Identifying your charity website users and designing for them

Designing a website is always a balancing act.

Two of the first questions we ask in the process are ‘What does success look like for you?’ and ‘What does success look like for your website visitors?’

Although we expect there to be some common goals, others can be quite different.  For example, you might have a desire to capture as much information as possible about your visitors so that you can then process reports on their behaviour and measure your efficacy.  However, their goal might well be to achieve their desires while giving away as little personal information as possible.

Knowing your users and recognising where their goals may contrast with your own helps us work out where and how we need to compromise to maximise the success of a new website. Here are five steps for how to go about ensuring your website design process has your users at its heart.

STEP ONE: Identify your users

Charity websites are different from many business websites in that they have a larger number of different users, who all have different needs. The first step is to work out who these groups of users are. We can do this in several ways:

1) From discussions with you and based on our own experience and insight on sector trends, we can normally draft a pretty good list of user groups for us to frame our discussions.

For example, many charities will need to consider at least the following types of users for a public website:

Typical Users

Often further user groups will need to be considered:

Further Users

Some clients we have worked with have had only 3 or 4 types of different user groups, whereas some have had as many as 20 - the number depends on the organisation and the purpose and complexity of the project.

2) If there is an existing website, we can often look at statistics about users (such as geographical distribution, the pages most commonly viewed, and what devices they are using to look at the website). It’s important to bear in mind however, that statistics can only tell us who is looking at the website now, not the hidden potential audience that a new project might be designed to reach.

3) We can build a focus group of users, either from your existing website visitors if we are hoping to serve them better, or from sources outside the website if we are planning to extend the reach of your organisation.

This focus group can complete questionnaires to review existing systems and help us plan new ones.  The involvement of focus group can be particularly helpful during the later stages of testing towards the end of a project.

STEP TWO: Write user stories

Once we have an idea of the types of users, we put them in a table along with the main objectives they want to achieve through using the website.

Here’s an example:

Website User



Find the location of workshops and how to register to attend

Job applicants

Read about new jobs and how to apply

Individual donors

Learn about the impact of the organisation and how to donate

Referral agents

Find in-depth information about the services provided and how the referral process works

The press

Read case studies and find media contact details


Find out how to volunteer and what opportunities are available

STEP THREE: Turn the stories into journeys

Each user will go on a journey through the website to reach the point of conversion, when their objective has been accomplished.  We can map these journeys with a combination of flow diagrams, site maps and layout designs for the different pages.

User Journey example

STEP FOUR: Build the website

We create the website in accordance with the user journeys we have designed, and we evaluate our progress according to our fulfilment of the various objectives for each of our user groups.

Once the first version of the website is complete, when the agreed design direction has been implemented and all functionality required to satisfy the user journeys has been created, we transition to a process of tracking and resolving change requests in order to refine the experience of our different users.  The whole process remains guided by the objectives of our users.

STEP FIVE: Set up goals that relate to these objectives and use these to continually evaluate the success of the project

With the website launched, we define goals related to our most important objectives within a statistics system (normally Google Analytics).  We can then start to gather information about how successful we have been in attracting and satisfying our intended audience, by looking at the volume and flow of traffic through the website. The results of this continual evaluation inform future improvements to the website.

Developing your organisation’s objectives, and capturing these in a website, can be a complex process.  Your best chance of achieving organisational objectives is by approaching them from the perspective of the audience you are trying to reach.

We implement this process in every project we work on. To hear more from us subscribe to our newsletter or get in touch.
11 February 2014
George Young