For organisations in the third sector, it’s never easy to allocate budget to building a robust online strategy. But for charities, the average online donation across the board has risen by almost a third over the past four years, from £52.87 in 2010 to £69.70 in 2014, making websites an important tool for revenue generation. Not only this, but digital channels can help third sector businesses get across important information, provide access to crucial services, recruit volunteers, and present the important work that donations help make possible.

Last month we released a report that investigated the user experience of 10 well-known third sector websites, and it flagged a number of concerning issues. If these issues persist among charities, the sector risks falling behind in its digital approach and effectiveness online, which could have a big impact in the long-term.

The websites we tested and their overall user experience (UX) score, which encompassed a number of factors such as accessibility, usability, mobile-friendliness, and self-help, out of a possible 25 were: Citizens Advice (19), The Prince’s Trust (17), Victim Support (16.5), British Medical Association (16.5), Age UK (15.5), Step Change (13) War Child (11), Trafford Housing Trust (11), Business in the Community (BITC) (10), and SportsAid (9).

The following are the key aspects of charity digital strategy that we think need to be addressed quickly:


Websites are increasingly becoming the first port of call for the public reaching out to a charity or not-for-profit. This means that the navigation and user experience needs to be smooth to ensure a good user journey. In our testing, across the board the websites were particularly strong on links that have hover state, breadcrumb navigation, and using good terminology. However, half of the websites we looked at were lacking small things like consistency of font sizes, alt text on images, or clear calls to action. And these elements need improving if these organisations want to provide visitors with a good user experience.

Mobile friendliness

Mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites have, in the past, been viewed as only necessary for the likes of large retail businesses selling products. Obviously this has changed, and it was disappointing, therefore, that half of the third sector sites we tested in our research didn’t have their own mobile friendly site or app.

A well-designed app or a mobile-friendly website is now a must for any organisation interacting with the general public. And as the public become more and more eager to access everything on the move via their smartphone or mobile device, all businesses with a presence online need to be optimising their websites for this channel.


We were pleasantly surprised that the majority of organisations had considered accessibility in the build and design of their site. Seven out of the ten websites had a good readability score – meaning users that have a visual impairment can read content more easily. However, just two of the ten sites had captions on their online videos, making it difficult for users with limited hearing to digest information easily.

For third sector organisations accessibility needs to be considered in the build of a website as by 2050 it’s estimated that the number of people with a visual impairment in the UK will be nearly four million. And by 2035, 15.6 million people will suffer with some form of hearing loss.

Self-help functions

Obviously for third sector websites, self-help functions are a crucial factor to success. Donations, volunteer sign-ups, and reaching important information with ease are all elements of a website that need to be simple. Because of this, the navigation process needs to be streamlined to be as simple as possible. The three-click rule – whereby users reach their destination on a website within three clicks – is a good one to follow.

For websites that scored well in this category, users were able to complete a number of actions and find information easily across the website. One of the most important pages on a charity website is where people can see information about how the organisation uses its money. For those making a donation, it’s beneficial for them to see how their contribution will help a charity. However, on half of the websites we tested, it wasn’t obvious how money was being used – which is a problem for this sector.

Why the third sector needs to invest in its websites

As attracting donations, volunteers, and interest in services becomes more and more competitive in the third sector, one way to rank higher than competitive organisations in the industry is to have a website that is easy to use. By encouraging people to donate through a website that has a good user experience, as well as making it easy to use on mobile, businesses are opening themselves up to more members of the public than if they just optimise one of these channels. And by addressing this now, the third sector can get ready to reap the benefits of digital growth and diversification in the future.

Hilary Stephenson

Hilary Stephenson


Hilary Stephenson, managing director at digital UX agency, Sigma.