Evolution of the charity web

Happy birthday World Wide Web! 25 today!

Using the brilliant Wayback Machine we can look at how charity websites have evolved. Using British Red Cross as an example, let’s see how charity websites have changed and what this means for the future.

Starting out – 1998

British Red Cross website 1998

British Red Cross homepage in 1998 shows that the web standard of logo in top-left was there from the start. The site was probably hand-coded and uploaded via FTP.

  • Very basic brochure-ware content.
  • To make a donation, please email.
  • Text-only homepage and children pages (only one level).
  • ‘Click here’ links.
  • No images.
  • No search.
  • Approx 10 pages?
  • Sponsored by Vauxhall.

Increased functionality – 2006

British Red Cross 2006

Fast-forward eight years and the 2006 homepage leads with an appeal. Fundraising and raising awareness is now most important. There is greater awareness of design. More thought about actions and audience.

  • Published using CMS.
  • Images but no coherent design.
  • Site-wide (top) and left-hand navigation.
  • Fundraising prominent – 6/12 ‘Quick Links’ are fundraising. Donate now tab.
  • Search button.
  • Functionality – ‘In my area’.
  • Accessible links.
  • No social media (Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006).

Now – 2014

British Red Cross website 2014

Another eight years and now the current site still leads with an appeal but uses a single emotive image. The site is sophisticated offering many opportunities for interaction, transaction, discussion and commerce but also has a presence across many other digital platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blog, Apps, games etc).

  • Multiple channels (links to six network channels at the bottom of the page). Optimised for mobile / tablet.
  • Many opportunities for interaction.
  • Greater use of video, audio, photos, games to tell a story.
  • Donation button and quick paypal option on homepage.
  • CMS powered, integration with CRM and other databases.
  • Evolution of ‘in your area’ functionality.
  • Accessibility buttons.

Digital Strategy

As websites and digital expectations become ever more sophisticated, having an organisational digital strategy is important. You don’t need to be the size of British Red Cross to need a clear plan for how your digital sites support the goals of your organisation.

You may use a strategy to persuade trustees to invest in new technology or staff. You may use it to plan your increasing use of social media and have a reference for how you’ll deal with a crisis. Or it may help you plan the next 6-12 months, ensuring you are using your resources in the right way and keeping up with your peers.

Whatever you use it for, it’s worth investing your time in producing a digital strategy so you are working at the 2014 stage, not 2006. Digital and social media will evolve again – don’t get left behind.

Useful links and examples

And if you need in-person help, there are plenty of Digital Strategy courses and freelancers / consultants who can support you through the process.


What was your website like in 1998?


7 thoughts on “Evolution of the charity web

  1. Great post. We’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary since we changed our name to Scope this year, so we’ve been thinking a lot about how much we’ve changed and looking back at previous versions of our site really brings it home. Remember when websites used to have guestbooks?!

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