You work for a medical research charity – research is what you do, what you talk about all the time, what your supporters work hard to raise your money for.
So, it makes sense to have some lay summaries of your research on your website. But have you ever looked at those pages and felt… bored? How do you think your supporters feel?
You know the research is brilliant, you’re proud to tell the world about it. But if the webpages look uninspiring, who’s going to want to read them?
In this blog, I share a few great ideas for making these pages looking tip-top – leaving your audience eager to learn more about life-changing work you do.
What’s the purpose of a research summary page?
To put the following into context, it’s worth considering why you might have your research project lay summaries on your website.
Let’s be honest about this – a research project webpage isn’t likely to be your most popular page on your website. But they can be really handy to have for lots of different reasons:
- Responding to questions from supporters
- Supporting fundraising appeals (e.g. direct mail)
- Jumping onto relevant hashtags on Twitter
- Regular content e.g. a ‘researcher of the month’ campaign
- Internal comms: providing a searchable database of interesting research for your colleagues to talk about
Another big reason is transparency. Your charity’s supporters have worked hard to raise money for research, it’s only fair that they could find out what that money has been spent on.
Whatever the reason, it seems clear to me that it is worth having at least some examples of your research on your website. How prominently these pages should appear – whether they should be the first thing that people see when they click on your ‘Research’ page, or whether there should be something else – is an important topic I hope to cover another time.
But even though a research summary page isn’t likely to get too many eyeballs, when it does, you’ll be wanting to make sure it keeps people interested, and does justice to the amazing work you fund.
How do other charities do research summary pages?
I scoured the websites of some of the UK’s top medical research charities, looking for the most common features of webpages with research project summaries. Below is a summary what I found.
A quick warning to anyone with even a bit of experience of making webpages look good: yes, most these things are kinda obvious. But they can turn what would otherwise be a boring page into something that you can be proud of sharing with the world.
- A great project summary, and a ‘trailer’
- Tags or categories
- Links to other pages
- Donate button
- Project costs – yes or no?
It’s the most obvious one, so let’s start with it: you’re going to need some text to put on that webpage. A classic format for research project summaries (or any project by any charity) is ‘problem-solution-impact’. Start with the problem faced by the ‘beneficiaries’ of the research (eg patients), follow up with the solution to that problem (ie your research), and then finish with the impact – what difference it will make to those patients.
Another thing to note from this is the short summary at the top. You can think of this like a movie trailer – it’s the same problem-solution-impact format, just in something that takes less than 10 seconds to read.
(NB: this is a great thing to have for each of your research projects anyway – it’s a real handy thing to memorise when you’re taking to potential donors.)
I’ve written elsewhere about how to write a research lay summary. If you’re still struggling to make your research easy to understand, or can’t summarise it in a short paragraph or a tweet, get in touch, I’d be happy to give you some advice.
A page of text isn’t particularly appealing to look at, so you’ll want some images to draw the eye in and make it appealing to read.
A photo of the researcher(s) involved is an obvious choice, but it’s a good choice, I think. Science can seem quite cold and abstract to a lot of the public. But a good photo of a person can make it seem a lot more ‘real’ and tangible. So whether it’s a group photo like this example from MS Society, or an ‘action-shot’ like this one from Ovarian Cancer Action, it reminds supporters that their money is helping scientists – real people! – do amazing work.
Want to take it up a notch? Try video. What better a way to connect your research to your audience, than by getting a researcher on camera, talking about their work in their own words?
It sounds like it could be technically tricky. The truth is, something like the example below from The Brain Tumour Charity (which features on this research summary page) could take a lot of work (or money) to get it to this standard:
But video doesn’t have to be professionally produced to feel authentic. One example of this is DEBRA UK (a charity which focuses on what they call ‘the worst skin condition you’ve never heard of’). Some of their research projects have videos filmed by the researchers themselves, either on a smartphone or a webcam – judge the results for yourself. For me, a self-filmed video can inspire just as much of a connection to the researcher as anything a bit more polished.
Using quotes is a good option for bringing a research project to life. Bringing in a different person’s ‘voice’ onto a webpage can be used to different effects
You could use, for example, a quote from the researcher, to reiterate why they’re being funded by the charity. Take for instance the example below from Crohn’s & Colitis UK. Putting it at the top has the double effect of acting like a ‘trailer’ for the rest of the page.
Even more powerful are quotes from ‘beneficiaries’ such as patients or their families. After all, the research is being done for people like them, so why not ask them what they think about it?
Autistica have a great example of this on this summary of a project to develop an app to help people with autism deal with anxiety.
