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Web development for charities - what you need to know

How to get the most out of your nonprofit's investment in web technology

Charities and nonprofits embarking on web development projects need to balance a number of factors to ensure success. The marketing directory or web manager leading the project will usually have multiple stakeholders to manage and more than one objective to achieve. Add in concerns about budget limitations and the charity’s project manager has a lot on their plate.

We’ve been delivering technical excellence in web design, development, support and hosting for charities and nonprofits for over 10 years. In that time we’ve learned several things that we’re happy to share here to help make your next charity web development project a success:

1. Use a web development company that understands charity and nonprofit needs

Charities and nonprofits have different web technology and software needs to the average business. Every penny counts in the third-sector, so find web developers who have good charity experience, and know-how to provide a good outcome to nonprofits. Otherwise you may find yourself paying for their learning curve.

2. Forget about day rates

In reviewing web design or development offers from potential vendors, you’ll likely see day rates being quoted - you may have even asked for it. The day rate is simply how much that developer or agency charges for one day of their time. However, different digital agencies will deliver different amounts of value in a day, so actually day rates are a useless comparison. Look at the total cost of the project instead, and how quickly they expect to deliver a usable website or piece of software to you. Ultimately that’s what really matters.

3. Focus on your biggest objectives

No one website or digital experience will provide everything that all of your stakeholders are hoping for. Too many goals for a website will also distract site visitors and they’ll be less likely to do anything that you want them to. You need to choose the single most important thing for your site and focus all web design and development on that. If you can focus in this way, visitors to your new website won’t be able to miss what you want them to do and will be much more likely to do it - whether that’s making a donation, learning about your work, or something completely different.

4. Invest in UX

UX stands for User Experience and good UX makes sure that visitors to your website are able to do what you want them to in the most effective way possible. Good UX means that site visitors find your website easy to navigate, are drawn to the things you want them to do, and are able to do those things in the easiest way possible for them. It helps reduce bounce rates and increase goal completions - such as making a donation. We recommend spending up to a third of your budget on UX as there are plenty of charity websites that are technically sound but ineffectual in terms of helping achieve their organisations real goals.

5. Base decisions on real data

Wherever possible, you should base your UX, design and development decisions on real user data, rather than best guesses or the opinions of your colleagues (or board members). It doesn’t matter that you think that a donation button should go in one position on the screen, if user data shows that no one clicks on it there, for example. The good news is that the right web development agency, with solid charity web design experience, will already know a lot of these things, and will also be able to help you test different options with real users. 

6. Choose your technologies carefully

Selecting a charity tech stack should be a well thought-out process. We see nonprofits who end up with a hodge-podge of different tools and technologies because their technical ecosystem has grown organically without prior planning. Try to standardise on a specific approach. For example, if you have multiple websites, try to build them all on the same platform or in the same language, host them all in the same place, and keep your data in the same CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) or at least on the same type of spreadsheets. This means that one agency or team member will be able to develop, support, maintain and enhance your whole technical estate, saving you time and money. When choosing technologies, also make sure you’re using solutions that are either designed for charities or at least have a large nonprofit community.

7. Look at integrations

Time is money - and that’s true for charities as well as businesses. Consider the different tools that you use, and see if it’s possible to make them work together. If you can do this from the start of your new charity web development project, that’s great, but it’s never too late. Don’t waste time copying information between different systems, when they could be integrated and reduce human error at the same time. For example, we connected the Drupal website for Concern Worldwide to their Microsoft Dynamics NFP 365 setup to allow the smooth transfer of donation and donor data and to help them keep in touch with their supporters. It saved them a bunch of time, helped keep them GDPR compliant, and meant that they could do more with less - meaning more money to spend on fundraising and supporting their beneficiaries.

8. Build for the long term

Sometimes it’s beneficial to make short-term technology decisions for your charity (if a tool or site is going to be truly temporary, for example), but usually, short-term thinking on web development causes problems further down the line. So, as you consider how to move forward with any web design or website development projects, map out the potential results if you have to work with those systems in the long term. For example, adding a single-purpose website for a campaign, that is built quickly in different technology to your main portfolio of sites, could make data transfer, maintenance, and ongoing management hard if you have to keep using them over months or years.

9. Go MVP

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, and means that for any new charity web development project, you focus on only the very most essential features and design. This bare-bones solution can be deployed to start generating results for the charity and gather real user data. An MVP is usually the most efficient way to use a limited budget, as it gives you a useable website that can be extended over time. This is one part of an Agile approach and something we highly recommend.

We’d love to help you with your nonprofit web project, so get in touch.

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