Non-profit Website or Non-profit Blog?

Lori Halley 23 September 2009 9 comments

Think a blog is just another name for a online journal, not really suitable for a serious non-profit organization? Think again! A blog can be whatever you want it to be.

There are many blogs out there that don’t even “look like blogs” — in look and feel and style, they mimic a traditional website, and only the very observant (or very tech-savvy) might know the difference. (The next time someone tells you they “never read blogs” — ask them if they ever visit the websites of any other major media outlets!)

In fact, the main differences between a website and a blog are in the technology behind the scenes, and how your visitors interact with your content.

Static Website vs Dynamic Blog

Static websites are a series of separate web pages, which usually share a common look and feel in their design. Typically all of those pages are hosted at one web address (domain), but the separate pages are connected only by clickable links to let you move from one page to another. Traditionally, websites have been coded with HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the basic “language of the Web” that tells web browsers how to display text, images, and other content on your screen.

Blogging platforms, in contrast, are dynamic (using PHP or ASP, most commonly, rather than HTML on the backend), pulling together various bits of content from a database to create a web page. If the content in the database changes — if you write a new article (post) for your blog, for example, or a reader leaves a comment — the page will change automatically to reflect the new content. And any related pages, such as archives, will automatically change as required, too.

So, what difference does it make to you, if a site is “static” or “dynamic”?

To begin with, if you’re the one responsible for your non-profit’s web presence, you’ll probably see a difference in the time and effort it takes to make changes to a blog or website, or simply to add new content.

Blogs are generally easier to maintain than static websites if you are in the habit of adding new content on a regular basis.

Every time you add content to a static website, you’ll have to create new pages (and link those pages from all the others) or delete older content to keep the front page from getting unreadably long. And you’ll have to do it manually. Blogging software, on the other hand, will do all that shifting around and archiving of older content automatically.

What about the learning curve?

WYSIWYG or visual editors are a standard feature of most blogging platforms, making it easy for anyone to add content to a blog, without special technical skills or training. Publishing a blog post can be as easy as using a basic word processor, or writing an email.

With a static website, too, the right WYSIWYG software means you may not have to learn HTML if you don’t already know how to hand-code a website. But unless your web hosting company provides an online website-building tool, you’ll likely need to install your own software to run on your computer. (Dreamweaver is one of the most popular commercial WYSIWYG editors for website creation, for example, and KompoZer is a free open-source alternative, but there are many others.) Don’t forget that you’ll need to make sure that all who need to be able to update your website — staff and/or volunteers — have access to it and are trained to use the software.

Read-Only vs Portable Content

Websites don’t travel. Your readers must remember to keep checking back to the website to see if you’ve published new content, so there’s a great likelihood of them missing a critical piece of news or forgetting about you entirely in the bustle of their busy lives.

On the other hand, blogging software generates an RSS feed that lets  readers subscribe to your blog, choose how they prefer to receive your updated content — by RSS feedreader (such as Google Reader or Bloglines) or by email — and have updates delivered to them automatically whenever you publish new material to your blog.

RSS also means that your blog can be set up to alert any number of directories and search engines, and other websites, news services, blogs, and social networks that there’s new content to be found on your site. And that content can be displayed on other blogs and websites — including social networks — to help draw traffic to your organization’s online home.

As you’ve probably heard, blogs are naturally “good for SEO” (search engine optimization) because of the way they are coded and structured. And when updating is quick and easy, a fresh flow of content keeps the search engines interested in your site — making it all the easier for new readers to find you when they search for information on your organization or your cause.

Broadcast vs Engagement

Hands down, the most important difference between a blog and a website is in the way content is provided to the reader, and what they can do with it.

You see,  static websites are the digital equivalent of a print brochure: they’re great at describing who you are, what you do, and how people can contact you by email or offline — but it’s a one-way conversation.

On a static website, visitors are passive consumers of the information you publish.  The only way they have to interact with you is via a contact form or email, by snail mail, by visiting your office, or by talking about you on some other site that does permit users to contribute. Not ideal for building an online community around your cause!

Blog readers, on the other hand, have the ability for your visitors to interact with your blog — to ask questions, make comments, share links, and in general become engaged in whatever conversation you’ve started. (That active exchange of ideas made possible by a blog is key to Lance Trebesch and Taylor Robinson's 10 Reasons why every nonprofit must have a blog.)

Granted, the opening up of two-way communication channels — “losing control of the message” — is also one big reason why some highly conventional non-profit boards can be reluctant to set up a blog, or to engage in any other kind of social media.  The truth is, as we're gradually learning in social media, “control” is an illusion. People are going to talk about your organization, whether or not they have your permission… but that's a topic for another day!

