Increased online engagement can boost charities’ incomes, cost effectively and quickly. One of the key aims of a charity website should be to foster a relationship between the donor and the charity, attract and engage new donors, and make it easy for advocates to donate.

What are your calls to action?

Think about your calls to action: donations, signing petitions, campaigning and so on and make it as easy as possible for visitors to your website to do what you need them to do.

To test out the principle I decided to make a donation to a health charity. After choosing one charity and landing on their website I was greeted by a whole host of actions and content.

After the welcome message there were nine calls to action - in fact there were 26 buttons to click on the homepage alone. Many people would give up before spotting the very subtle "donate now" button. I clicked on it and was confronted with more text about the many different ways I could donate.

I eventually made my donation, being a persistent internet savvy individual, but we all know that doesn’t describe every audience a charity is trying to reach!

Know your audience

Remember to avoid ‘inside-out’ thinking. Many websites often forget the audience, built as an internal projection of the organisation onto the outside world. Focus on ‘outside-in’.

Creating a personalised and reactive website where the information is tailored for your audience is one method of encouraging your supporters to take a certain action when they’re on your website.

With the health charity website I visited I could spot tell-tale signs of internal department siloes through the site structure. The navigation labels were also confusing in places, using jargon and assuming I knew something about the charity already.

Have clear values and mission

In order to get donations, you need more than a "donate now" button. There should be a compelling case for support and convincing calls to action.

Like an earthquake appeal, you should be clear what the epicentre is, and that will help activate people to advocacy. "What we do, why we do it and how you can help" needs to run through a website like a stick of rock, and a clear mission statement explaining your objectives serves as a solid basis from which to guide visitors into how they can help.

Don’t miss out on online marketing

Charities can secure more funds through Google grants, and social media couldn’t be more suited to sharing social causes. But it’s pointless using tools like this unless landing pages are drawing people through to pages with purpose and clear calls to action.

Don’t rely on dry facts

The causes behind charities are compelling, but this can’t be communicated with dry facts alone. A simple short story has far more impact, and if we want to achieve behaviour change we need to start with emotional engagement.

When dealing with technology projects its easy to forget we’re dealing with real human beings with real concerns, challenges and cares.

Videos can be a good way to remedy this, and allows charities to really show what they’re about. And you don’t need slickly produced celebrity-studded masterpieces. Short interviews with those who’ve benefited from charity funds can have just as much impact, as can a simple animation with an explanatory voiceover.

A regularly updated blog is also a great way to keep supporters updated with activity and tell the stories of those helped by the charity. It also offers the opportunity to increase a charity’s visibility and digital reach by boosting it up Google’s organic search.

Display targets

Charities can overlook the need for urgency in their web donations but target thermometers can work well. This is because smaller goals are more attractive as a result of their achievability.

Tapping into this psychology by launching micro campaigns supported by target thermometers can be a good option to pursue, helping to tick all the boxes in that people know where exactly their money is going and can see the direct impact their own donation has made.

When it comes to the actual process of making a donation, the simpler the better. As soon as visitors are convinced they want to help, charities need to make it easy.

Be responsive

Just as ecommerce sites have learnt, in an age of smartphones and tablets, failing to have a website formatted for viewing across different devices is like buying a Swiss Army knife without the bottle opener. Instead it’s worth consulting with an expert when designing a website to ensure it has a mobile responsive design.

But leaving behind the nitty-gritty technical details, to get the most out of their websites charities simply need to establish why people should give up their time or money and exactly what that will involve.

Importance of the charity

Charities and those who work for them can often get so close to the issue that they fail to recognise the need to convince other people of its importance.

Charities have a responsibility to cater for real people and provide real solutions to their needs through their websites. As a result the human-interest element and a personalised experience needs to be prioritised.