Claire Cullen28/04/22

6 min read

How to create a business case for a new charity website

When a marketing or digital department feels that their under-performing or frustrating website needs replacing, one of the biggest challenges is to convince those who will sign off the necessary funds.

Trustees will, rightly, require a significant amount of information and their questions to be answered before they release budget to design and develop a new website for the charity. Indeed, the management of charity finances and resources is a legal responsibility of theirs.

At this point it's a good idea to produce a business case. This is a document to outline the need for a new website, the benefits of investing in one and recognise risks and explain how they will be mitigated.

While a business case can be viewed almost as an internal sales pitch, it is important to recognise where things might not go according to plan, something a salesperson might not do. By providing all such information, you will be painting the whole picture for trustees rather than just the areas you’re ‘selling’ on.

Your business case document should explain:

  • The objectives of the project, beyond simply developing a new website
  • The need for a new website, using evidence and benchmarking
  • The benefits you anticipate it will bring
  • How this fits into the charity’s wider strategic goals
  • Estimated costs and timeframes
  • The risks associated with the project, and how they will be mitigated
  • What implementation will look like, and how the project will be managed internally

Where do I begin?

Man at his laptop looking at a report template

We’ve designed a template which you can download and use to complete your business case or as a prompt for information under your own headings.

In the template you will find sections for:

  • The current situation and limitations of the existing website
  • The proposed solution and its benefits
  • How the solution could help overcome existing limitations
  • The solution limitations and risks
  • The estimated solution costs and resource requirements
  • The proposed project approach and timescales

Within the detail of your proposal, you’ll need to lay out the reasons for your recommendation. Think strategically and tactically, and stick to the facts. Relying too heavily on personal opinion is unlikely to get you the outcome you want; avoid getting into areas which can be classed as subjective, for instance design.

You should address areas such as what a new website would allow the charity to achieve. For example, allowing you to connect remotely with service users and therefore laying the foundations to broaden your geography, increase revenue through a stronger donation experience, and improve staff productivity by improving the back-end system, therefore freeing up time to devote to other tasks.

And tactical areas such as improving all-round visitor metrics and integrations with other internal systems, such as a CRM, which will lead to efficiency gains and deeper connection with supporters.

a note pad with the word justify written in pen

When it comes to the evidence to use, you’ll have plenty at your fingertips. Align these with your key reasons for a new site, for example take a look at:

  • Online donations over the last three years
  • Website visitor numbers
  • Website performance metrics such as bounce rate, time spent on site, pages visited per session and even exit pages
  • Website speed metrics via https://pagespeed.web.dev/
  • Benchmarking metrics to see how you’re performing against others in the sector via Google Analytics

Also consider using case studies, from staff who are expected to update your website, users, volunteers and other stakeholders. Again, stick to how the existing site is affecting them and avoid subjective comments:

  • Maybe ask staff to log their time spent in the back-end of your existing site over the course of a week and ask them to report on where tasks are difficult or even impossible to complete
  • Ask users how easy it is for them to reach important information, what devices they use and ask them what they find challenging
  • Discover if volunteers are getting what they need
  • Check in with other internal stakeholders to see where the website is not meeting their requirements.

Don’t shy away from addressing risks

several dice lined up with the word risk spelled out

Remember that you’re selling the need and benefits of a project which costs money initially but will provide a longer-term benefit. It therefore requires a significant amount of time and effort.

Begin with the premise that the response is going to be ‘no’, then consider why the answer would be no - what are the concerns that trustees will have? Getting to the root of these will help you tailor your business case to acknowledge those concerns, understand them, and then consider how your case addresses them and ultimately provides a positive outcome.

You will most likely have some specific perceived risks within your own organisation, but here are some more generic ones you might need to consider:

  • Cost - this is an obvious one, but it’s going to be the biggest hurdle to get over. Why should trustees sign off a project which is going to cost a significant amount of money? How will you ensure that the project doesn’t go beyond the budget and any contingency?
  • Need - ‘The existing one works fine’ might be fired back at you, so you’re going to need to lay out the evidence as to why this isn’t the case
  • Supplier - if you are planning on having the website built externally, how many proposals will you be seeking? How are you going to ensure you select a reputable agency? Who’s making the final decision and how are they judging?
  • Internal politics - will you be stepping on the toes of others by making your case? Will your IT team be impacted by this decision, for example?
  • Security - how will a new website with new features and new technology keep your organisation safe?
  • Data - how will you ensure that all data is saved and be transferred?
  • User requirements - how are you going to ensure that the new website meets accessibility standards and remains GDPR compliant?
  • Disruption - how much time will staff need to devote to the build project? Who’s going to project manage it internally and how will that affect other duties?

Include a top-line delivery plan

a project timeline on paper with pen resting on it

Once you’re happy with your evidence and arguments, think about project implementation. At this point, go beyond thinking the answer will be ‘no’ and map out what you will do after a positive response.

Consider putting together a simple project timeline, with key milestones, in a spreadsheet and attach to your document. This shows you’ve gone the extra mile and made a start to implementation.

Bonus tip: There might already be a tacit agreement that a new website is a good move - but don’t allow that to water down your business case. If you can’t provide a compelling argument when trustees are already nearly convinced then it’s even more disheartening than if you’re going in with a ‘cold’ recommendation.

Download our business case template to get started. 

About the author

Claire Cullen

Marketing Director at Giant Digital

LinkedIn

Claire is Marketing Director at Giant Digital. With a background in charity and non-profit marketing, she has over 20 years’ experience in strategic and digital marketing, leading campaigns, communications, web development and branding projects. Claire now leads the marketing function at Giant, applying her expertise in the development of events, content and communications to support those working in the third sector.

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