Focus: Communications - ICT - Being off the net is a false economy

The internet has become so important that it would be inconceivable for a charity, no matter how small, not to have a website. But is the voluntary sector really making the most of this generation-defining technology?

Andy Thornton, who conceived and developed the Citizenship Foundation's Giving Nation campaign,, thinks not. "Some charities still seem to think that you have to do everything on a shoestring, but style can be as important as content on the internet," he says.

Peter Leavy, marketing manager at the British Computer Society, agrees: "Too many sites are too text heavy," he says. "Charities shouldn't see their websites only as a means to increase donations and an information resource; they should also be fun. Games improve interaction. With a little imagination you can make the site more engaging."

It is a trap Thornton has been careful to avoid. "We spend about £20,000 a year on the site and deliberately set out to create a really stylish website that didn't look like it obviously had something to do with charity," he says. "Our research shows that only 4 per cent of young people can recall seeing a charity website."

The approach has paid off: visually, the Giving Nation site is head and shoulders above many other charity websites and has received 120,000 visitors in the past two and a half years.

One of the most significant developments to affect how the internet is used has been the development of content management systems, which allow people with no technical skills to add pages to a website in minutes rather than days.

However, the cheapest software can cost as much as £15,000, with the best packages costing in the region of £100,000, putting them out of reach for many smaller charities.

But making the most of the internet doesn't always have to entail time and expense. Sponsorship or the recruitment of volunteers with ICT skills can cut costs, and emailing newsletters, as ChildLine plans to do, saves on printing.

For advice on developing your website or information about basic ICT courses, call the British Computer Society on 01793 417 574.

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