On their research projects, Alzheimer’s Society have quotes from members of their ‘research network’ – people with personal experience of dementia who review the applications for research funding. They’re in a unique position to comment on the research, and the impact it could make. Whilst this group of people is fairly unique to Alzheimer’s Society, could there be someone connected to your charity who could fulfil a similar role?
Many research charities, particularly larger ones with lots of research to talk about, often have ways of categorising or tagging research so that it’s easier to find other related projects.
It could work as a ‘if you like this, why not try…’ mechanism, for anyone who might be idly browsing through your research project pages (hey, I’ve had worse Friday nights).
But it can also be a way to highlight areas of research which might otherwise go unnoticed. Take for example, the current website of Breast Cancer Now (who have recently merged with Breast Cancer Care, and – for transparency – I used to work for). When people hear ‘breast cancer research’, they might immediately think about research into treatments to stop people dying. But the charity also funds research into improving people’s quality of life – something that’s crucial for many women and men with the disease. By tagging/categorising research, they’re now able to highlight this underfunded and unrecognised area of their work, in a way that would have been arduous to do before.
If you work for a charity that works across a large geographical area, grouping work by location can have this effect too, as supporters can feel more connected to research happening nearby.
There’s a lot of different ways that research can be organised, but the important thing is that the tags/categories are meaningful to the main users of your website. Try to avoid using complicated terminology, obscure coding, or something that is only relevant to researchers.
Considering linking your research project pages to other stuff on your website. With a little thought about what someone coming to that webpage might really be looking for, you can direct people to the right place. Here’s a few examples of that in action:
- In this example, Cancer Research UK have links to blogs about this researcher’s work (which features some pretty stunning images) so that someone can read about their work in more depth.
- If someone is searching for research into certain topics, such as side-effects, perhaps it’s an issue that they’re personally struggling with. A link to relevant information might be helpful to them. For example, this page from Alzheimer’s Society is about research into food and Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve linked in the sidebar to a health page which contains advice about health eating with dementia. It’s simple, but it could help someone get the information that they really need.
Finally, on pretty much every research project webpage there ought to be somewhere which would let me donate. It’s obvious why – if someone is looking at a research project page, it’s likely that they’re potentially interested in helping you fund it. So make it easy for them!
These buttons can be the generic ‘sidebar’ buttons which are on every page, taking you to the standard donate pages on the website. However, some charities take an innovative approach. Look at this page from Diabetes UK for example – clicking on the ‘Support this project’ button at the bottom takes you to a specific fundraising page for research. You even have the option of ‘adopting a project’ (much like you might a guide dog, perhaps) – allocating your fundraising to that particular project. Their list of research projects even tells you which projects are ‘available for adoption’. Genius. I’d love to know how successful this has been for them.
One thing that isn’t universally available on research project pages that you might expect to be is the cost of the project.
I think there’s a strong case for putting costs of the project on the webpage, the main reason being transparency. Your supporters have worked hard to raise that money, and I think they deserve to be able to find out easily how that money is being allocated. But it’s also important to bear in mind the knock-on effects that figure can have for fundraising.
Joel Voysey, freelance fundraising consultant at Fight For Sight, thinks that the reason why some charities choose not to make research price tags easily visible “might stem from our general queasiness about money. What if people think science is too costly or not value-for-money?”.
Lisa Sargent, a freelance fundraising copywriter, thinks that big numbers could in fact put people off donating. “A massive price tag could overwhelm potential donors and lead to inertia. But conversely, a small cost could also lead to the same, as people will just think ‘oh, someone else will fund it’.”
“Transparency is key, of course. And we never want to ‘dumb down’ info for donors. The goal is to be open and accountable while working with the psychology of giving.”
Lisa Clavering, a digital fundraising and engagement consultant, agrees that costs ought to be available for transparency, but highlights the extra consequences it can have for staff. “The more openness you have, the more detailed the questions will be and the greater expectation of knowledge across staff. Why is it so expensive? How do the costs break down? What about ‘Big Pharma’? If you’re going to go down that road, it could mean ensuring all public-facing staff and volunteers is equipped to talk accurately about that cost – which would necessitate a massive internal training programme!”
So should you have costs on your research project webpages? The short answer is probably yes, for the interests of transparency. But bear two things in mind: firstly, large costs might lead to more questions that you need to be prepared to answer; and secondly, that just having a big price tag won’t raise that money by itself.
“For me, the best idea is to humanise those numbers,” says Lisa Sargent. “Tell an urgent story of someone that each project could help, using a deadline if possible. Break down the cost in some way – either unitise the ask, or divide it into phases.”
That’s not the end of the story…
The webpages with the information about your research projects can be really useful. But they are not the only way you’ll be communicating your charity’s research on your website. In another blog I’ve looked at examples of how charities have presented their research on their websites in simple but engaging ways.