2020 was tough for many charities, forced to shut shops while funding has dropped. A professional website, though, can keep a charity open 365 days a year
Captain Sir Tom Moore was certainly a get-up-and-go kind of man. A veteran of the Second World War, he found fame, of course, over the past year raising more than £30 million for charity in a sponsored walk around his back garden during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
However, while Moore may have made fundraising look easy, the reality is that 2020 was a supremely challenging year for most charites in the sector.
Social distancing restrictions and the prospect that working from home is here to stay mean that charities need professional and practical websites that can support all their public-facing activities today and into the future – or they may struggle to survive.
That means charities need web developers to help build functional, responsive websites that can adapt to the charity’s needs. A website enables a charity to communicate directly with its supporters. Charities can publish news and newsletters, solicit support, and sell merchandise.
However, charity websites need to be as slick and professional as any commercial website – it is, after all, the ‘face’ that will be seen by more people than any other form of public contact. People will form their first impressions of the charity by what they see online.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, slick professionalism requires slick professionals, and a modern website requires web developers offering a range of skills if a charity’s website is to reach its full potential.
Web development can encompass a wide-range of skills and competencies.
At the core is an understanding of the mark-up language HTML, the foundation upon which all websites are ultimately based. This is easy to learn, but hard to master.
CSS governs presentation, enabling a web developer to enforce consistent design and style across the website. Moreover, CSS also governs text size and is therefore an essential element in ensuring accessibility for the elderly and other people who may have poor eyesight.
These are all front-end tools and scripts, which run in website visitors’ own browsers. But there are other tools and languages that can run on an organisations servers that are more powerful still.
Server-side scripting languages can add customisation that runs independently of the website visitor’s own hardware and browser, helping to improve compatibility – because it is not dependent on any browser technology to run – as well as the overall experience.
As the name implies, server-side scripting languages run on the web server, and enable websites to be more dynamic and secure. It enables large files to be retrieved from databases, with dynamic pages loaded up in response to requests.
Another advantage of server-side scripting is that pages can be loaded quickly, a factor that will improve all-important search engine rankings. However, processing web pages on the server, rather than in the website visitor’s browser, imposes a cost that can add up if traffic is heavy.
Nevertheless, if an organisation wants to delve into analytics, Python can also offer libraries that the more advanced Python developer can use to delve into data science.
Web development should not be confused with web design. Web design is all about the creative aspect of the website, such as the logos, the style, and ensuring consistency throughout. Web design should guide the web developer, but as a discipline is considerably less technical.
Content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, enable non-developers to create and update websites, generating their own code, but they still often need a web developer to fine-tune aspects of even the most basic website.
A CMS can help do all the heavy lifting required to ensure that a website is mobile-friendly – adaptable for the smaller screen-sizes of smartphones and tablets – and security needs to be covered as well.
Security is an essential, two-fold consideration.
First, if the website has links with any backend systems that help run the organisation (especially systems featuring personal information subject to GDPR) the website provides a potential weakness that could be exploited.
This security risk should not be underestimated: thousands of organisations have fallen victim to magecart attacks, including British Airways and TicketMaster.
Many organisations mitigate this potential headache by outsourcing either their payments function or their entire ecommerce service to a third party. Another key mitigation is ensuring that all software is kept up-to-date at all times.
For smaller charities, outsourcing web development might provide a cost-effective alternative to hiring an office full of developers.
Services firms will be able to provide packages, such as building and maintaining charity websites, as well as handling security, for a fixed monthly fee that will depend on the complexity of the requirement.
There are also many services firms that focus on the charitable sector and can therefore put together packages appropriate for your organisation.
Indeed, there are also firms offering different types of charity focused platforms on which website, fundraising and other functions can be run.
Don’t fancy looking after online fundraising directly? Try something like Golden Giving, a not-for-profit platform that can support a wide range of fundraising activities, or Wonderful, which doesn’t take a single penny in transaction fees.