If you work for a medical research charity, the research pages on your charity’s website are super important – after all, research is what you do as a charity.
But when I look at a lot of medical research charities’ websites, something’s not quite right. I know great work is taking place, and I understand how important that funding is for researchers. But looking through their research section, I can feel a little uninspired, or worse, a bit confused.
The research pages on your charity’s website are a place for your work to shine – it’s THE place for people to learn more about your work. And yet a lot of charities don’t make the most of the opportunity, or don’t make it easy for their website visitors to navigate through.
I’ve gathered ideas from some of the top medical research charities about how they lay out their research pages. I hope these tips help you ensure the visitors to your research pages find the information they’re looking for, and are left feeling inspired and excited about the work you do.
Who is the audience?
First, let’s get something straight.
There’s two main groups of people who might be looking at your research pages.
- your supporters (or people who could be your supporters in the future); and
- the researchers you fund (or could fund in the future).
These are clearly two very different audiences, who have different needs and are coming to your pages for very different reasons.
So, bear in mind that saying: “if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one”.
I would therefore recommend tailoring your main research pages for your supporters – i.e. a lay audience. They’re the people in the most need of general information about your research.
Content for researchers could be collected in its own subsection of your research pages, or an entirely separate part of your website. British Heart Foundation have done in their ‘For Professionals’ pages, or The Brain Tumour Charity have done in their ‘For researchers’ section. It’ll allow you to tailor the information for them much more easily.
So, with that out the way, what could your research pages contain?
The front page
Let’s start with what I call the ‘front page’ – the very first webpage that visitors come to about your research. It’s your ‘shop window’ for your work, and so should get across the most important things about your research, and signpost people to more information.
Your front page could incorporate lots of things, but I think, at the very least, it should include two things: the ‘why’ and the vision for your research.
Start with why
Answer this question: Why does your charity fund research?
It might seem like a question with an obvious answer. But on far too many research charity websites, I see research front pages which say something like: “we fund research into ___, have a look around and find out more”.
That’s not why your charity funds research.
Simon Sinek made it clear why you need to start with why in his book, which he summarises in this classic TEDx talk. The short version is that people may know what you do and how you do it, but are only truly inspired to act (and part with their money) if they get why you do it.
It’s important to be specific here. Something like “to make people’s lives better” is a fine answer. But there are lots of different ways to make people’s lives better – why research?
For me, this answer has two parts:
- What is the problem you’re trying to solve; and
- Why is research the way to solve it?
Your cause and your ‘beneficiaries’ ought to be at the heart of this. The money is going to researchers, yes – but they’re not the people who are going to benefit.
Here’s a few examples from other charities.
Cystic Fibrosis Trust have their ‘why’ on their research front page:
“…only half of those with cystic fibrosis will live to see their 47th birthday. […] We are one of the largest funders of research into cystic fibrosis in the UK, and people with the condition are now living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
As people with cystic fibrosis are living longer, complications such as CF-related diabetes and osteoporosis are becoming more prevalent, and there is more pressure on adult clinical services. We are therefore supporting greater investment in research projects and training clinicians to help people with cystic fibrosis live longer and healthier lives, unlimited by the condition.”
Coeliac UK have a powerful description of their motivations in a research appeal:
“For the one in 100 people affected by coeliac disease, it can be hard to appreciate the impact coeliac disease can have on their lives.
For many, it can be years of suffering before eventual diagnosis. For others, it can be ongoing health impacts long after diagnosis […]
Sadly, little has changed since the discovery of the link between coeliac disease and gluten over 60 years ago. Today, sticking to a gluten free diet is still the only treatment – but it doesn’t work for everyone. And as more disturbing new aspects of the disease emerge, it’s becoming critical to find answers through research.
We need to do something. Find a more permanent solution to a growing problem. But without research and understanding, the real problem – coeliac disease – isn’t going away anytime soon.”
Tommy’s have a simple but powerful statement on their research pages:
“In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. 60,000 babies are born prematurely. We research causes and treatments so we can make pregnancy and birth safer for all.”
Vision and goals
On your research front page, you should also make clear your vision for your research. Where are you headed? What are you ultimately aiming to achieve?
Your research vision should be simple and clear. For example:
- DEBRA aims to “find a cure for Epidermolysis Bullosa”.
