RIP KnowHow NonProfit

The website KnowHow NonProfit which I helped to build, finally disappeared this week. It launched in 2008 and merged into NCVO in 2012. NCVO launched a new website this week, finally putting KnowHow to rest. A 14-year footprint is pretty good going for a website. It made me reflect on what it was like to build something new and how our knowledge sharing as a sector has changed over the years.

About KnowHow

KnowHow was an innovative project by Cass CCE (now Bayes Business School CCE), led by Professor Ian Bruce and funded by the Lottery for three years. It launched in 2008 at a time when digital was coming into its own. Across the sector there was lots of useful information online but it was hard to know where to start or what was up-to-date. There were lot of umbrella organisation writing about the same topics. It was quite overwhelming, especially as the sophistication of search engines and our own searching skills were still developing.

KnowHow aimed to bring it all together, not replicate it. It collated, signposted and filled the gaps so people running small charities could be confident they could find information to help them. A hub for the sector.

I was part of a team of four, working with the agency Text Matters to build and launch the site. Coming up with a taxonomy for the site to reflect the things charities did, was one of the most challenging tasks of my career. It took months. Nothing else existed which we could base this on. I had a huge spreadsheet and endless print-outs to manage the categories and spent hours tweaking the naming of sections so they were clear and descriptive.

screenshot from KnowHow NonProfit. This section is called The Basics and was a kind of charity sector 101 - including pages called 'How organisations are funded' and 'Working for a nonprofit'. Other sections were called You and your team, Your organisation, Funding and income, Campaigns and awareness, Leadership.

I managed the content. We researched what was already out there and the gaps that needed filling. Experts from CCE and across the sector were commissioned to write new information and I edited it all together. It had a friendly and accessible tone of voice. We had a persona of a helpful, knowledgeable friend you could always turn to. We were writing for Joan in Preston, running a small organisation with no HR team or fundraising strategy.

We had four months to build a basic site and another four I think to get it all done. It was a stressful but exciting time and I learnt a lot about running a charity from CCE colleagues, especially governance and strategy which helped me a lot later as a consultant.

We also had a storytelling section to help illustrate common issues faced by small charities in a fun way. A working group of charity experts, led by Adah Kay imagined a small town, Millcaster, which had lots of charities based there. It was a soap opera, like The Archers but with charities rather than farming. A storytelling expert who wrote for The Bill also helped us build a system so we could remember who was married or related to who and where they all worked. A brilliant illustrator bought each episode to life with paper cut-outs she made and photographed, much like 1970s Paddington Bear. It was a lovely, creative thing to work on. Here’s an episode of Millcaster Tales I wrote about Mark, returning to work after an accident.

screenshot from the banner of Millcaster Tales. Shows group of people holding a banner saying Millcaster. Illustration.

Promotion and development

We toured the country on the charity conference circuit telling people about KnowHow. We mixed digital marketing (SEO, newsletters, very early days of Twitter) with in-person promotion to help people find KnowHow. We had merch including tote bags (think we were really early to do these too) and USB sticks. I still have some somewhere.

It was an exciting time to be working in digital as new ways of information sharing were growing. As the team grew, we added a forum, wiki how-to platform and later a portfolio of online courses as a StudyZone. All really innovative at the time. All needed lots of effort to encourage people to use them, the team worked very hard to make them work. I think I had three or four log-ins at one point to try and get discussions going!

Every time we saw the traffic growing, we celebrated. It’s a very different experience to build and launch something new. The websites I had worked on before were only 10 years old themselves but a new channel for established organisations with communities around them. KnowHow was totally new. Building traffic and waiting for the search engines to rate KnowHow was a long game.

KnowHow 2.0

In 2012, the site merged into NCVO and became its information site. Over 10 years, the site evolved but was still called KnowHow and with a knowhow URL.

It takes so much work to maintain a substantial information site like this. Keeping up with legislation, sector trends and best practice is time consuming. It’s costly and it is hard to make an income from it. Other sites which launched around the same time as KnowHow, folded once their funding ran out. We were really lucky to move into NCVO where there was a plan to keep it fresh.

When I left in 2012, traffic was growing fast and we had lots of positive feedback about how it helped people run their organisations. Since I wrote about its demise on LinkedIn this week, I’ve had lots of people contact me to say how useful KnowHow had been to them. As a web content manager, it is like gold to get actual feedback from people, especially so long after working on the project, so this was wonderful!

KnowHow was my first baby before I had real ones. I was very proud of what we all did to build it and how it grew over the years. So many brilliant people worked on it. In 2008 we would never have thought it would last for 14 years.

Knowledge sharing in the sector

The new NCVO website has a help and guidance section which still has echoes of KnowHow in it. But uses headings reflecting what charities need to know now. We didn’t talk about impact or digital so prominently in 2008.

screenshot from NCVO's new site. Headings include setting up, running a charity, governance, involving volunteering, funding and income, strategy and impact, safeguarding, digital and technology, closing down.

Online courses are now a pretty standard way of learning, thanks to Zoom and the pandemic. Many sector sites share templates, checklists, codes of best practice, self-assessment toolkits and draft policies and job descriptions. There are countless blogs from people sharing what they have learnt, to help others.

As a sector we have always been generous with our learning to help others, like our fictional Joan, do the best they can for their cause.

What I do now

Since I left KnowHow, I have become a consultant. I use my knowledge of information sharing, digital content and how charities work to help organisations with different projects – from comms strategies to recruitment and digital reviews.

I also started Radio Lento from scratch with my partner, reliving the experience of building an audience from nothing. Last month we reached 200,000 downloads. A big celebration milestone.

Do get in touch if I can help your organisation. I have space for new projects from September onwards.


I was able to illustrate this post with screenshots from the site thanks to the amazing Wayback Machine.

