CAST sets 10 digital design principles

With too many non-profits failing to adapt to the digital age, tech for good transformation agency CAST has worked with charities on a new set of 10 principles for non-profits to follow when they design digital services – helping them to save money and deliver better services.

cast logoTwo thirds of charity leaders see the potential of using digital to deliver their strategy and services more effectively, but over half of charities see their digital service delivery skills as fair to low, according to the 2018 Charity Digital Skills Report. More than half say they have low to very low digital product development skills.

Responding, CAST, the tech for good Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology, says non-profits need urgent support to deliver the digital services that their users need and expect. It has spent much of this year conducting research with nonprofits and grant makers into the tools charities use to deliver digital services.

On the back of this, CAST has developed a set of 10 digital design principles to guide charity service delivery. Co-created with dozens of nonprofits and funders, the principles (set out below) are designed to align with the needs, language and practice of the UK social sector. They provide clarity on what ‘good’ looks like when developing digital services, says CAST.

Over 50 organisations, from tiny nonprofits to leading tech-for-good funders, fed in to CAST’s research and testing to create the principles. The research found that digital design principles were commonly used by the most successful organisations to help them ‘build the right thing in the right way’.

CAST hopes the new principles will help grant givers and nonprofits, from front-line staff to trustees, save money and deliver better outcomes for their service users.

CAST’s 10 principles for good digital design

  • Start with user needs and keep them involved
  • Understand what’s out there
  • Build the right team
  • Take small steps and learn as you go
  • Build digital services not websites
  • Be inclusive
  • Think about privacy and security
  • Build for sustainability
  • Collaborate and build partnerships
  • Be open.

A dedicated independent website,, houses the principles, alongside case studies of how organisations like Breast Cancer Care, Refugee Action, 360Giving and Alexandra Rose have used them in practice.

People can download printable posters of the principles to help them communicate and advocate for good digital practice, and the site lists helpful tools and tips suggested by other nonprofits.

The new list builds on existing sets of principles, with advice and examples specifically relevant to UK charities. It aims to “counter some of the fragmentation and miscommunication in the sector and offers clear direction and support for all nonprofits”.

DanSutchCAST co-founder and director Dan Sutch (pictured) said: “Too many charity services are still failing to respond to the changing digital behaviours and expectations of their users. Digital service delivery urgently needs to become a core competency, not a ‘nice to have’. We wanted to bring together sector organisations to co-design a dynamic resource that helps navigate this shift.

“Tech can be a powerful tool but it’s how you use it that’s important – these principles are a way of saying ‘here’s how we do it right’ and we hope to see them embedded into organisations’ culture and practices.”

Janet Thorne, chief executive at Reach Volunteering, said: “We’ve found that if you are designing or delivering digital services, conventional methods won’t work. You need to approach things differently, so it’s really useful to have a set of clear, jargon-free principles that spell out what ‘good’ looks like so that everyone, including staff, trustees and funders, understand the approach and can pull in the same direction.”

CAST was created to help people use digital for social good. Over the past two years, it has worked with over 300 nonprofits and their funders, including through non-profit digital accelerator Fuse, its digital fellowship for charity chief executives and trustees, and hundreds of workshops and events.

CAST will use, test and refine the principles over the coming months, and is looking to add more nonprofit case studies to the site. If you have a story of digital service design that embodies one of the 10 principles, submit it to