'Websites have to get money coming in'

Action Medical Research's Grant Ellis tells Rosie Walker why websites are not just a sub-set of communications

Grant Ellis, web manager, Action Medical Research
Grant Ellis, web manager, Action Medical Research

Many charities see their communications departments as the natural home for their web operations because of the mix of writing, design and editing involved in producing websites. But Grant Ellis, web manager at health charity Action Medical Research, says this is not necessarily the best fit.

"A charity's website is one distinct channel of its business," he says. "So even though our website is there to raise awareness and communicate what we're doing as a charity, it still has its own significant revenue streams coming through."

Action Medical Research's website has its own register of supporters as well as donation and sponsorship functions that the charity treats as separate from other income streams.

"Sometimes I feel as if I'm running a microbusiness," says Ellis, who thinks his job is as much about business and managing income as communications.

"Maybe it's my business background that makes me see the web in this way, but I haven't seen many obvious differences between that and the fundraising business," he says.

"Structures vary from charity to charity, and where the web department fits in will depend on what kind of organisation it is. But even if it's predominantly a campaign group, the website's still got to get money through the door."

He says charity websites often combine fundraising and communications roles, which can lead to tension between these departments about what the website should contain.

"Maybe there will always be this conflict," says Ellis. "Even if the web is a standalone department, it still has to be empowered and have continuity with the rest of the organisation. Otherwise there's no consistency of branding or tone of voice. In some places, it goes to the one who shouts loudest."

Ellis used to be e-commerce manager at the British Museum before joining Action Medical Research, a charity with an annual income of about £6m. "Obviously, the 'big boys' are a lot more separated in terms of their departments," he says. "Our web team is just me and a web developer. At the British Museum, a larger web team meant our output could be more immediate, but that doesn't necessarily bring in more money."

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