Claire Cullen21/03/22

6 min read

How to create a thorough charity website design brief

The decision has been made: your charity is getting a new website. Now you need someone to build it.

While you begin researching potential developers and agencies, you will also need to create a charity website design brief. Writing any kind of brief requires time, effort and skill, and one for a new website needs to be as thorough as possible to suit all parties.

It’s a critical component at the start of the project. You need to get across, and be clear on, all that you require from a new site; potential developers need as much information as possible to work out if they might be right for you.

Below is a comprehensive list of sections to include in the brief, supporting information you should provide, and what development agencies are looking for.

Once you've had a read, download our website brief template and get started.

Sections to include in your brief

a paper checklist with pen
  1. Your details - an obvious one, but make sure you provide the charity name, web address, what the charity does, and key contact details. If agencies have questions, who should they speak to? Who will manage the project from the charity’s end? 
  2. Project objectives - this is the place for context. Include why the charity wants a new website now. Is it part of a wider digital transformation project? What are the problems with the existing site? 
  3. Website audience - who will be using, and viewing the new site? List all stakeholders and what they need from the new site
  4. Existing site overview - this helps an agency understand more about the details you’re looking for and wanting to improve upon. What do you like about the existing site and what don’t you like? What are the top-line metrics and your analysis of these?
  5. New site details - see section below
  6. Future developments - have you ideas on what you want in the future from this site, or from other projects which might impact the site?
  7. Technical requirements - do you have a preferred platform? Is this non-negotiable? This will help the agency determine if the project is right for them. At Giant, for example, we specialise in building websites using the Django framework, and Python code. If you are open to other platforms, make that clear.
  8. Content requirements - how will content be created for, or transferred to, the new site? Will you need the agency to run content exports and imports?
  9. Design requirements - what do you want the new site to look like and how should it be structured? What are your likes and dislikes? What other sites do you like and dislike, in the charity space and elsewhere?
  10. Brand guidelines - include your values, culture, tone of voice etc - all will help designers craft something which fits your organisation
  11. Budgets and timelines - what are your ideals and what are your limits?
  12. Hosting and maintenance - do you have any preferences on hosting? How are you planning for ongoing development updates and fixes?
  13. Summary and next steps - what’s next? A written proposal? Are you asking agencies to pitch after that? Will pitches be face-to-face, or virtual? Are you going straight to pitch or making your decisions on the proposal alone? Can agencies contact you, or is this going entirely through procurement? 

Details of the new website

two people planning out a website on paper

This is going to be the most important part of the brief. Here, you need to map out exactly what you want from the new site, and the challenge is to be detailed and concise at the same time. Map out as much as you can, but don’t waffle; if the brief recipients are needing to read sentences or sections multiple times then you haven’t been clear enough.

For example, if you want a members’ area, list it as a requirement and state why e.g. We need a secure way for beneficiaries to provide sensitive information.

Begin with stating why you’re in the market for a new website; what are you looking to achieve with it? Has your charity’s mission and values moved on from when the site was last developed? Do you want to drive more traffic? Increase online donations? Encourage more volunteers? Attract ambassadors? 

It’s fine to have multiple objectives for the website - just make sure that you capture and be clear on everything you want.

Next, detail the key features you’d like, such as case studies, a blog, an events section, a members’ area, a donation journey, an online shop, a job vacancies page. Once you select a developer to build the site, they will explore these in more depth but if you give them a full list now then you should receive stronger proposals on how each pitching agency will handle them.

Thirdly, attempt to cover off technology requirements. If you have an internal IT team or resource then they can help you here but if not, get everything you need down and make sure that your chosen agency can support you if you don’t have all the details right now.

Some main areas you should cover include:

  • Will you need a content management system (CMS) in order to make regular updates internally? If so, do you want multiple levels of access to prevent some people making certain changes?
  • What platforms do you want the website to integrate with? Do you have a CRM platform? If you’re running an online shop, which e-commerce platform are you using?
  • How much involvement do you anticipate the agency will be asked for beyond the website build?

What should I expect back from my brief?

agency professional explaining a website proposal on an ipad to a customer

Expect, and encourage, your agency to challenge your initial thoughts - at the brief stage and, particularly, within what is often referred to as a discovery phase. This is where the agency and you collaborate on the finer details of the website and generate a thorough specification to come up with solutions which best suit your needs and budget.

Agencies live and breathe this type of work every day, will have delivered similar projects and will be on top of industry updates. They know what works, what doesn’t and what can work if the time and budget allows. 

Indicative costs should be provided by the agency if a good brief is received, but expect to be provided with ballpark figures in a certain range e.g. £25,000 to £35,000.

The reason for this is that a set price simply cannot be provided until the agency knows all the details needed, and those will be generated following the discovery phase. 

For example, if you want a members’ area then the agency should ask what this entails, what functionality is required, how you want it to look, any integrations with other systems which are required, and more. You may be able to provide some or most of such details in your brief, but there will always be further questions which need your input and final answers.

budget folder and calculator on a desk

Your budget will play a big part here as well. Using the same example, your initial wishes on functionality might be complex to build; not impossible, but the sheer amount of work and brain power required will push costs up. So within that discovery phase of work, you might choose to scale back some of your requests, agree on a level of functionality and maybe even agree to revisit in a second phase of work in a year’s time.

Think of it like building your new dream house. You might want six bedrooms, a swimming pool and a tennis court - so the builder asks you how big you want your bedrooms, how deep and long you want your pool and what sort of surface you want for your tennis court. He then goes away and prices it up but it’s outside of what you can afford, so you work together to scale back and create something which does fit into your budget.

Summary

A new website brief is the beginning of what will hopefully be a great partnership between your charity and a reputable digital agency. 

Both parties will want the best result so make sure you put in the effort at this stage; after all, you’ll expect - quite rightly - that the agency you choose puts in the effort as well. True collaboration will deliver a better solution together.

Download our charity website brief template to set you on the right path.

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.

Discuss your next project with us