peaks in demand. It is essential for the website to be able to cope with this additional traffic and remain equally responsive and reliable.
- Continuous engagement. Effective websites are regularly refreshed, both to optimise their performance in search results, and to keep regularly returning visitors engaged. While generating new content is part of this, it is also important for charity websites to be linked to broader digital marketing initiatives, such as email marketing and social media, to keep visitors bought into the charity’s activity and to encourage repeat donations.
The Charities Aid Foundation’s UK Giving report 2017 showed that 61% of all respondents had donated to charity over the past year, while 56% had given goods to a charity, 37% had sponsored someone else for a charity, and 17% had volunteered. These are impressive statistics – and yet there is still plenty of room for ramping them up. First-rate third sector websites are one of the keys to doing so.