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The GDS (Government Digital Service) are part of the Cabinet Office, and are leading the digital transformation of government. Their work always begins with user needs. in this chapter Katie Taylor, their User Research Lead, explains their approach and how charities can apply it.

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Understanding your audience, where your charity needs to get to and how digital will take you there are all fundamental to digital strategy 101. Katie Taylor, User Research Lead at the Government Digital Service, shares how to define your audience and how it uses digital. Zoe Amar, digital expert will the take you through the key points that every charity digital strategy should include


Why develop personas and user journeys?

Personas and user journeys are tools to help you and your team to come to a shared understanding of who the people are that uses your products or services. As many charities  support beneficiaries with complex needs these tools are particularly useful.  Both personas and user journeys are based on research with your users.


  • If you are on a tight budget, defining personas doesn’t have to be a very technical exercise, and it doesn’t need to involve a huge amount of data. You’ll find that many of your colleagues have valuable insights into your audience that will be useful
  • User journeys are a great tool for leadership teams and boards too, as they can help them see your charity from the perspective of your beneficiaries
  • If you are struggling to define personas, imagine them as you would a character in a film or novel. This will help you develop them into a well rounded character and understand their thoughts and feelings better.



There are two options when developing your digital strategy. The first is to make it part of your organisational strategy. This is only recommended if your charity is fairly advanced with digital, otherwise it could just mean a few token digital objectives. The second option is a stand alone digital strategy. 

Developing a digital strategy is not rocket science, yet given the large amount of possibilities which digital offers it must offer clear choices. By following a number of steps you can demystify the process for your charity.


  • Work with your leadership team to agree how digital can support your charity’s goals, seize opportunities and manage risks.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of culture. Getting buy-in for your strategy and helping your organisation evolve in order to deliver it is vital. 
  • Test, learn and improve. However well you’ve done your research any strategy development will involve some assumptions. Once you start implementing the strategy you’ll need to keep measuring performance regularly and be ready to adapt it quickly in a volatile climate.


  • How to develop a digital strategy (NCVO course) 
  • This is what’s wrong with your non-profit digital strategy (Everyaction)
  • Delivering the digital ambition (Charitycomms)

Example charity persona for charity supporting post natal depression

Katie, 31, first time mum to a 3 month old.

Katie had her little boy two months ago. She and her husband live in a flat in Walthamstow, in East London. She is a teacher and her husband works as an IT manager- they have a good joint income but a high mortgage and they are worried about the cost of childcare when Katie goes back to work. Katie’s baby has colic and doesn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. Katie is exhausted and struggling to cope. She has friends but no family nearby, and she feels very lonely when her husband is at work. Katie used to enjoy socialising and eating out but is finding motherhood hard and has even stopped meeting up with other mum friends for coffee. She reads parenting blogs and is part of mums’ groups on Facebook, and sometimes posts questions about her baby there. She has been to see her GP for help in feeling low but was brushed off as ‘having a bad day.’ Katie is feeling persistently low and is worried that she isn’t a good mum, even though she is a very caring parent. She has started Googling post natal depression but doesn’t want to go back to her doctor.


Get your corporate strategy and take a look at the goals. Then work with staff to brainstorm all the ways that these goals could be achieved through digital; you’re likely to come up with a lot of ideas. Then you’ll need to cherry pick and prioritise which ones to go for. It is not essential but at this point it can be helpful to develop a digital vision of what your charity could look like 5 years down the line if it embraces digital.

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Digital audience & strategy
Katie Taylor GDS


A persona is a fictional person who represents someone (or a group of people) who uses your product or service, such as a typical beneficiary, donor, or other key stakeholder. At GDS we’ve found personas invaluable for helping staff build empathy with real users. They are a great way to explore the different types of people your charity helps
There are many ways to develop personas. Some personas are very detailed, others are just a brief sketch of each type of user. It is best to start with brief personas informed by the information that is important: very few demographics (maybe a name, and a location), and some behaviours that are important to understand this group. All of this comes from your user research. 

You know you’ve got enough detail when you can use the persona to talk to other people on your team to explain the main differences between the groups of people. When you’re imagining a new design, you can quickly recall what your users need and why. Hubspot have a useful guide to creating personas.

Using personas can be problematic if they are based on assumptions rather than research, or when they represent superficial groups of people who don’t share behaviours.

Example charity persona for charity supporting post natal depression


Further reading on personas


Once you’ve developed personas, you could the map out a user journey.  A user journey map sets out how your audience could interact with your charity and its products and services. They are based on the steps people actually take to do something, and can be made after analysing user research or with your users directly. For example, these maps show what we learned about people’s experience of setting up a business.

User journey for setting up a business

Example user journey for setting up a limited co. business. Click here for the full sized journey. Credit to Naintara Land and Pete Gale

Sole Trader UJ

Example user journey for setting up a sole trader business. Click here for the full sized journey. Credit to Naintara Land and Pete Gale

The horizontal axis represents time, people move across the map from left to right as they progress in starting their business and features the phases and steps that people go through. The vertical axis is used to differentiate the steps in involved in setting up the business and growing the business. These maps were made by interviewing people who were in the process of starting a business or had just set up a business.


 In the example above, we asked people to fill in simple cards, detailing each step they took when they were starting their business. We included space on the cards to write information that we felt was important for these people: What happened? Who was involved? What were your thoughts? What was it like?

The maps are a synthesis of many people’s journeys and include descriptions, quotes from people and keywords they used when searching. Each quote on the map can be traced back to the person who said it.

Different approaches to user journeys
The beauty of user journeys is that you can make them quite granular (e.g. how service users might interact solely with an online service) or more ‘big picture’. The latter might be useful for charities who are supporting people over a period of years, such as with a long term health condition. Either way, you need to look at their goals, motivations, pain points, what they are feeling and what they want to achieve. The
UX Review have a great guide to this.


Zoe Amar


Even if you think your audience is not using digital much now, this is likely to change rapidly over the next 2 years. In order to target your strategy as successfully as possible you must profile your audience, how they use digital channels and the user journeys they make (link to GDS chapter). And remember that this intelligence is not static and you will need to review it regularly to keep pace with your audience


Your digital strategy must put you in the best possible position to capitalise on areas of potential and mitigate risks. You may well have a SWOT or PEST produced as part of your business planning process. Review it to see how digital can support your charity.


I can’t say this often enough: there isn’t a lot of point in using digital just to be like another charity who works in the same field. Put digital to one side for a moment and consider what makes your organisation unique. Do you have a lot of expertise? A strong track record? An innovative approach? A local focus? Work out what makes you special and how digital can capitalise on this. 


Be clear about what you are aiming for here, whether it’s the amount of people you will support by offering digital services or how many donations you’re aiming for online. Ideally your goals should be  SMART (i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound) you will be much more likely to achieve them 


One you know the direction of travel, it is helpful to set out how you will achieve your goals. For example, if you want to do more digital campaigning, you might want to target people through social media ads, then develop a landing page to maximise campaign sign ups. You’ll also want to consider how you can continue to build relationships with supporters after they’ve taken up your call to action


A great strategy is one thing but you’ll want to consider how to deliver it. Do you need more staff or suppliers? What does your strategy mean for existing workflows, and the skillsets of current staff? 


Risk management. What could go wrong and how will you manage risks? For example, if a service user criticises your charity on social media how will you respond?


Set out how you will track and report your goals. Will you need to invest in any tools to do so?

Zoe Amar
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