Charity web at 30

The World Wide Web is 30 today (11 March 2019). Five years ago I used the Wayback Machine to look at trends in charity website design, using British Red Cross as an example. Here is the post, now updated with lessons from 2019.

Is your charity website keeping up with the latest developments in design and functionality?

Starting out – 1998

British Red Cross website 1998

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

  • Brochure-ware content – dense homepage to be read like a book.
  • Email to make a donation.
  • ‘Click here’ links.
  • No images.
  • No search.
  • Approx 10 pages. Only one-level down.
  • 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).

Integrated digital comms – 2014

British Red Cross website 2014

Another eight years and now the 2014 website still leads with an appeal using 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). It feels like digital is now being taken more seriously.

  • 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.

Website in 2019

Red Cross homepage in 2019. 10s full-screen video

Now the 2019 homepage is all about clarity and impact. Previously the homepage would have had to work hard at promoting everything as most people would go to the homepage first. Now sites are so well indexed with people going direct to the pages they are looking for, so the homepage can be devoted to telling a story or running a campaign. The homepage can appeal to hearts and minds rather than acting as a directory.

The currently site uses a full-screen video for the current appeal. It shows 10 seconds of different views from Yemen to tell a story to drive donations.

Below the appeal, the page is segmented into sections with different types of links (UK appeals, get help in a crisis, support, first aid, how we help, shop). These use colour and photos to make it easy to use. This architecture is replicated in the top-level navigation which is now reduced to five options.

  • Images are more powerful, instantly telling a story. Video is centre-stage.
  • Simplified navigation (no more What we do, Where we work etc).
  • Language is shorter and has more impact. Links are 1-3 words. Appeal text is ‘Help give life-saving aid to families in desperate need’. In contrast with ‘Help us continue giving thousands of people vital aid in this desperate situation. Please give what you can today’ from 2014.
  • Donate button on top right-hand side.

Web design in 2019

I have been training people on writing for the web since 2003 – over half of the web’s life – and working on websites since 1996. Many of the old rules still apply (short sentences, headings, meaningful link text etc). But the way we consume information and content online in 2019 means that we now need to be even tighter with our words. Attention spans are shorter and screens are smaller. The language we use needs to be immediate, strong and clear. There is no room for wasteful words on the homepage or in navigation links.

Photographs and images now need to have more impact. They should use strong colours and instantly tell a story. Compare the images used in 2006 / 2014 with the images used now. They use close-ups and are not afraid of sharing an intimate moment, pain or emotion. They are beautiful and difficult to look at.

Homepages generally use a hero image (or in some cases video) which is shown at full-screen. This image has to work very hard to communicate everything you want in that key real estate location. Do you have images that are strong enough to do that? Take a look at the homepages of Crisis, NCT, Brathay Trust, and Bloodwise for examples. (See also Review and improve your use of images.)

Your digital strategy

You don’t need to be the size of British Red Cross to need a clear plan for how your website and wider digital platforms support the goals of your organisation. Technologies and design standards are changing all the time. Just today, Samaritans launched its new website which has a cool features such as a dynamic homepage which changes depending on the time of day.

A digital strategy can help you to persuade trustees to invest in new technology or staff. You may use it to plan your increasing use of social media, create digital services 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.

Take a look at the Charity Digital Code of Practice which was launched at the end of 2018. It aims to help charities increase their impact, develop skills and improve digital sustainability. Zoe Amar recently shared data from the self-assessment tool to show where charities are at with Code.

Whatever the priorities for your website, it is worth investing your time in producing a digital strategy to support its future evolution.

Useful links

If you need in-person help, there are lots of Digital Strategy courses and freelancers / consultants who can support you.

More on the web at 30

Read more about the web at 30:

Look at other examples of how design has evolved via the web design museum.

Google Doodle for the web at 30

10 tips for great online legacy fundraising

In 2013 I wrote about online legacy fundraising content. Although well written persuasive copy is still key, digital trends move on. So four years later it is time to see whether the web pages about legacy fundraising have improved and what has changed.

I looked at a random sample of over 50 large, medium and small charities. In most cases the pages were pretty dull, especially from smaller charities. It is hard to write warm, engaging copy about legacies as we often fall over ourselves trying to be sensitive. But the charities who get it right have a confidence and a clear sense of themselves and their audience.

collage of various screenshots from sites discussed below

Here are ten ingredients for emotive and effective online legacy fundraising.

Be clear and persuasive

WaterAid’s legacy site stood out as the go-to example of a persuasive and well designed site. The page starts with a clear call to action – leave the world with water – which sets the tone. They use eye catching and engaging links and headings (leave your mark / what would you like to pass on?) which include and challenge the reader. Images are positive and inspiring. They also include a photograph and name of a person to contact as well as a legacy promise which are both reassuring and clear.


Save the Children UK also use clear and inspiring headings (write a child’s smile into your will) and use bold to highlight important words. They use beautiful pictures of smiling children to reinforce their words. Their writing is confident, concise and persuasive (make a lasting difference, your kindness).

Save the Children UK

Use social proofing to normalise the action

Many charities talk about ‘thousands of people who leave a legacy’ or ‘thanks to people like you’. This social proofing is refecting and reinforcing the decision that the reader is almost ready to make.

Events like Remember a Charity week help to promote legacy fundraising. Many charities use the event to reinforce their ask, showing that remembering a charity is a normal action that everyone can do.

The Migraine Trust makes a clear statement which makes leaving a legacy accessible – “a gift of just 1% will make a real difference to supporting our charitable work”. This is a clearer way of what they were saying in 2013 (see below).

Migraine Trust

Use video

Since 2013, many more legacy pages include videos. Take a look at this personal message from a supporter on Prisoners Abroad. Or this slick video from ActionAid showing Mrs Harben’s legacy. Or this simple beautiful video from RSPB. Or this speaking from the heart story from Glenys who supports the Alzheimer’s Society.

