How to approach your charity website redesign project

Charity websites are often rebuilt due to disatisfaction with site performance, high costs, poor service from hosting companies, or simply because the site is failing and the technology and design are outdated and have reached end of life. Redesign sometimes feels like a gamble but it's always an opportunity to hugely improve your digital presence and these days may well provide your organisation with significant cost savings. 

John Newton's picture
John Newton
Design at moodboard wall

Where to start?

It's often the case that charities first use recommendations and Google to engage a digital partner to help with a site rebuild. However, some of the most successful redesign projects start with a period of internal negotiation and planning. Apart from normal bugeting and timescale setting, charities should take the time to review their site anlytics and think through their goals. Where is their current site failing? Where is site traffic coming from? Which search terms or social media channles are visitors using to find content? What is the best perofrming content? Then above all, what are your drivers to change? How can you better meet the needs of your audience? An experienced digital agency can certainly help you with this but of necessity this will take up valuable budget. It's perfectly achievable for even small chairites to use the tools at their disposal to define issues and begin to outline targets. These findings can then be used to inform your Invitation to Tender (ITT) and indeed help you locate a digital agency can really add value to your site rebuild rather than spend expensive time telling you something you should already know.

How should I run the website design tendering process?

Having sat on both sides of the divide on this one, there are some rules of thumb it's well worth following. Do assess the quality of the tender document for typos and style. Attention to detail matters. Do follow up on references. It's amazing how often this doesn't happen. Don't go on gut instinct. I know we all use various scoring systems to try and independently mark the quality of tenders but it's equally true that personal feelings often get in the way and can skew scoring. Always go for the most professional organisation, and to my mind that's the one that can give you the most clarity and transparency - it isn't necessarily the one that's friendliest (although that's no bad thing) or looks the most professional because of glossy marketing materials.

What can I expect from the redesign process?

Your partner agency should be on your side so they should probe and question your assumptions and test the work you've done to date. This is a friendly, helpful but critically inquiring partner. They will bring a fresh perspective from outside your organisation. That said, don't forget, you are the experts. This is your sector and while your web design company will be the tech experts with plenty of creative thinking talent too, they won't have your deep knowledge of your visitors and your organisation. So there'll be plenty of building on and finessing of the ideas you've already formulated. At the early design stage of the project you should expect the production of user profiles (sometimes called personas) and user journeys - the setting of goals for your users, describing what they need to achieve on your site and how this is going to happen. You should see a lot of drawings. This should be fun and instructive. It's also hard work but it's not rocket science. If at any point during this part of the process you don't understand what's going on then there's something wrong and it's time to halt and take stock. This is a truly collaborative process that's open and comprehensible to all.

Once you have your user profiles created and key screens drawn out so you can see how the pages will be built and how key actions and triggers (including calls to action) will work, you'll feel confident that this is really the site you've co-designed and is one that your users will appreciate (with luck and a budget or timescale that allows for it, you'll have actually involved your users in the process too!). Your brand guidelines will then be used to inform the visual design and the sketches will take on beautiful digital colours. Of course, many smaller charities might have only the barest of brand guidelines, and some perhaps won't have any at all. This provides both opportunities and dangers as without agreed design parameters the loudest voices can have the biggest impact. Whatever situation you find yourself in, you'll really need to trust your design partners to get you the best solution. So much of your work is done by this point and it's time to handover the reigns fully (well, almost) to your web designer. You (or your head of Comms or even you CEO) is not necessarily the best person to deicde on colours, typographical weighting or images. Yes, it's important to feedback and you should expect your agency to give you approaches to design. The agency will want your feedback. But try to collate and make your feedback representative of your organisation. It's also true that if you are in a Comms team, you'll be more sophisticated in your decision-making and will understand much of the background to the design choices that have been made. This is not necessarily true for front-line staff or senior management. You might need to dig your heels in to fight for what's best, and this is also where a good partner agency should be able to help by using experience and a wider understanding of design to help good sense prevail.

How do I make sure I get it right?

It can feel pressurised redesigning your new charity website with expectations inevitably riding high. But while you should have succeeded in making huge improvements, you can't get everything right, and your redesign is the perfect time to put your site on a more professional footing and start measuring performance. Your redesign process should have looked in depth at your SEO and you should have developed with your partners a properly worked out search and content strategy. Too often website analytics are talked about but are not properly used. Benchmark your site and make sure you put some metrics against each of the site goals you will have developed during the redesign process. Hold regular reviews, either internally or with your digital partners after your revised site is launched. Look at how your site is performing on Google Analytics or any other analytics tool you are using. What did you get right, what can you build on, and what did you get wrong that needs improving? With the right CMS platform (we recommend Drupal!) and approach to build, your site should be designed to be adaptable. Don't be afraid of making improvements and changes but equally don't make snap decisions. Make sure your decisions are backed up by evidence, checked against your original designs and assumptions and as always are measured and open to question in the months ahead. 

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