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85% of charity websites are not "very good"

I recently read a research survey published by Civil Society IT in which charity staff were asked to rate the effectiveness of their own websites. The research showed that a just 15% of participants rated their sites as "very good. The majority choosing good, average or poor.

How do you rate your websiteThis is even more extraordinary because achieving excellence is achievable for all charities. Here is the Civil Society IT research. To provide a website with first class functionality, engagement and efficiency, it is imperative that charities adopt a best practice approach similar to that of the private sector.

Even more surprises

Everyone knows that an engaging website is a must for a business wishing to thrive online. Selling services on a website is a basic business activity, which makes another revelation from the survey even more surprising. Just 41% of charity websites can accept online donations and this is down from 49% last year! 

Does your website support donation processingIn my opinion that is very low. Online donations are surely a core business operation that the majority of charities need to offer. Can you imagine a report that stated that 59% of retail businesses could not accept online payments? The result of such limited functionality will mean that charities miss opportunities to raise revenue, and the revenue they do raise will be processed via the more expensive phone or face-to-face channels leaving less for the beneficiary. It is therefore imperative that efficiencies are gained by offering donor collection online integrated into a Donor Relationship Management system (DRM).

If the website is to become the central and most cost effective channel between a charity and its supporters, beneficiaries, donors and fundraisers it is the responsibility of the IT and marketing teams to devise and adopt a robust and well planned channel strategy. I believe charities should act like other private sector businesses by promoting their services and collecting revenue online. With a channel strategy in place, a website can be developed either in-house or by an agency with solid relevant experience. 

To achieve "very good" websites, projects should take into account:

  • User journeys and clear navigation that funnel user types to the correct content
  • Strong calls to action to engage visitors and improve conversion
  • Processes and functionality that work first time, every time, so that visitors have confidence in the charity's services
  • Social media engagement for pulling in potential supports
  • User generated content to ensure fresh ideas, engagement and community unity
  • Analytical insight for future channel strategy refinement and development.

Design rich, functionality poor

So why are so many charities failing to provide very good websites and collect donations online? In my opinion many have the wrong focus. I believe charity websites have had too much time and money invested in design (look and feel of the site) and not enough invested in sensible user experience, revenue generation and technology.  A switch to this focus will provide better ROI as charity websites will be able to use their most efficient channel to raise important funds for their cause.

Invest in online efficiency; learn from pure play online business

The way forward for charity websites is clear:

  1. Invest time and effort in developing a channel strategy
  2. Understand how the website can drive efficiency
  3. Learn best practice from the private sector and specialist agencies
  4. Use the most appropriate software to develop web experiences
  5. Constantly analyse and review the strategy and change as required.

This simple approach will ensue that charity websites are raised to the same high standards as some of the world's most successful retail websites. There is no reason why a charity website can not generate engagement and convert this to collect revenue, as private sector business do.

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