- Prostate Cancer UK have “a bold ambition: to stop prostate cancer being a killer”.
- MS Society’svision is “a world free from the effects of [multiple sclerosis]“.
Some charities also share their goals – specific milestones on the path to their long-term vision. Often these are time-based. For example:
- One key goal for Alzheimer’s Research UK is to “bring about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025”.
- Breast Cancer Now aims stop people dying from breast cancer from 2050.
- The Brain Tumour Charity’s two key milestones is to “double survival by 2025” and “halve the harm that brain tumours have on quality of life by 2020”
With the ‘why’ you’ve explained to your supporters what the situation is today and why it needs to change. With the research vision, you’re now giving them a view of what the future could look like (with their support).
The rest of the research pages
In addition to the ‘why’ and the vision for your research, the front page can contain, or signpost to, other information about your work.
Remember that when it comes to links to other pages, it’s best practise to make it clear what people should expect from that page before they click on it (for example, having a caption for each link).
This is particularly true for research pages, since a lot of your visitors may not be familiar with research-related concepts, such as research funding streams, or a research strategy.
Here’s some suggestions for what else you could include within your research pages.
Different aspects of your research
It’s likely that the researchers you fund aren’t just looking into one thing, they might be studying lots of different things. If you want to get across to supporters the variety of the work you do, follow the advice for the front page and make it clear why each of these different areas of your work is important.
Cystic Fibrosis Trust fund research to improve people’s lives today, and some to find cures for the future. In the pages about specific areas – Lung infection, for example – they’ve reinforced why this is an important area to focus on.
Breast Cancer Now also include more information about each pillar of their research, such as breast cancer prevention.
People may be interested in your charity’s research, but that can mean a lot of things to different people. Providing a broader view of your research – while also keeping it clear as to why you’re funding work in that area – will help to appeal to a broad range of people.
Patient involvement opportunities
Research pages can help people learn more about your work and encourage them to support it through donations. But could they also get involved in research more directly?
MND Association have pages within their research section inviting people to take part in research into motor neurone disease, or be part of a patient reviewer panel to give scientists feedback on their ideas. Parkinson’s UK’s research pages include a ‘Take Part Hub’ to provide people with lots of ways they can get involved.
Outlining how people have been involved in research in the past (even if there aren’t the same opportunities available right now) reinforces to visitors how patients and people like them are at the heart of your charity’s research.
Telling people what you’ve done with supporters’ money not only establishes trust and credibility. It shows people how their donations could help in the future.
You can read my advice for research achievements webpages in this blog: https://richardberks.co.uk/blog/achievements-webpages/
The ‘how’ of your research
Some charities have pages which set out their general ‘philosophy’ for funding research, as well as details like the different types of research grant they offer. For example:
- Alzheimer’s Society have a lovely page setting out their research vision.
- Diabetes UK highlight the different ways they ensure the work they fund is high quality on their ‘our approach to research’ page.
- MQ: Transforming Mental Health have a page which neatly sets out their ‘funding principles’
Whilst your average supporter probably isn’t interested in nitty-gritty of your grant management processes, there are common questions about research which could be answered, including:
- How do you ensure you’re not duplicating efforts?
- How do you collaborate with other charities, or with pharmaceutical companies?
- What is your stance on research involving animals / embryos / stem cells?
- How do you ensure value for money with your research?
- What happens when a project finishes?
In answering these questions, you may find you go into a bit of detail about how your charity awards and manages grants – that’s fine, as long as it answers the questions that people have!
The people who would be most interested in the details of your grant management are researchers, and I’ve already recommended that you keep information for them separate.
Research project lay summaries
Finally, you’ll of course be wanting to showcase some actual examples of research you fund!
I’ve already discussed how to organise and make projects on your website engaging in my blog about research project lay summaries.
Note that the research projects shouldn’t be the first thing that people should on your research pages. That may sound counterintuitive, but remember – project summary webpages represent the specifics and details of your research.
Most people will never get interested in the details of your research projects without you first making it clear why your charity funds research at all.
When putting together or updating your research pages, it’s important to focus on your supporters. Work out what they would want to know, and provide it in a clear and accessible way.
You could even get some of supporters involved in helping you design the content and structure of these pages!