Alzheimer's Society

Talk about impact

What difference will someone’s gift make? Talk big picture about your vision / mission or about specific services. More charities are making big statements about what a legacy means to them.

RSPB’s opening statement is clear and bold: Your legacy is nature’s future.


Refugee Action’s Leave a legacy page goes into more detail. It is beautifully written using storytelling and sense of urgency. It frames the problem and talks about what they can do with a legacy gift. The page is short, concise and powerful. A great example of a small charity getting it right.

East Lancashire Hospice talk about leaving a legacy of love and explain that last year, legacy gifts paid for three months of care.

If your organisation is all about solving a problem or finding a cure, talking about legacies could be difficult. How do you frame the ask when you might not be around or needed in the same way in 20 / 50 years? Don’t avoid the issue – think about how you can present it effectively.

Macmillan Cancer‘s legacy page says: “In the future, doctors and nurses are going to get much better at diagnosing cancer earlier, and treating it.” But stresses that half of us will get cancer at some point so Macmillan will still be needed.

Say please and thank you

Choosing to leave a legacy to a charity is a big deal. The fact that someone is reading your page about this is a good sign. Keep them with you by recognising this. Say please and thank you in the right places. If you come across as kind and thoughtful at the asking stage, it will reassure people that you will behave in the same way when you are processing their gift.

Think about motivation

Why do you think someone might have reached your page? What are they thinking. This page by the Miscarriage Association is written really warmly and in a gentle tone of voice. The quote perfectly positions the ask.

Miscarriage Association

Include appropriate images

Brighten up a serious subject with colourful or inspiring images. Reward visitors to this page and make them want to stay. A collection of several images may work better than a single one. For example, this landing page for the British Heart Foundation includes images of family, medical research as well as a big thank you.


Many organisations seem to rely on stock images of grey-haired couples on their legacy pages. Remember to use images which reflect the demographics of your readers. Also people often write their will triggered by big life events such as getting married or having children. Your audience isn’t just people in later stages of their lives. Make sure you are using images which reflect their own image back at them.

Take a look at NSPCC’s page which includes quotes and images from supporters at different stages of their lives. Their stories may chime with readers, validating their own idea to leave a legacy to NSPCC (another example of social proofing).


Think about a hook

What could make your legacy fundraising stand out? What stories do you have to tell? Has a legacy gift allowed you to do something special or unusual? Is there someone you could write about or feature to make your ask come to life?

Mencap’s gifts in wills page is based around the inspiring story of Lord Brian Rix. The page says that he “helped change the future for people with a learning disability. With a gift in your Will to Mencap you can too.” It uses beautiful images from their archive and talks about what he achieved in his lifetime. It says that although lots has changed, people with learning disabilities still face challenges so by leaving a gift in your will, you can help change the future too.


Similarly, Leonard Cheshire, marking its centenary say “Leonard’s legacy became our legacy. It could be your legacy too.”

Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity includes information about JM Barrie’s legacy gift in their pages. Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity talks about your final chapter and how to write your own ending.

Include practical information

Make it as easy as possible for someone to actually get the legal stuff right. So include:

  • information about different types of gifts (see this handy guide to the types of legacies by Demelza Hospice)
  • your official name (and any previous names) and charity number
  • suggested wording
  • information to help someone work out the detail of their estate
  • information for executors
  • contact details so a potential donor can get in touch.

A promise can offer reassurance about how a legacy will be dealt with when the time comes. A few charities included these – see WaterAid’s promise, RNLI and Breast Cancer Now.

Be interesting

There were a few examples of charities who’d produced interesting supporting content. For example:

  • Blue Cross reminds readers to think about their digital assets (passwords, data, photos, social media etc)
  • Cancer Research’s campaign with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Two Thirds of a Spring reflects the vital impact that one third of funding has on their life-saving work
  • Alzheimer’s Society has an online book of remembrance
  • visitors are invited to make a personalised video with Unicef UK. (NB Unicef UK have been running a campaign of promoted tweets about this recently, the only social media content I spotted about legacy fundraising during the research for this post.)

Unicef UK promoted tweet

 Get the navigation and terminology right

Think about where your legacy pages sit. How easy are they to find within navigation or search? Be your own mystery customer and check.

Don’t bury your pages – make them prominent, especially if legacies make up a sizeable proportion of your income. Don’t just stick them under ‘Other ways to give’.

Check where they appear in your content rankings on your Google Analytics. Are you using the right terminology for your audience? Test whether the word legacy or will works best. Many charities use both.

See my previous post on legacy fundraising (persuasive and engaging writing in online legacy fundraising) for some tips on terminology and placing of legacy pages. Also how to talk about legacies on social media.

How do you measure up?

Is your online legacy fundraising content strong enough or is it dull and unconvincing? Give your copy a facelift before Remember a Charity week in September. If you are not sure how well it comes across, get your mum to read it or do a page swap with someone else from another charity. Get some feedback and think about how you could bring your content to life.

Share your examples

Have you seen (or written) any good or bad examples of digital legacy fundraising? Please do share them here.

My top five online legacy fundraising sites are listed in a JustGiving blog post. I’d love to hear what yours are.



See also:


April Fools’, digital disruption and more good reads

Lots of useful posts and campaigns in this week after Easter. Here’s a round-up.

Projection of data / code on big black screen

Small charities


Big campaigns

Tweet from @theplarchers who use PlayMobile characters to illustrate Archer's storylines

Radio 4’s long-running soap The Archers hit the headlines this week with the climax of their domestic violence storyline. After the programme on Sunday night it was trending for four hours with 20,000 tweets. The JustGiving page set up by a listener to raise money for Refuge hit its £100k target a few days later and helplines are reporting a 20% increase in calls.

