Responsive Design: What is it and how can it help increase donations for your charity?

Responsive Design: What is it and how can it help increase donations for your charity?

These days you can't go five minutes without someone mentioning the words 'responsive design' and responsive websites are becoming increasingly popular in the charity sector. But what does it really mean? And more importantly, does your charity really need a responsive website?

In this blog post we'll look at what responsive design actually is, why charities might want and need it and at what point you should start worrying about it.

What is responsive design?

Responsive design is an approach where your website 'responds' to its environment, whether that be mobile, tablet or desktop. This means it provides an optimal viewing experience for visitors, rather than them struggling to view tiny text on their mobile or constantly having to zoom in to see a field on a form.

Responsive design allows the user to view your content in the best way for the device they are using. It allows for easy scrolling, navigation and less time resizing screens.

From your point of view it also means you don't have to create individual websites for each device. - on desktop

Combined Cadet Force website viewed on an iPhone - on iPhone

Why do charities need responsive design?

Breaking down barriers for your visitors

More and more users are navigating your website via their mobile or tablet. If they have a difficult experience, such as not being able to easily find the information they want, can't sign up for an event or can't make a donation, then they'll leave and your charity will lose out.

Managing expectations

Your visitors now expect to be able to do what they'd do on a desktop, on their handheld devices. In 2013, Justgiving reported that more users went to the justgiving site via mobile than desktop and estimated that by this year (2014) this figure would have increased to around 70%

You are missing out on donations!

Online donations through handheld devices have been increasing year on year. A study looking at mobile donations showed that between 2011 and 2012 donations from mobile phones increased by 242% and that 30% of those that made donations by mobile wouldn't have donated any other way.

The problem is however, if people can't do what they want on your website - they'll quickly leave. This study showed that more than 50% of those that try to donate via their mobile give up due to poor usability - proving that donations are being directly affected.

Responsive design increases donations

Yet when charities upgrade to a responsive website, they see a huge impact on their conversion rate. Samaritans saw a 62% increase in online donations when they launched their responsive design website.

Samaritans website viewed on table and smart phone

Image credit: Sift Digital

Provide easy access to content

However, it's not just about donations. We recently worked with The Royal Free London, NHS Foundation Trust, and their main challenge was the sheer size of their website. With 5 hospitals, each with their own wards and consultants, there was a lot of content. Accessing their desktop site via a mobile or tablet was a nightmare. It was hard to navigate, visitors constantly had to resize their screen to read the small writing and found it very frustrating trying to access the information they required. - desktop

The newly designed website focuses on the key pieces of content a user will want to access on each device. For example, when using a mobile visitors will be able to access the most popular areas first such as services and the individual hospitals.

Royal Free London website viewed on an iPhone

At what point should your charity consider responsive design?

When building a new website

If you are planning a new website, this is an absolute must. No ifs, no buts. You need this to be part of your plan.

When mobile traffic exceeds desktop traffic

Take a look at your website stats in Google Analytics - what devices are people using to view your website? If you are starting to see that mobile and tablet numbers are increasing, then you need to start thinking about responsive design.

In this report mobile and tablet numbers make up nearly the same amount of traffic as desktop.

Google Analytics screen grab

Report: Audience/Mobile/Overview

If you are also finding that as well as having high numbers of mobile and tablet users, that you also have a high drop off rate for donations - then moving to a responsive site is crucial. You can view this in Conversion/Goals/Funnel Visualisation.

Does that mean I need my whole site redesigned?

Not necessarily. This depends on the architecture of your website but it might be possible to just update parts of your site. Possible options might include:

  • Only making popular pages/templates responsive
  • Updating the existing code rather than rewriting it
  • Choosing a responsive theme if using software such as Wordpress
  • Creating a mobile version of the site for the interim

What to consider when planning a responsive design website?

Responsive design is changing the way we think about content.

We've spent the last 10 years thinking a certain way, and responsive design changes all that and makes us think in a much more linear fashion. Now, it's top down. What's your most important piece of content? What will your visitors want and expect to see first?

When we worked with the Army Cadet Force, their top priority was recruiting volunteers. So when considering mobile - this had to be the priority. - mobile

However, when we worked with Ovarian Cancer Action, their priority was very different. Even though donations were important, their priority for visitors to their site was to provide easily accessible information. - mobile

When considering a responsive design site, charities need to think about their objectives - what is the most important thing your website should do?

Thinking about the order of content, the hierarchy and components will help ensure your website does what you set out to achieve.


There's no question that responsive design is the way forward for charities. It positively impacts donations and other conversion points, but also prevents losing potential positive actions on your website caused by poor usability. As handheld devices get more and more sophisticated, the number of visitors accessing your charity's site through a mobile or tablet will only increase. It's up to you to ensure you aren't turning your potential supporters away by putting up unnecessary barriers to them engaging with you and your content.

If you want to talk more about responsive design and how it could positively impact your charity then give Mel a call on 01273 677 557 or email us on We've are experts in creating user friendly responsive websites. Let us help you too!