John Dunford: The short guide for non-techies running digital projects in charities

One of this year's Fundraisers: New Generation 2018 winners outlines the 15 questions you need to ask if you are to meet your goals

John Dunford
John Dunford

For most people in charities, working on a digital project can be a serious challenge. You are already way over capacity and now you have to wade into a conversation about servers, developers and bounce rates. You know what you want the tech to do, but how do you make sure that happens?

Here’s the good news. You don’t need to be a technical expert to ensure your charity digital project is a success. What you do need to be able to do is translate your normal planning processes – what you would do for any other project – into the digital realm.

Working with many of the world’s top charities and NGOs at The Developer Society, we routinely see the best results coming from teams that can clearly communicate their visions to their tech teams or partners. And here’s how you can do that.

Below is a list of simple questions, without any jargon, that anyone should ask when working on a digital project in a charity. These are the questions that will help you get the results you need and avoid the mistakes that charities all too often make. Let’s get started.

What are we trying to do?

Are you clear on the goals (the big-picture change this project is contributing to), strategies (how this project moves us there) and the objectives (some measurable outcomes/proxies for the strategies) of this project?

Who can make this happen?

Who are the groups of people outside your organisation with whom you most need to engage for this project? That’s your primary audience!

Have we spoken to anyone about this?

Have you done any user testing? This needn’t be a huge process, but it’s important to get out of the world of assumptions, start talking to members of your target audience and use those insights to shape your project.

How will they find this?

"If you build it, they will come" is not a mature promotional plan. How will people find your content? Make a list of ways and research them. How many clicks do Facebook posts generate for you? How many hits does content on your site get? What do you realistically need to do to reach enough people?

What is our ‘conversion’?

What is the number-one thing you want your audience for this site/tool/product to do? It could be donating, watching a video, signing a petition, reading a report and so on. It’s hard to pick one thing and focus on that – but do it. If you have a plan that requires multiple conversions, ask people to do one thing at a time and don’t split their focus.

What do we need to measure?

How much data do you need on this project and what will you actually use? If you need super-detailed user analytics, make sure you’re planning to track that data from the start, then make sure of it later – and that you’re not using resources to track things because you think you should.

Are we asking for the right things?

Have you questioned the phrasing in your plans? Terms such as "platform" have specific definitions, so be careful with your language or you’ll skew your outputs.

Who are we working with?

Is the work being done in-house or by an external team? Do they have experience working with charities and are they familiar with your organisation's ways of working?

When will the work get done?

What are the timelines for different phases and are they realistic? Do they leave you adequate time for review and sign-off? Don’t set up an unrealistic schedule you know will have to be revised because this will throw everything off.

Who is ultimately responsible for this project?

Who is the "one source of truth" for your team? They should be the conduit between developers and your project team. Having one clear person to move things forward provides clarity for all involved.

Who needs creative sign-off?

This is when people are asked to input on concepts and points of opinion. Here you are asking people to feed in ideas that could change and improve the project. Give them clear deadlines and formats to do this and don’t let the conversation drag.

Who needs red-line sign-off?

This is sign-off to make sure the project is ready to go public or a phase of the project is finished. This is not about creative input or changing concepts and should be limited to as small a number of people as possible.

What’s our testing plan?

How will you know if it actually works? You need a plan for acceptance testing (Does it do what you need? Is the functionality agreed in place? Does it all work?), content testing (Is the content correct? Are the images right? Is all the copy accurate?) and device/browser testing (How does it look on different devices, operating systems and browsers? Is the user experience good across all these?).

How are we going to monitor this project?

Once the project is launched, how are you going to check if it’s working? Have some clear KPIs in mind and make sure you’re checking against them. If the project isn’t working, what’s the plan for how changes will be put in place?

What might go wrong?

Once you’ve got your plan in place, run a "pre-mortem". Get everyone involved to make lists of all the ways this project might fail to meet your goals. Collect the results and see how you can tweak your plans to avoid the worst.

There you have it. With 15 short, common-sense questions you’ve started to assess your strategy, audience, distribution, user testing, project management, sign-off and analytics. They don’t cover every scenario in every digital project, but they will help you to bluff your way through almost any project and get the results you need.

John Dunford is campaigns lead at The Developer Society and one of Third Sector's Fundraisers: the New Generation 2018 winners

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