Greenpeace April Fool - Floaty McFloatface

I missed April Fools’ Day this year. It was good to be able to catch up via 5 great charity April Fools 2016 and a round-up of charity April Fools 2016.

Digital disruptions

demo of Facebook's automatic alt text

  • Both Facebook and Twitter launched alt text solutions for images this week. Great news for blind and partially sighted users as digital increasingly becomes based on image rather than text. Wired wrote that Facebook uses AI to automatically apply the alt text whereas Twitter relies on the tweeter to apply it manually assuming they are using a smartphone and have checked the accessibility features. One blind blogger welcomed the news.
  • This transcript of a McKinsey podcast on digital strategy talked about the economics of disruption and the challenges for business identifying potential attacks. Useful reading for those working on their digital strategies.

What have I missed?

What did you read this week? Please share in the comments.


Don’t miss future posts – subscribe to my blog now. Add your email or click follow at the top of this page under the ‘Get this blog direct to your in-box’ heading.

How to illustrate difficult causes and subjects

Images are an important part of web (and social media) content. But for many organisations using images is problematic. There are thousands of charities who cover sensitive or difficult to illustrate causes. Many therefore don’t use images at all which makes their message hard to engage with. This post focussing on websites looks at some ways around the problem.

The purpose of images

A web page without images can feel overwhelming. Images help skim reading as they break up the text and work as shorthand to help the user make sense of what the page is about. Therefore images play an important part in boosting the usability of a page.

They also help to soften difficult subjects. Websites with no photos can feel cold and impersonal with no human connection. Using a photo in a case study or an information page about an issue or condition can help to bring the subject to life. On a donation page it makes us feel empathy. We relate to text more if we can picture the person or issue being described.

For example, here is Albert’s story from St Joseph’s Hospice, shown here with the image taken out. It has good headings and an engaging first paragraph.

Case study with no image

Here is the same story again but as it appears with an image. The image instantly connects you with Albert and the care he received at the hospice. It draws you in to the story as you can relate to him straightaway. It also brightens up the page and humanises a potentially upsetting story. It helps that it is a beautiful picture clearly showing care in the setting of the hospice.

Case study but with image

“We can’t use images”

But what if Albert’s story was so sensitive that he couldn’t be shown? Or the page was one about a medical condition or dealing with bereavement – much harder to represent? It can be tempting to just not bother because it is too difficult. A culture of “we can’t use images” can develop and become the norm without anyone challenging the fears or trying out some creative solutions. It is understandable that worries about alienating readers or lack of time, budget or skill create barriers to solving the problem.

I looked at hundreds of small charity websites while researching this post. The vast majority didn’t contain any images at all. In a competitive market, having a dense text-only website where users can click on to something more friendy within seconds, means you can’t afford to ignore images. Images perform an important function and there are creative ways around the problem.

What makes a good image?

Images can appear at lots of different sizes depending on how they are formatted and what type of device is being used to look at them. Images that work well online are therefore clear and uncluttered. They are unambiguous. They instantly tell a story and are emotional where they need to be.

It can be tempting to use a literal image; something which shows the obvious and is easy for everyone to understand. But being too literal can help to reinforce stereotypes. Time to Change’s Get the Picture campaign provided alternatives to the standard ‘headclutcher’ which they argued stigmatised mental health. To date they say that their bank of alternative images have been downloaded 17,000 times. And this blog post by Patrick Murray from NPC called Do charities need a ‘Gran test’ for fundraising argues that stereotypical images of beneficiaries used in fundraising material are doing much to reinforce negative views in order to raise funds. He cites a few examples of organisations who are consciously not using obvious images.

But even if you aren’t working to change attitudes, showing the same type of literal image over and over again can lose impact. If you are medical condition charity how many pictures of people wincing in pain can you show?

Images don’t have to be literal – the actual person going through the actual thing being discussed. They can instead create a tone by showing the context of a situation. Or they can help to reinforce your brand by showing images of the work you do and the people you help. How you do this depends on the style of image you use. Finding your own “tone of voice” for images should be part of your branding (for example Parkinson’s UK include their image style in their brand description) and your content strategy.

Remember that what works offline might be different from what works on your website or Facebook. And what works on your donation pages might be different from the images you use in your services section.

Images of people

Stories which describe the work you do can be very powerful. For many organisations there will be sensitivities around privacy. There are lots of different ways to illustrate a story if you can’t directly show the person involved.

This case study from drug and alcohol charity, Addaction tells the story of Alison, a young mother. The image preserves her anonymity as it only shows the side of her face. It could of course be a model rather than Alison but it helps us to connect with her story. It feels like an appropriate image to use.

Addaction: Case study image of woman looking towards a window. We can see her hair and cheek

Images don’t always need to show a face to give impact. Showing a personal object or situation can be just as effective. This survivor’s story from Women’s Aid uses a close-up of women’s hands holding mugs. It suggests warmth and support.

Woman's Aid: close up two women's hands around tea cups

Images of children have to be handled sensitively. If you are a children’s charity you can’t avoid the issue. Options include using images which protect anonymity, making use of very clear model release forms or good stock photography.

This page from Adoption UK about aggression in adoptive families uses a very strong image. It is quite brave but having an image of an aggressive child might help to normalise or reassure families going through the same thing. The page wouldn’t feel as supportive without it.

Adoption UK: page about aggression showing a young angry boy shouting direct to camera

Other images

Images don’t have to be photos of people. This Prisoners Abroad case study includes an image of a quote. It helps with skim reading and to highlight the important message.

Prisoners Abroad: use an image of a quote to break up the page

Images of things can also bring your work to life. These stories from Make Lunch use a thank you letter and an image of the food cooked.

