Do you even need a site?
Maybe your client group’s online communication takes place almost exclusively via a couple of specific apps or social media sites such as twitter or facebook. You should certainly ‘be where they are’ but you should consider a website as well.
Even if you don’t communicate with your clients using a website it’s likely you have other stakeholders who will look for you on the web. A website says you are a serious, well organised group. Not having one makes you look amateurish.
If you use only specific social media platforms you exclude anyone who isn’t a signed up member of those. The web is free to access once you have an internet connect. Anyone can find you without having to join anything.
So, who might you want to communicate with using your website?
The community of people and organisations you need to consider may include many beyond your core client group. There are other individuals and organisations you need to survive and thrive as a small charity:
- referrers – people who send clients to your organisations (teachers, social workers, advice workers and more)
- local and other media who may be useful in spreading the word about your work
- donors who may look for you on the web to donate or find out more about you
- grant givers who may look for information about your structure and management
- Volunteers – who may be crucial to keeping your organisation alive
A website is a great way to centralise all your information in one place. If you need to you can direct people to specific parts of your site from social media.
What are your stakeholders looking for?
Different things… depending on who they are. Your site should be organised to make it easy for your varied stakeholders to find what they are after. This means planning your site by considering who needs to use your site (and why). Then you can organise your site effectively.
What do you want to tell them?
What are your own goals as an organisation? It is crucial to consider this as well. Make prominent on your site the features you particularly want to share. This could be any or all of the following:
- sell merchandise, services or other products
- gain donations
- increase engagement with you – newsletter sign ups, social media follows, comments etc
- share information – about a particular health condition and support available, about services you offer, about events…
- prove your credentials to grant giving organisations or organisations awarding you contracts
The magic is somewhere in between…
The ideal site will be some where in between ‘what your clients are looking for’ and ‘what you want to achieve’. Taking both fully into account and offering clear, easy-to-find, consistent information and presentation.
Start with a list… or four!
List 1: Your stakeholders
Be as broad as possible:
- clients – new and existing
- donors – new and existing
- grant-making bodies
- governance/trade bodies, etc
A bereavement charity may include: bereaved people, their loved ones, social workers, community workers, nurses, health visitors, GPs and others who may refer, donors, potential volunteers, grantmaking bodies, trade associations and more.
A fostering charity may have the following: potential foster carers, former fostered children, social workers, birth parents, lawyers involved in cases, local government officials, donors, grant making bodies, trade associations and more.
List 2: What your stakeholders are looking for?
Think about what situation someone might be in when they are prompted to find your site.
A bereavement charity may have the following in this column:
- ‘feeling of not being alone’
- ‘reaching out’
- ‘making contact’
- ‘financial information’
- ‘governance information’
- ‘how to donate’
A fostering charity may have the following:
- ‘sensitivity regarding infertility’
- ‘information – about how intrusive the process is/how long it takes/what is involved’
- ‘encouragement – towards people considering taking a big step in life’
- ‘a warm approach’
- ‘someone who understands our needs/worries – as potential foster carers’
- various kinds of ‘more formal’ information needs that grant-makers or trade associations may require.
You should also think about where and how they may be accessing your site. In a stressful, busy environment (hospital or playgroup), on a phone or large screen computer? As part of their job or as a hobby? How much time do they have? Are they likely to be under a lot of time or other pressure?
List 3: Your own priorities as an organisation
What is it you need to achieve now as an organisation? Increase volunteers? Impress grant-making bodies? Welcome clients? Manage support / services for existing clients? Solicit donations? Consult amongst colleagues and senior leaders. Look at your strategic and marketing plans for guidance.
List 4: Bring list 2 and 3 together and note how you can serve both needs
Now compare and merge the list of stakeholder needs and the list of organisational needs. Where your goals and your client needs meet is roughly where your site should be, bringing them together. This will also guide you towards content and layout/navigation decisions.
Let’s take just one of the examples above – the hypothetical bereavement charity. The organisation itself wants to raise money and recruit volunteers.
You need to impress grantmakers, and they need to be sure you’re legit and worth funding. Grantmakers and local government funders will be looking to check for financial probity and transparency. They may also be looking to fund support for key groups.
