The research projects your charity funds will come to an end one day. And hopefully, they’ll make discoveries which will one day make a big impact on people’s health.
But it’s worth considering how the information you have about these projects on your website is to be used, and what happens when the project ends. It might seem like a minor detail, but the choice you make could have important implications for people’s trust in your charity.
Why is this worth thinking about?
If you’ve written lay summaries of your research projects on your website, you’ll need to have a plan for what to do with them when the project comes to an end. Your audience should be at the centre of this – ask yourself what they want, and how will you make it easy for them to find.
Beyond these audience-focussed questions, there are also search engine optimisation (SEO) issues to consider. Having lots of pages which are not updated over time can mean your website as a whole can rank lower in search results from Google. (This blog from Moz explains more about the technical aspects of what to do with expired content).
And more generally, deciding how you’ll deal with completed projects is a matter of trust and accountability. Your supporters fund your charity’s research, and what you to tell about how their money is spent is crucial. In the same way, you need to decide how you tell them about your charity’s current work; you’ll also need to make decisions about how you talk about the research your charity has funded in the past. What you do with your ‘completed’ research project webpages is only one part of this – but needs to be coordinated with your overall strategy for communicating research achievements and impact.
As I see it, there are five options for how to deal with webpages for completed research projects. Which one you choose could depend on how many of these webpages you want to keep, and how much work you wanted to do to update them.
The options are:
- Do nothing
- Minimal changes
- Report back on everything
- Keep and update only selected projects
- Get rid of everything
Let’s have a look at each one in turn.
1. Do nothing
One option is just to do nothing – keep the pages for completed projects exactly the same, written in the present or future tense. If your project pages have dates associated with them (e.g. 2012-2015), maybe visitors would pick up that the project is finished (but probably not).
Benefits: You don’t have to do anything! And over time, you’ll accumulate so many projects that it’ll look like your charity funds a lot of work.
Risks: It’s misleading for your supporters and could get you into a lot of trouble. It’ll also make your current projects more difficult to find, as they’re clogged up with old stuff you’re no longer funding. It’s just bad form.
Recommended for… absolutely no one.
2. Minimal changes
This can include any one of (or a combination of) the following:
- change the description of the project into the past tense;
- put a little note at the top saying something like “This project has now finished”;
- move the page to a different place on their website; or
- ‘tag’ the page in such a way that it can be filtered out when people are searching or browsing through projects.
The changes make it clear that the project is finished, but the page is otherwise left intact.
Examples: The Brain Tumour Charity have a list of completed projects at the bottom of their research pages – for example, this one about research into childhood brain tumours. But beyond ‘physically’ separating the projects on this page, the project pages themselves have not changed (they’re still written as if it is a current project, for example). British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association have also taken an approach of being able to filter projects by whether they are active or complete.
Benefits: You don’t have to do very much bar move a few pages around or add a bit of text. And it’s certainly more honest than the first option above.
Risks: Since there are no/minimal updates on the project on the page, you’ll need to make it clear elsewhere what your charity has achieved with its research. But that begs the question of why you’re keeping these out-of-date project pages if you’re not using them?
Recommended for… charities who don’t have an extensive research portfolio but who would like to make it clear what they have funded in the past.
3. Report back on everything
This would be a beefed-up version of option two. You’re making it clear that the project has finished and, you’re reporting back on what happened with each project. And you’re doing this for all the projects you fund.
Examples: Up until recently, this was the approach that Alzheimer’s Society took. They have a separate page with a list of their completed projects, and each one is written up as a detailed report, including the next steps of the research, and publications (in some cases).
Benefits: It provides full accountability for all the research you’ve funded. And it provides a lot of detailed information about what your research has achieved, which could be useful for both external and internal audiences.
Risks: It could be a lot of work depending on how many projects you have funded and how many come to an end each year. And in terms of the number of people visiting these pages, it might not be worth it. In addition, you’ll have to talk about projects which haven’t gone to plan, whether you want to or not.
Recommended for… charities that perhaps don’t have a long history of funding research, or many major achievements yet.
4. Keep and update selected projects
A stripped back version of option three – once a project is completed, you either remove it or update it to include a report on what happened.
There are lots of different ways that you could pick which projects to keep, for example:
- Projects relating to significant achievements or other ‘good news’ stories? (providing extra content to link to when talking about those achievements)
- Significant projects which are often referred to? (e.g. a long-term observational study, which researchers are still analysing data from)
- Projects which lead onto new projects funded by your charity? (one way to show the longevity of your research).
Benefits: On the one hand, it’s less work than keeping and reporting back on all your projects. On the other hand, you’re keeping hold of pages which could be referred to a lot in the future – which could save you time. For example, keeping a page about that big observational study your charity funded might save you having to explain it every time you mention it in the future.
Risks: It’ll still be a fair bit of work, and you’ll have to make sure you’re being consistent and ‘fair’ with what you decide to keep. Although these pages could be useful, they equally could become redundant and superseded by other content like blogs or achievements pages.
Recommended for… charities which have funded a lot of research, but which have lots of long-term studies which they find themselves talking about often.
5. Get rid of everything
Easiest approach – once a project has completed, get rid of it to make way for new ones. Then, you can report back on the major achievements in other ways, such as:
- research achievements webpage;
- impact report;
- end-of-year roundup;
- reports to specific donors;
- writing blogs to announce discoveries.
Examples: This appears to be the approach taken by a lot of the larger medical research charities. For example, Cancer Research UK doesn’t appear to have completed projects on their website but instead report back achievements related to particular cancer types or research topics, as well as their epic timeline of achievements. Parkinson’s UK takes a similar approach, and only focus on their current work, reporting their achievements elsewhere, such as on an achievements webpage or in their research blog.
Benefits: It’s straightforward – just unpublish the page when the project is complete, so in that sense, it’s the opposite of the ‘keep everything’ option three. It avoids any problems with having to talk publicly about projects which didn’t go exactly as hoped. And frees up your time to focus on celebrating your charity’s achievements in other, more impactful ways.
Risks: You lose everything, of course. It might be necessary to update links or write new information about projects which you’ve already talked about in the past.
Recommended for… large charities which have a lot of stuff to talk about.
Depending on which of the options above you opt for, there are other things your charity will need to consider.
How are you going to keep completed projects separate from others? If you are keeping any pages for completed projects, you’ll have to consider how you’ll make it easy for people to filter out those projects if they just want to focus on new work. I touched on this in my blog about how to organise research projects – but personally, I think it’s much easier to keep projects ‘physically’ separate (e.g. on a different page), like The Brain Tumour Charity or Alzheimer’s Society do than to ‘filter’ them.
How long will you keep completed projects for? Will you keep all projects forever, or just a limited time? Or will it depend on the project? And how will you decide which ones ‘deserve’ that longevity?
How are you going to make the most of your achievements? Whichever option you go for, it can’t be the only way that you tell supporters about the difference they’ve made. You could create a specific research achievement page, for example. So, if you are going to keep the completed project pages, how will you use them?