Make Lunch: close-up of a thank you letter and an image of pizza

Illustrating difficult subjects

Illustrating shocking stories can be really hard – how much should or could you show? It’s always a judgement call based on the topic and the culture of your organisation. But storytelling is much more effective with images and shocking ones are sometimes needed to show the gravity of a situation. For example, the shocking image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi in September changed many views on the refugee crisis. Read more about why images trigger empathy.

Images illustrating shocking stories don’t always have to be graphic or shocking themselves. Showing the situation can be really effective. This blog post from British Red Cross on the refugee crisis uses lots of images taken in the camps in France. This picture of a muddy toy is really powerful.

British Red Cross: blog on the refugee crisis showing a muddy teddy in a refugee camp

Simple graphics like this page from NE Child Poverty Commission can work well especially if used sparingly. (See previous blog post on illustrating data.)

NE Child Poverty: graphic showing one in five childrenin the UK live in poverty

Photos from an image library can be a life-saver when illustrating common-place but sensitive subjects. This example from a page on sex by Diabetes UK is a good example.

Diabetes UK: sex and relationships page using a stock image of a couple in bed

Using graphics, illustrations or stylised images can also be used instead of photographs. They can be a good way to illustrate a complex idea or situation. See this blog post from Mind which uses an illustration. Kelly’s story from Crisis is an example of using an illustration to tell the whole story rather than just illustrate it.

Mind blog: illustrated with a cartoon about taking compliments

Filling blank spaces

When your website has a space for a photo on every page, it can be a real challenge to fill those spaces especially on “subject” pages. In these cases it can be tempting to be literal. But images which show detail or pattern or a general mood can work well here.

For example, this navigation page about seizures and the brain page from Epilepsy Society uses a close up of brain scans. The picture doesn’t actually teach us anything but helps to lift the page which would otherwise be very functional.

Epilepsy Society: image of brain scans

Practical tips

  • Sourcing images – can you find an expert volunteer or talented member of staff to take photos of your work? If not, it is worth investing some budget into producing a portfolio of quality images you can use across your work.  Plan your shoot so you maximise the time and resources you have.
  • Model release / photo consent forms – if using images of ‘real people’ you should always get signed permission from them which specifies how and where you will use the image. Take a look at Macmillan’s photo consent form and this one from Parkinson’s UK (Word). Diabetes UK have an open form for people to share theit story.
  • Stock photos – images of ‘real people’ always feel more authentic than stock photography but for some organisations or situations stock images are a good solution. There are lots of free sources available (see below) but remember that the images you choose may be being used by other organisations to illustrate other topics.
  • Alt text – when including images you should always include alt text. Alt text is important for people who can’t see the image due to accessibility or technical reasons. See the 5 golden rules for compliant alt text (AbilityNet).
  • Manage your images – plan where you use which images. Using the same image over and over again means it will lose impact. Build a database or manage your images online (see below).

Useful links

Don’t miss the Social Media Exchange on 8 February, this practical event is a change to develop your skills. There are a few sessions on photography and images.

In summary

If you need alternatives to literal images or find it difficult to find people to represent your cause there are lots of creative ways to use images. Why not experiment with some of the following and see what works for your brand and cause:

  • close-ups of people
  • images of things or text
  • images which show the siutation
  • stock photography
  • graphics or illustrations.

Your tips and examples

Have you seen any good examples of images? Have you done creative things with images to illustrate a sensitive subject? Got tips or thoughts to share? Please join the conversation in the comments box. I’d love to hear from you.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their content. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or  input into your content strategy, please get in touch.

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?

Is your SMT/trustees page inspiring?

How to give the web pages about your senior managers and trustees a digital facelift.

Most charities have a page introducing their senior managers and trustees. These pages are mostly dull and uninspiring. But they could be so much better. With a few tweaks, they could help to boost transparency and trust. They could be inspiring; bringing the passion your team has for the cause, to life.

street painting of lots of faces

Bog standard

A standard ‘meet the team’ page has a photo and biography information for the CEO and other senior managers. There may be a separate page for trustees using a similar style. These sit, reasonably buried in the ‘About us’ section, often in a subsection called ‘How we are run’ or ‘Our people’.

On the face of it, it might feel like these are must-have pages which don’t need much content investment in them. They probably don’t get a lot of traffic other than from journalists or people looking for jobs / trustee roles. They are usually very functional pages which accidentally help to highlight the lack of diversity in the organisation’s management. Because they don’t get much attention, they don’t give any insight into the cause, or an understanding what and why these people do. The pages are very static, not doing much to sell your organisation. They are a website dead-end.

But actually these pages are important. Done right, they make organisations feel more personal. They help with transparency.

Here are some suggestions for how these pages could be improved to drive a deeper insight or conversation.

1. Integrate social media

Zoe Amar and Matt Collins have been on a mission to get CEOs tweeting since 2013. They produce tips and examples as well as an annual list of the top 30 Charity CEO tweeters. Many senior managers do embrace social media as a way of sharing successes, challenges as well as learning from and connecting with others.

But many ‘our people’ pages still don’t include these links. Few promote the CEO’s Twitter address (including most of the winners of Social CEOs). And even fewer, include their blog or LinkedIn profile. Links for the senior team are not included either. What does this convey about the digital culture of the staff and wider organisation? If your senior managers are representing the organisation on social channels, this page should help people to connect with them.

Organisations which do promote their team’s individual Twitter addresses are few and far between. Out of the 50 or so charities I looked at, I only found Breast Cancer Care, Islamic Relief, Diabetes UK, The Scout Association and Parkinson’s UK who were doing this.

Breast Cancer Care's page with clear links to senior manager's Twitter accounts

A few organisations were going further and including multiple channels. For example, SCVO’s full staff list includes contact details, individual listings include blog posts, NCVO’s who’s who pages links to blog posts, Twitter and LinkedIn, as does the people page for JRF.