Website or blog?

Take a look at John Haydon’s "Blog vs. Website" video, comparing a static website and a blog from the user's viewpoint, and see what you think…

Could adding a blog help you to connect more directly with your website visitors and online supporters, to better understand the constituency you serve, and to attract new supporters for your non-profit organization? Is blogging right for your organization — or do you find that a traditional static website is simply a better match?

What's your choice, a website or a blog — or both?

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 23 September 2009 at 1:22 PM

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Comments

  • Twitter Trackbacks for Wild Apricot Blog : Non-profit Website or Non-profit Blog? [wildapricot.com] on Topsy.com  said:

    Wednesday, 23 September 2009 at 6:46 AM
  • Charlotte Moon said:

    Thursday, 24 September 2009 at 12:22 AM

    Hi Rebecca,

    Great article, but one little technical niggle: websites can be coded dynamically with PHP and ASP as well, which is what many web content management systems do. And while blogging platforms may use dynamic generation of pages, the end result in the browser is still HTML (OK, apart from the RSS feed XML).

    Also, you don't have to manage a static site with DreamWeaver, you can use a very simple easy CMS (like Surreal) or even use WordPress.

    Interesting question though: what really defines a blog?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 24 September 2009 at 5:17 AM

    True enough, Charlotte - it's increasingly difficult to talk in generalizations! Even to say that nowadays the main difference between blogs and websites is in the backend, rather than in the reader's browser, is no longer as clearcut as it once was. (In fact, I myself have a "static" website that's built with Wordpress.)

    "What really defines a blog?" is not only an interesting question, but a much more challenging one that it was in the early days of blogging. I'd tentatively suggest that it might come down, in the final analysis, to the site user being able to interact with the site through comments and RSS.

    But then, a blog without comments is still a blog... or is it?

  • Charlotte Moon said:

    Thursday, 24 September 2009 at 7:21 AM

    This is something I'm struggling to define for a workshop I'm planning. I think a "real" blog has some or all of these characteristics:

    * a clearly defined purpose and a specific audience

    * is a narrative

    * uses blog tools to create a community or network that readers can participate in actively (comments) or passively (trackbacks, blogrolls)

    Hmm.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 24 September 2009 at 8:13 AM

    Charlotte, I'd love to sit in on that workshop of yours. :-)  

    Agreed: a blog has (or at least should have) a clear purpose and specific audience - but couldn't we say the same of a traditional website?  Narrative, hmmm, I'll have to ponder that one some more... But most definitely, yes, the community / conversation aspect is an essential ingredient of a "real" blog. Whether or not the blogger chooses to take full adantage of the tools is, of course, a whole other question!

  • Peggy Hoffman said:

    Thursday, 24 September 2009 at 5:07 PM

    Technical stuff aside - glad to see this post. Too often assn, particularly small groups, say we gotta have a website and then nothing happens there. It's too hard to keep up and its way too easy to ignore. The advantage of a blog-based website is that it's easier - or more accessible is perhaps the right term - to keep active and alive. For one of our management clients we're just launching a blog alongside the website with an eye to shifting mostly to the website. The website will still be needed for the transactions, but the blog will become the face.

  • Liz said:

    Saturday, 26 September 2009 at 11:21 AM

    Really enjoying your blog, particularly this post.

    I've been developing blogsites (as I call them) for artists and creative entrepreneurs to profile their work.As I've been doing the work for free I've decided to run some Design Your Own Blogsite workshops in Dublin specifically for that group.

    That way... they will develop (using Wordpress.com) their own blogsite from scratch in 5 hours.

    I'm doing it in a gorgeous restaurant (http://koh.ie) so people can relax and learn together. I hope to then form free regular gatherings so they can support and help each other in terms of social media...and marketing themselves.

    The boundaries are blurring.

    Enjoying my daily dose of your blog.

  • nasia lol said:

    Wednesday, 07 October 2009 at 8:29 AM

    i pick blog because you can tell things about the things you are talking about. if you talk about your favorite website, maybe they will stay open forever, if you keep blogging about it. blogging is the best because sometimes you can express your ideas. on websites, all you do is look at the things that are on there. you just look at the new stuff that is on it. mot that it is boring. i just like blogs better.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 07 October 2009 at 8:40 AM

    Nasia, you've just given a great illustration of why blogs are so effective at engaging an audience -- a chance to express your own ideas, too, versus "just look" at what's been posted. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

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