Internet users are getting used to — and expecting, even demanding — greater levels of interactivity in the websites they visit. They're looking for websites that are
much more than a simple digital publication. Websites that engage
them in some active way, even if it’s simply to
leave a comment on a news item, subscribe to get updates or a
newsletter, or speak up in a quick opinion poll. Websites, ideally, that give users a way to connect and interact with each other online...Can a small nonprofit organization afford all that Web2.0 stuff, on a small budget?
How Much Does a Nonprofit Website Cost, Anyway?
Ah, it’s the eternal question: how much should I expect to pay
for a website? And how can I find out some answer other than “it
depends” without actually building the sucker?
Laura Quinn tackled the question of nonprofit website costs
recently at Idealware.org, with a breakdown of what you can reasonably
expect to get at different price points from $1000 to $100,000, and I
think she’s spot-on with her assessment.
For example, $100,000 is a solid budget for a fairly large website — not as sophisticated as some, perhaps, but a "robust site" that's skillfully designed. "At this level," she says, "your consultants can also help guide you
through decision making, and shepherd decisions through internal
politics and disputes — you're getting a strategic partner in addition
to just someone to implement a site."
For $1000, on the other hand, you can probably find a “jack-of-all-trades”
to build you a fairly basic website to suit your needs. “It might
cover a simple, custom graphic design, and potentially one or two
simple features (like a simple event calendar),” says Laura. “Note that
a jack-of-all-website-trades consultant is likely to be, as the
aphorism says, a master of none… so it will be important to see a
portfolio to judge their skills in the areas important to you.”
This is just for the setup of the website, mind you. Often, you can get
domain name registration and webhosting thrown in to the deal, but
you’re likely on your own (or will pay extra) when it comes updating the content and the on-going expenses of upgrading and
maintaining the software that drives your site. I’d add a caution, too, that a basic jack-of-all-trades website
might fit your organization’s needs at the time of its launch, but
there’s no guarantee that it will prove flexible or scalable enough to
meet your needs down the road, as Web technology continues to change
and your organization (hopefully) grows and evolves.
On top of those considerations — the plain fact is, sometimes
it’s all you can do to convince the board of directors that a website is needed, let alone to get a good working
budget allocated for building and maintaining it. (That’s
especially so in these tough economic times, and it looks like most
nonprofits’ resources, already tight enough, are likely to become even
taxed in the coming months.)
Fortunately, the wide availability of good, flexible, free or
low-cost software can put a Web 2.0 website in reach of virtually any
nonprofit, no matter how small or how hard-up for money it may be. For almost any feature or function you can imagine, there’s an
affordable web application that can do it for you.
In fact, the
choices can be almost overwhelming — rather like trying to choose from an over-loaded buffet table!
- Content management systems
- Blogging platforms
- Design templates / themes
- Forum software
- Gallery software
- Online video players
- Site security / privacy / anti-spam tools
- Secure contact forms
- Newsletter services / autoresponders
- Comment tracking services
- Email / RSS managers
- Payment / donation processors
- Database tools
- Membership management software
- Survey / poll widgets
- Website visitor counters / trackers
- Social media widgets
Once upon a time, all this interactivity was expensive and
technically complex — you had no option but to get some designers and programmers
involved, or resort to a simple static page.
That’s not the case anymore.
In fact, I’d say there are 3
main ways to approach a “do it yourself” Web 2.0 website (can you
think of another way to go? If so, leave a comment below and share your thoughts!). But which
of these website-building solutions will be right for your nonprofit group? That
depends in large part on (a) your budget and (b) your technical
skills, or the technical skills of any volunteers who are willing to
pitch in to help you out with setting up a website!
1. Integrated Membership Website
- Low / Moderate Cost
- Low Tech Skill
All-in-one web-based platforms such as Wild
Apricot — you knew I was going to mention it! — come under this heading, website solutions that combine a range of
interactive website functions with full tech support and hosting. You
never have to touch the software that runs your website, so upgrades
and maintenance aren’t an issue. The best of these are designed to be
user-friendly, too, so you don’t need to call in a tech every time you need
to update or add to the content.
Look for a selection of templates to
get you started with a professional-looking design, but also for the
ability to customize the look and functionality of the site as the
needs of your organization evolve. Customer service may well be the
deciding factor, so you’ll want to check out what the platform’s
existing clients have to say about it and/or take advantage of any free
trials that are offered.
2. Self-hosted Integrated Website
- Low / Moderate Cost
- Moderate / High Tech Skill
This is a webmastering without a safety net! Many low-cost
webhosting companies with good reputations for “uptime” also one-click
installation of third-party applications — look for cPanel and
Fantastico in the list of account features — which means you can
quickly integrate all the tech goodies: mailing lists, forums, contact
forms, blogs, galleries, and so on.
The main caveat here is that
affordable webhosts are not in the business of holding their customers’
hands. Front-line support is often largely delegated to on-site
forums, where peers do most of the sorting out of each other’s
challenges with the software. And do be aware that you’re normally on
your own to take care of any software upgrades, security patches, etc.,
as well as responsible for making regular backups of your data.
the tech-savvy, however, there can be great cost savings and great
satisfaction in managing your own website from the ground up.
Nonprofits will want to have a plan in place, however, in case their
staff or volunteer webmaster moves on, or for some other reason becomes
unable to keep up the website.
3. Inter-Linked Web Site Services
- Low Cost
- Moderate/High Maintenance
A blog here, a forum there, an autoresponder service to handle email
inquiries and send out passwords so subscribers can access the
password-protected articles, and so on — various separate applications
and services are linked together to make one truly “do-it-yourself”
website solution. With a moderate amount of technical skill at hand,
any cash-strapped nonprofit can bring together a variety of free or
very low-cost applications to fill many of its needs.
Ideally, all of
these fragmented parts should be “branded” with your organization’s
logo and a consistent color-scheme to help identify them as part of
your online presence. You’ll most likely want to “pont” your domain
name at the main news part of your site (your blog?) and link from
there to the peripheral forum, gallery, and so on — that way, visitors’
chances of finding your “front door” are greatly increased.
Still, with various elements of your “website” scattered across
different sites and services, this is a”shotgun approach” to a website
that can make it harder for you to get your nonprofit found in web
searches, as well as challenge your visitors: the visitors and
search-engine crawlers might stumble across your forum, but will they
find their way to your main news page, with the button that lets them
make a donation?
"More With Less" Online
Money is tight enough now, we all know, and it seems certain that there are even tougher economic times
ahead. More than ever, nonprofits and businesses
alike will need to learn new ways to do their work online. But it can be done. There
are all sorts of free and low-cost ways for you to help visitors find
you in search engines, to promote your website and bring traffic to it
— as well as new, fun, and very affordable tools that can to help you
connect and communicate with those website visitors once they land.
We’ve talked about a lot of those in previous blog posts, so do skim
back through the blog archives for any nuggets you may have missed —
and there’ll be a whole lot more to come. If you haven't dropped a note to the Wild Apricot blog before, this might be
a good time to do so. Or just leave a comment below, if you prefer:
Where are your organization’s biggest web challenges? What tools and tactics do you most want or need to learn about, to better pursue your
nonprofit’s mission online? Let us know — how can this blog help you to do
“more with less,” right now and through the months ahead?