Do your trustees tweet about your charity and the work they do to support it? If so shouldn’t this information be included in their biogs too? Show current and future digitally-savvy trustees that you want them to use social media in their role. Even if just one of two of your trustees use social media or are happy for this information to be shared, add this to your page.

There aren’t many organisations who are doing this. For example Clive Gardiner of NSPCC is the only CharityComms trustee who has his Twitter and LinkedIn links included in his biog. Small Charities Coalition have added buttons to the profiles of their trustees who are on Twitter. NAVCA have Twitter links for their trustees alongside their short biogs.

NB While thinking about transparency and contactability, what is your organisation’s policy on publishing the email addresses for senior managers or trustees? How contactable are they? Contact information for trustees is especially rare to see. Take a look at Crisis who include the social contacts and email addresses for those who have them and Trussell Trust who have email links for all their senior team.

2. Write biogs which people will read

Cutting and pasting detailed information from someone’s CV just isn’t interesting or engaging, especially when it is replicated in a long list of trustees. Of course senior managers and trustees have impressive backgrounds and experience but supporters may also want to know about motivations, personal experience and skills. Equally, including information about someone’s CAMRA membership or love of ballroom dancing may not be appropriate.

Here are some alternatives:

You could illustrate your team in a completely different way. How about a skills profile for the team (think LinkedIn endorsements)?

LinkedIn skills profile

See more about writing great staff biogs in this nonprofithub post.

3. Get good photos

Getting a photographer in to do individual head-shots of everyone in the same style is worth it. A page where people have supplied their own photos of varying degrees of quality, can look messy and unprofessional. Instead get relaxed, warm pictures of your people. I love these pictures of the team at Ministry of Stories and how they are presented

poloroid-type images, with 'paperclip' attaching the imae to the page at a jaunty angle. Looks friendly and cool.

Rather than head shots can you show your team in action? For example trustees from Blue Cross are pictured with their animals. Youth Music have roll-over images where the second picture shows each member of the team making music when they were younger.

A group picture of the team working together could be a good alternative if it is hard to get lots of single pictures. For example this from The Brain Tumour Charity in 2013. (NB This is now replaced by a video of senior managers talking about their strategy and individual headshots against a branded backdrop.)

Brian Tumour Charity - meet the team

If you can’t use photos for whatever reason, try something more creative. For example NSPCC use brightly coloured blocks for their trustees.

4. Think about your audience

Like with any page on your website, you should think about who is reading this page. Who is it for? What do you want them to do as a result (donate / feel sure that the charity is in safe hands / apply to become a trustee / want to know more)? It may be that all this biography information is not relevant, reading the detail of someone’s career can be quite alienating.

Keeping it simple might be the best answer. Try limiting each person to one paragraph or a certain number of words. Or just including their role and a brief summary. Beanstalk shown here in 2013 do a mixture of both which is really clear.

Beanstalk trustees

You could also think about doing more to showcase the people in your organisation who are doing frontline work. Their stories may be more engaging than the CVs of senior staff. Stop being so hierarchical.

Take a look at this series of videos from Macmillan in which we meet nurses, helpline staff and therapists. Breast Cancer Now do this well too.

screenshot from Macmillan's videos

British Lung Foundation do a really nice job of using their people profiles to link to more information about key areas of their work.

Test what works best for your audience by looking at your page statistics. Make some changes and see how it influences traffic and bounce rates. Change it back or do something different if it has a negative effect.

You could also try putting a call to action (donate / sign up to newsletter etc) at the bottom of the page and see whether anyone acts.


  • Do you have a page for SMT / trustees / ‘our people’?
  • Do the photos / video look professional and help to make people feel approachable?
  • Is your text interesting and appropriate? It should bring the work your people do to life. Be aware of word count and usability – realistically who is going to click on a page of names and through and read each one?
  • Do you include contact details? If it is relevant, include social media, email, phone numbers, links to blog posts etc
  • What do your stats show about traffic to these pages? Are bounce rates low? What can you do to improve click-on’s and make them more interesting?

Gold star examples:

How to convince your boss?

The internal politics and processes connected with tweaking these pages is not necessarily simple. Can you show senior managers these examples to help convince them that it is time for a digital facelift.

The profiles of the brilliant people who work of volunteer for you should do them justice.

Show that you are a digitally confident organisation and that your people naturally use digital channels to connect, share and learn. This could help to attract more digitally skilled staff and trustees to apply for future roles. See more from Reach Volunteering about how to attract and recruit digital trustees.

What do you do?

How do you make your staff pages useful? What difference has improving your staff pages made? Do you have reasons for not including social contact details? Please share good and bad examples you have seen. Am especially keen to find examples from small charities. Please share – go-on, add a comment!

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you improve your staff pages.

<This post was written in 2013 and updated in 2018.>

Charging for content?

I recently did a proposal for a charity (here after known as MyCharity) who amongst other things were interested in exploring how they could generate funds from their content. Is it possible? Let’s look at the challenge…

Costly information sites

Charity websites generally have one big section which contains lots of useful information about their cause (such as information about living with XX condition / legal rights about XX / how to look after donkeys etc). They work hard to make the information clear, up-to-date and easy to find. It is worth doing this because they want the information to help people. Also they want to be high up in the search results to raise profile and to build relationships with new supporters.

However, it takes a lot of time and money to maintain so much information. When I was at KnowHow NonProfit we had lots of discussions about how to reduce the cost of maintaining information which lead us to experiment with wiki-fying sections of content. Hooray – the sector would maintain it’s own information! Not so fast…. It worked to some extent but took just as much time to nurture relationships with potential wiki editors.

A wiki is just not going to work for authoritative medical, legal or care-based information. So are there ways charities could generate funds from content to cover costs?

