6 Design Tips From One of The Best Third Sector Websites

It’s the time of year when efforts nationwide are rewarded with the “Third Sector Excellence Awards”.We’ve had a good look through the 5 nominees for “best website” and would like to share a few tips with you on what makes a great charity website.

There are some strong candidates this year and while kudos goes to ‘Breakthrough Breast Cancer’ for their interactive fact sheet and to ‘Lessons from Africa’ for their innovative home page concept; our favourite nominee is ‘Excellent Development’. Here’s what we think you can learn from this great site.


1. Simplify and repeat your core messages

Excellent Development Charity Website

A five second look at the ‘Excellent Development’ homepage is enough to get the point. In case you didn’t, they build sand dams. At this stage of my journey I don’t yet know what that means but I’m keen to find out. That is the mark of a successful opening message. ‘Here’s what we do, in a nutshell, now aren’t you aching to read more?’

Don’t be afraid to repeat your core messaging across various key pages, ideally with contextual variations. You never know which page people might land on.

Craft your messaging with such simplicity that people can take home ‘what you do’ in a few seconds while offering them a taste of what more they could discover by reading on.

2. Consider treating your content on a ‘need to know basis’

Excellent Development information architecture

Excellent Development (ED) have worked hard on their information architecture. Their breakdown, summary and expansion of content is excellent. The ‘about us’ page is one of our favourite examples of how to ease users in to reading your content. By summarising their vision and purpose in just a few sentences they enable users to gain the take home messages without getting bogged down with the history or detail.

Most people are after quick, bite-size headlines, let them have it. Make the details one step further away, rewarding the interested while protecting the casual visitor, keeping their experience positive and ‘take home message’ clear and intact.

3. Summarize entire pages in headings or better still, signposts

Excellent Development Charity Website Navigation

The overview pages of this site are one of the stand out features for me. The consistency of the top level pages is comforting and helps greatly with navigation. The careful wording of the page titles and supporting subheadings offers a safe insight for users before they click, minimising page bounces. The added benefit is that a casual browser can build a very quick picture of what the organisation does in seconds by just reading these overview pages.

Don’t be afraid to simplify your messages, almost to the point where people don’t feel the need to read the detail. The large, bold, simple text will lodge in people’s memory.

4. Put less content on your website

An example of minimal charity website navigation

ED have done really well to keep section subpages to a minimum. The result is a clear sitemap where all second level pages connect well with their beautifully designed overview counterparts. There are no nested third level pages to drill down to, helping the user to ‘keep their head above water’.

It can be painful to consider chopping content especially for larger charities migrating over from an old site because there is so much legacy content, much of which can have sentimental or emotional attachments. If you have lots of old but useful content, one of the best things you can do is make a resource centre. Content can be powerfully categorised and therefore easy to find without bloating your sitemap and complicating the navigation. Here’s another post from us on the subject.

Get ruthlessly strategic with your content. Have a purpose for your site, and make all content support that purpose. If it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t belong on the site.

5. Crack the ol’ donations issue

Excellent Development have taken a very strategic approach to donations and chosen to differentiate it as a key call to action from most other signposts and links. This isn’t always the best approach as it can come across needy or ‘in your face’. Here’s a few things to learn from this site

  • The ‘If you can...’ language is warm, friendly and non-demanding

  • The varied placement and styling of the donation links makes the call feel more human, less mechanical

  • This variation also helps to stop the call blending into the background and getting ignored

  • There are lots of ways to donate, ensuring people don’t drop out of the process. These options can take effort to establish but will pay dividends in the future, especially when integrated with other online and social channels

Clear messaging on charity donation page

If your charity relies heavily on donations we strongly recommend investing a significant amount of effort into the strategy of designing the feel and mechanics of your online donations facility for maximum effect.

5. Use typography to make people actually read

Strong typography in a charity website banner

People don’t really read websites, they scan. Managing people’s eye movement and getting people to read properly as they scan a page for the first time is no mean feat. Well structured, bold text can make the difference between people reading on, or leaving your site. People simply don’t have time to compensate for bad design by reading lots.

This site uses an eye catching and impactful font for the main messages that enables people to read ‘while’ they look around. The messages go in almost subconsciously because the text ‘is part of’ the eye catching image.

Once it’s done this job, the fancy font gives way to more readable typefaces, safe in the knowledge that the user is engaged. Beware of using fancy fonts in lower level headings or body text, it will probably just disrupt people’s reading.

A good font is an objective matter, does it enable people to read and retain the right information? Choosing fonts is fraught with difficulty as there are so many browsers and devices to consider, not to mention licensing issues. You need an agency that is able to talk you through the limitations and benefits of the different options.

Be objective about typography. Find an agency that gets ‘online typography’ and try some A-B testing of different typefaces and see which is most readable in each required scenario.

What next


About the Author

Creative Director
Owen oversees branding and website design, and enjoys bringing design principles and powerful messaging together.

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