Macmillan Cancer Support upgrades content management to get more personal with its users

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett May 19, 2022 Audio mode
The cancer charity is now able to offer a more personal touch for its users.


The charity sector has been particularly hard hit by the COVID crisis. According to research from the UK Charity Commission, over 90% of British charities have experienced some form of negative impact from the pandemic, with 60% suffering a loss of income, while a third reported seeing volunteer shortages.

For Macmillan Cancer Support, which offers information, services, support and advice for people living with cancer and those affected by it, the challenge has been multi-pronged. Cancer sufferers are being adversely affected by the pandemic as appointments and treatments are reduced, delayed or postponed.

Official data shows 32,000 fewer people started cancer treatment than expected in England since the pandemic began; and the backlog in cancer treatment in England is expected to last until September 2027 without urgent action, due to ongoing disruption from COVID and existing pressures on the NHS (National Health Service). 

Macmillan has also seen a drop in revenues from its popular Coffee Morning fundraising event, which launched back in 1990 and has since raised over £290 million for the charity. In 2019, the event brought in a massive £27.5 million; in 2020, the amount raised was £17.5 million lower than expected.

In the face of treatment delays and income declines, Macmillan also needed to quickly and effectively update its services and information to support its users dealing with cancer during the pandemic, and to find new ways of reaching patients and raising funds during lockdowns.

This included rapidly spinning up a dedicated COVID hub on the website and a shift to online panels, explains Richard Dodd, Director of Digital at Macmillan Cancer Support:

There was an increased move to digital. Our websites are a front door to people, with click-to-call, click-to-email and phone through to our professionals who can give them emotional and practical support in relation to their diagnosis and their cancer journey.

In terms of our fundraising portfolio, again there’s been a shift to digital and to virtual. We've had to look at new product development, and we've also had to manage and cater for some of our products being cancelled.

As such, events like the Longest Day Golf Challenge became Games Night In, with supporters hosting a virtual escape room, horse-racing, quiz or mystery-solving night to raise funds, while the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning moved from the living room to your computer screen.

Website migration 

Macmillan had already begun a digital transformation program in 2018 to improve the provision of its online services, and this included migrating all its websites to Sitecore. The charity researched the various different enterprise content management systems available, and selected Sitecore as a best of breed technology, and just as importantly, one that could scale. Dodd explains: 

If you look at the Sitecore roadmap, there's lots of functions and features beyond the pureplay content management system – personalization, A/B and multivariate testing, those are important things. It was all around the scalability. If you look at the product suite, you've got other things in there, like DAM [Digital Asset Management] and Commerce. So it was the sustainability of the product, but basically it was an assessment of the content management systems available and a decision to go with Sitecore.

As part of its transformation strategy, Macmillan re-platformed its entire digital web estate. This included the release of a new Cancer Information and Support website, a new brochureware site for healthcare professionals, a new learning and management platform, along with a new homepage, fundraising, marketing and event management portfolios all on Sitecore. Dodd recalls: 

We developed the components and templates that we needed to do an audience-by-audience migration. That has since moved into BAU [business as usual], and we're now closing existing CMSs and migrating any remaining content.

During the “extensive, aggressive” transformation program, Macmillan was also able to refresh its content with a new tone of voice, new imagery and baked-in SEO optimization. Through the personalization and optimization features of Sitecore, that content can be enhanced and tweaked after release, says Dodd: 

The advantage of that is, we're able to rapidly respond to external events. Recently, there was cost of living in the wider landscape. So content teams were working together in an agile way, looking for SEO signals, looking for external signals and rapidly getting content based on user need to support products and services content.


Since the website updates went live, content consumption, and conversion to products and services have all increased. Click to call, click to email, click to web chat and click to the online community have seen five-fold Increases in direct services referrals; 24,000 people have signed-up so far for the personalized cancer information dashboard, which represents around 2,500 sign-ups per month; and referrals from the new Cancer Information and Support website to the online community rose from a few dozen per month to over 6,500 on average.

Having a single CMS with components and templates is bringing operational efficiencies as well, in terms of reduced time to get content to market, and to launch new products, functions and features.

Macmillan has completed the majority of its website shift to Sitecore - the last tasks are migrating a few portions of the website such as the ‘About us’ section.

Looking ahead, the charity has big plans around personalization, which Dodd argues is incredibly important to Macmillan, especially in light of the volume of content it has:

We've approached that in a couple of ways. We've got personalization through guide modules, which basically is a series of questions via popup, and depending on the questions that you answer, that gives you a guided way through and a content result page. Then we’ve got personalization through Sitecore. It could be interaction with the website, and we've got services where we use personalization so that we can swap messages and CTAs [call to action] based on time of day.

With personalization, I wanted to put that capability in the hands of our content team, and that's what we've done, to enable them to do always-on personalization. We're also starting to get into A/B testing through Sitecore, the hypothesis around something, and again, always-on A/B testing versus A/B testing for product and feature development.

Skills and training need to be part of the plan for any organization considering a new content management system. Macmillan has two types of Sitecore users, says Dodd -  content and development:

We've had to train our developers on Sitecore professional certification, and we took our content management team through Sitecore training with a mixture of on the job as well. So there does need to be an investment in training in order to realize the gains.

For those staff needing to understand it from a content configuration, optimization and personalization perspective, Dodd explains they will require training not only on the Sitecore technology itself but also the particular implementation of Sitecore. From a development perspective, staff need certified Sitecore training to be able to develop on it:

There are challenges within the marketplace of getting Sitecore developers. Strategically, organizations need to look at what sort of development they're doing on Sitecore and how they adopt common components and templates that are almost white label within Sitecore, and then what you configure and change on top of that.

That means that you don't have to have hardcore Sitecore developers, but you've got Sitecore developers with more generic skills. I'd say that's a challenge for many organizations using enterprise-level CMSs – getting developers with deep awareness of those CMSs.


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