How to make content pay

1) Ask for donations

MyCharity was interested in how they could monetise their information guides as these were read by thousands of people each month (on and offline). There are lots of examples of information leaflets with a donation ask at the end such as this one from Epilepsy Society.

Information leaflet with membership / donation ask at the back

Online it is a different story. Lots of sites have a donate button at the top of the page but don’t specifically ask for a donation related to the transaction which has just taken place (ie the user reading, downloading or sharing the content).

This example from Blue Cross is the only one I found of a charity clearly and calmly asking for a donation at the end of an information page. The button at the end of the content says ‘How much was this information worth? Click here to donate’. They don’t give a suggested donation and the link goes to the general donation page.

Blue Cross - what is this content worth box
I imagine that someone reading this would be inspired only to give a small amount. Many online donation forms have a minimum amount, usually £5. So what happens if someone feel inspired to give a donation of £1 or £3? If this type of ask is only likely to generate small donation, an SMS donation option (eg JustTEXTgiving) may be more appropriate. Doing it this way is quicker, has fewer stages and doesn’t obviously lead to the donor being added to a database and sent further requests for money (often off-putting for small amount donors). Of course it means that the charity gets this type of donation without the personal details but that’s the trade off.

A suggested figure may also help here (as with online donation forms – see previous blog post). For example, a sentence in the style of a church sign ‘it costs £X to heat this church everyday, please consider making a donation’ or a museum ‘thanks for visiting today, please consider making a donation of £X’. This is stronger, more persuasive and gives the user a clearer idea of what is appropriate.

Church fundraising sign

2) Ask for contact details

It may be more valuable to capture data than small donations. MyCharity was keen understand and communicate with their readership as well as ask them for money. With thousands accessing their content guides each month, they felt like they were missing an opportunity to connect with these people more deeply. So it may have been appropriate for them to ask people to register for more detailed content to start that process.

There are lots of non-charity examples of this such as this report download from nfpSynergy ‘to download this report for free add your name and email address’.

NFP Synergy - add your contact details

And organisations giving premium content to members (whether membership is free or not) such as this exclusive fundraising video from KnowHow NonProfit.

KnowHow membership content

Charities often have additional, special content produced for members, such as a magazine which can be accessed online.

I haven’t managed to find any examples of charities asking people to register for premium content or information guides. Would this work?

3) Asking for payment

Are there any examples of non-profits asking for payment before access is given aka The Times paywall?

The Times paywall


Generating funds to pay for expensive and complicated websites is a big issue for charities. However, it doesn’t feel like many are testing out ideas or that anyone has cracked this yet. Publishing detailed information guides online is the standard and we all want people to read them. But many may fear that applying the three methods above could mean a loss in traffic or trust. But in these tough times, can we really continue putting so many resources into something which people use for free?

If you have examples or experience to share, please do add a comment we can all learn from.

Make your errors useful

Error messages are so often given little thought when re-launching a website but actually they could be one of your most visited pages. It’s worth spending some time on them to get them right. Turn them into positive pages by making them sound like they were written by a person rather than automatically generated and making them useful, maybe even fun. Here are some examples of 404 (page not found) errors from big charities and companies.

404 – computer says no

No branding, robotic language (‘the requested resource has not been found’), assumption that it is the user’s fault (‘please ensure you have typed the address correctly’), no alternative links, this is a desperate, desperate place to find yourself. This charity’s error page could have been marginally worse if the heading had been in red.

The requested resource has not been found

A confusing error is sometimes worse. This example says error three times and gives a code which is meaningless to the user. We don’t know whether we are seeing this as a result of a technical problem or  a broken link? To ‘go back’ is the only option given.

error, error, error - repeated three times

Be helpful and approachable

WaterAid make it very clear what has happened (‘file or page not found’) and what they want you to do (email).
Page or file not found

Oxfam’s 404 works through some solutions (‘here are some tips which might help’) alongside a confused goat.

Oxfam - oops, sorry

The British Heart Foundation’s 404 starts with a sorry, has a please and lots of ideas for alternative destinations (presumably based on the most common interactions).

Lots of options on the BHF 404

Connect with your cause

RNLI’s error message connects the error to their strengths. They have a picture of a man looking through binoculars and text which says: ‘We’re sorry – we can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for. That’s a shame, as we’re usually quite good at navigation.’ Nice.

RNLI's we're usually quite good at navigation

Missing People’s 404 does something similar: ‘Page not found, neither is Thi Nguyen’ then full details about the missing person.

Page not found, neither is Thi

Add personality

Dog’s Trust have bags of personality online (see their brilliant fetch (rather than search) button). DT’s 404 page has a cute dog, friendly heading (‘Oops – this page isn’t here’) and a pointer to the site map and other links. Their technical fault is even better.

Error message from Dog's Trust - cute dog

Of course, animal charities have more potential to add personality / fun / cute pictures than say a health charity. Blue Cross say ‘Oooooops’ and have a snoozing cat. RSPCA say ‘Whoops’ and ‘Looks like a dog may have run off with that page. Sorry about that. Perhaps he’s buried the page out the back?’

A nice picture is a good way of brightening up an error page, even better if it’s of something relevant. Here, the BBC’s 404 page has gone retro with our old friend the clown dusted down from the 70s, now with 404 written on the chalk board – genius.

BBC error page - 1970s retro with clown

Lego’s 404 is just weird.

Lego gremlin pulling the plug

How do you match up?

Go check your error pages:

  • are they helpful?
  • do they generate a positive reaction?
  • could you add an image?
  • is the language clear and approachable?
  • are there clear links to get people back on track?

Think about what you can do to improve your user experience. Reward people for finding this ‘secret’ page rather than punishing them with an unhelpful, dull page.

While you’re there, check errors in forms. Are you nicely hand-holding to help people complete a purchase, enquiry or donation or SHOUTING AT THEM for making a mistake? (See previous post on donate forms for some examples.)