Useful ways you can meet these goals:
- have an ‘about us’ section of the site – governors, key staff, annual reports, relevant statistics gathered and shared
- If you have a programme aimed at a key sector of the local population make sure this is clear. You can do this in newsletter stories, case studies, with appropriate thanks to donors where appropriate.
- put online annual reports, governor information and other organisational statistics.
These organisations/individuals are likely to be looking at your site at work – commonly on a computer with an average screen. PDF documents are okay for this if you need to use them. They are less suitable for someone reading documents on a phone as they don’t resize easily on different screens.
You want and need media coverage to increase awareness of your services and to gather new volunteers. Media organisations are interested in ‘news’… which means new stuff. A milestone (100th person helped this year… 10 years celebration with cake/key guest… new building or new programme…).
Useful ways you can meet these goals:
- blog and or email newsletter
- media pack – could include photos free for the media to use with appropriate copyright text and captions, press releases. Be sure to add contact information for publicity person
- easy ways to follow you on social media – your social links prominently displayed
Media professionals could be using your website on a computer screen or on a handheld device. Ensure that any resources for them are easy to read on a mobile phone.
You want new volunteers to keep your service going. Perhaps you may want a particular kind of volunteer to broaden your service out. You could require more men/women, people from ethnic/linguistic or other minorities, people from particular parts of town or particular age groups.
Volunteers want to have a feeling of being welcomed – of seeing people like themselves, people they relate to. They may want reassurance – that training is offered, that there is support. They may feel shy – it may be necessary to say you aren’t looking for trained counsellors but welcome anyone. Volunteers may worry about the time commitment.
Useful ways you can meet these goals:
- use photographs that are realistic and welcoming not just stock photos of smart people. (See my post on choosing images for your site)
- have case studies which show different volunteers. Share information about how they came to the organisation. How did they train? How do they feel about volunteering?
- detail the support given to volunteers. Maybe link to a profile on the ‘about our staff’ page about the ‘head of training’, for example.
- consider videos of your volunteers being interviewed about their volunteering
- have quotes from clients showing that the support they received is appreciated
- share a brief and not-too-official ‘job description’ to give people an idea of timescales, commitment required etc
- consider a whole section of your site for volunteers
- you could use your site to store resources or even deliver training to volunteers. This could involve a private area of the site which volunteers could log in to
Your potential volunteers are unpredictable in their use of screens. This is specially so if you gather volunteers from a wide age range and diverse backgrounds. Ensure your site is accessible on many different screen sizes.
You want to make yourself as open and welcoming as possible to clients from all backgrounds. You may need to manage expectations about how swiftly you can respond to enquiries and waiting times.
Clients want to find out what you do and feel as though you are people that they can relate to. They may need reassurance that other people have felt some trepidation about contacting you. They may also have different times of day when they are feeling the need to reach out. Ensure that you can be contacted by email even when you are closed. This means people can act when they feel the need to reach out.
Useful ways you can meet these goals:
- case studies of people who have been helped by your charity (anonymous, if necessary). You could highlight particular concerns you know your clients have. Are your services open to someone who was bereaved many years ago or only those bereaved recently?
- ensure your photographs and your text are inclusive and welcoming. This could simply mean saying ‘loved one’ instead of ‘husband or wife’ when writing about the death of a partner
- make clients, potential clients and their needs the key feature of your home page. Speak directly to them in your writing. Your other stakeholders will also want to see you doing this for your clients.
- be reliable – don’t try and do everything on all social media channels and then fail to deliver. Be there on ones you can commit to. Live up to your promises to respond in a certain time frame.
- make yourselves available – make it clear how people can contact you. When your offices are shut people can still leave a phone message, complete a form, send you a tweet. Reassure them you will get back to them later. Make sure the text on those pages is warm and encouraging.
Focus your home page and key content on the needs of clients and potential clients. Be easy to contact with clear information about office opening hours, how to make contact at any time. Centre your site on the needs of your client group.
They want to feel useful and as though you are trustworthy. Your financial reports and clear transparency over governance can help set the scene. They want to know how their donation will be used and that you are grateful. You also need stories. Use these to:
- explain how a previous donation was used
- tell about how a volunteer was trained and what it cost
- share, anonymously perhaps, how someone was helped by the organisation
- encourage people to take action – give them a way to donate
- Thank donors who have donated in the past – give examples and tell the story of why that person donated
And give them a way of keeping in touch if they want – email newsletters, prompt thank yous etc.