Want more?

If you need more inspiration for dull vs fun error messages, just do a search for 404 in google images or look at Wikipedia’s page on 404.


I looked at hundreds of charity error pages in the interests of research and these were the most inspiring I found. Please do share your tips and favourite examples (good and bad). Leave a comment, go on.

Optimise your donation forms

Your donation forms should be the most thought about and tweaked pages on your site. If they are not working well for you now, take some time to review their effectiveness using these top tips. A few small changes to usability and presentation could increase donations.

This post focuses on single donations rather than regular giving.

Lots of donate buttons

Barnardo’s / Nomensa

Yesterday, brilliant web agency Nomensa shared news about work they have done with Barnardo’s leading to a 17% increase in donations. Analysis showed that people were ‘not completing their online donation journey’. They researched audience types and made changes to functionality, language and a simplified the donation journey. In the case study on Netimperative (which sadly doesn’t include screenshots to see the before and after) they say:

“The language used was adapted to include all target audiences, using a genuine emotive tone, supported with specific information to explain how donations are used. The donation journey was simplified, making it easier for the visitor to reach a gift point and rather than free form value boxes, amount guides were provided that offered a choice of donation levels.

“Instead of simply allowing potential donors to key in the amount they want to give, we suggested a series of amounts that they could donate, from a choice of £25, £50 and £100. We used emotive language for the content on the giving page and included additional information to explain in detail what each of the amounts will be used for, and by doing this, we found that there was in increase average donation values.”

Online donations – benchmarking

Last year I did some work for a big charity, benchmarking their online donation process against 13 other highstreet-name charities. It looked at design and functionality of donating online. It was fascinating to see the standardised prominence and design of the donation process but also to see that some charities were doing it more smartly than others. Here are some of my findings.

Prominence of ‘Donate’

All of the charities had a very clear and simple link to a donate section on their homepages. Often the Donate tabs were a different colour from the other navigation buttons or highlighted with a graphic (as seen in these examples from Sightsavers, Macmillan, Marie Curie and Oxfam). These were generally the last item (left to right) on the navigation bar.

How donate appears in navigation

Three charities also included a prominent space for a donation form on their homepages, all in the top third of the page (see examples from NSPCC and Mencap). These enabled a quick gateway to the process for making a single or regular donation (although Mencap only allowed a one-off donation this way) and made ‘the ask’ of soliciting a donation significantly more prominent than on other sites.

Quick donations on homepages

100% of the charities surveyed had the capacity to accept single donations via their website. For most this was the top option in the navigation of their Donate sections. All called it ‘Single donation’ with the exception of BHF, RNLI and Macmillan (Make a one-off donation), Guide Dogs (Donate via PayPal), Mencap (Make a donation).

Donation amounts

Half of all of organisations had radio buttons giving between three and five amount options and a free box for other. Bottom of the ranges were £2, £5, £10, £15, £18. Top amounts ranged from £20, £25, £50, £100, £250. Five organisations had a set default donation amount. This ranged from £5-£50, average was £19.

In terms of persuasive design this is effective as it sets a precedent for an expected amount. Donors are more likely to accept a default or increase the amount they had intended to give close to these amounts if an expectation is set.

Oxfam's single donation options

The form

Of the 11 organisations who solicited donations through an online form, five had a long one-page form. Other forms ranged from 2-5 screens, average 4. Good practice included ‘step 3 of 5’ type information showing progress through the donation process.

Gold star good practice went to Oxfam who’s single donation form is very clear. It matches the donation amounts in radio buttons with ‘this money will buy’ information in the right-hand column. The gift aid information is clear with an example of what £50 turns into with gift aid. The form is uncluttered and easy to use. The submit button at the end is clearly labelled ‘Donate’.

How errors are communicated is important. If your abandon rate is high, it may be that your form doesn’t work properly or is confusing. Have a go at filling in the form wrongly and see what the experience is. Does your error page or message reassure people or shout at them (as in this scary red example below). No one likes being shouted at, especially when they are trying to do something good. Every stage of your process should be recognising that they are doing something special.

Angry looking error message

Top tips for online donations

  • Make donating as quick and simple as possible.  Is the donation button / page easy to find? Is it a different colour and in an obvious place? Is it on every page and repeated next to content which is likely to inspire a donation? Is it simple to donate? Do you really need a telephone number and date of birth?
  • Include suggested amounts, use radio buttons. Set the lowest amount higher than your average donation for a month to see what difference it makes.
  • Check that your online donations form is optimised for mobile giving. More and more people will donate using their mobile. Try Google’s HowToGetMo site and read this useful article on designing a better mobile checkout process.
  • Include a quick donation option on your homepage and a prominent link from every page on the site
  • Give the same prominence to donating on your social media channels.
  • Check your error messages – think about how to encourage people to go and fix problems if they have missed fields or filled them in wrong. They are likely to abandon a donation if they don’t get it right first time.
  • How do you say thank you after a donation? Do you follow up the form with an email? How quickly? Do you give donors other ways to get involved or words (such as a tweet) to help them share what they have just done? Can you thank them in creative and memorable ways? Keep your donors warm and make it easy for them to get involved.

Analyse what works for you

What works will be different from charity to charity but good design, usability, accessibility and persuasiveness should be key to online donations.

Find out what works for you by using all the data available. Analyse your web stats, donation patterns, abandoned transactions and feedback. Be your own mystery shopper and see what the donation experience is like on your site (or get your friends and family to donate and watch how they get on). You could also try donating to some of the highstreet-name charities and see what that experience is like. What can you learn from them?

Make changes and see what the impact is by comparing the data. You can always change anything back.

Your views

If you have examples or insights into good practice, please do share them here. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you review your donation processes or think about how to make your asks more persuasive. I am a freelance web editor and trainer and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.