What to think about when starting (or re-starting) your website
What you NEED to know before getting started:
Who is your “host?” i.e., where does your site live? Where is the data stored?
Where is your domain registered?
If you already have one, this is important information because you need to re-register every, or every other, year. If you don’t pay up, you could lose the domain name and have to buy it back for as much as whoever bought it wants to charge you.
If you are just starting out, a popular domain registry is GoDaddy.com
It is worth getting your own domain. They are CHEAP – usually about $10 a year! You may want to consider getting several similar ones, or domains specifically for your popular programs. (Examples: the Androscoggin River Watershed Council has both www.androscogginwatershed.org & www.androscogginrivertrail.net; the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce has both www.bethelmaine.com & www.mollyockettdays.com)
You should also have email addresses at the same domain name (unless possibly your organization is entirely volunteer-run). You can register for these when you register for your website domain name. (example: http://www.godaddy.com/email/email-hosting.aspx?isc=gofn1002aa&ci=9020)
Your domain name belongs to YOU, so you can take it anywhere! If it turns out you hate your server for whatever reason, you can re-register with a different server.
Who updates your site? (Or, if you’re just getting started, who do you want to update your site?) A volunteer? A paid web consultant?
How is your site updated? Old-school html? Or a Content Management System? (CMS)
Seize control of your website! You are fully within your rights to pay someone an arm and a leg to update your website. However, once the basic framework is in place, chances are that if you’re just making small changes now and then, the amount of time you’ll have to spend telling someone else what you want to see and how you want it to look is less than what it’ll take to just do it yourself. Then nothing is lost in translation, and the changes happen immediately instead of when your web consultant has time. Why spend time writing a big long email to someone about what you want when you can just spend the time writing it directly on your own website?
Why creating your own website by yourself is not scary
It can be CHEAP - There are many affordable, fully customizable CMS’s out there in the range of $10-$50 month. Consider time saved in the long run when factoring cost!
It is EASY - The learning curve will depend on your comfort level with technology, but if you’ve ever used email and word processing software, you WILL figure out how to make a simple, effective website. A decent logo, some concise blurbs about what you do, and preferably some pretty pictures, and you’re well on your way
WYSIWYG – Most modern CMS’s are designed to be super-easy - What You See Is What You Get. There’s no complicated coding to learn! You don’t have to do it all at once. Once you are in the driver’s seat, you can add or remove pages at will. Start out with a simple who you are and what you do, add your events page when you have time, start a blog when you can, etc. New CMS’s make things automatic – for example, events automatically disappear from the front page after they’ve happened.
It is EMPOWERING - With many CMS’s you can give certain people certain privileges on your site. Someone can be in charge of events, someone can write a blog, lots of people can upload photos, etc. You’ll be building capacity left and right.
What to think about when choosing a CMS
Set-up fees – some have a large initial cost and then a monthly charge thereafter. This is ok if you want some custom graphics or have complicated needs for some reason.
What you want it to do – Many CMS’s can do more than just make your website look pretty. Some can also manage….
· Event registration & promotion
· Email contacts
· Discussion forums
· Photo albums
· Etc. – the sky’s the limit!
So, when factoring cost, think about the various programs you’re using for all these things already, and think about all the different places you’re managing different contacts (email lists, donors, members, etc.). Chances are you’ll be able to eliminate a couple of other time- and money-consuming platforms.
Keep things as streamlined as possible. A common trap is adding a different system piecemeal every time you need something new. For example, you start with a simple website, decide you need a blog so you add a blogging platform, decide you want some event management software so you tack that on, then something else, and something else….this results in having to keep of lots of different passwords and creating a new learning curve every time you add something. It’s best to have ONE system with ONE password and ONE way of updating things and ONE set of contacts.
I LOVE WildApricot.com. It manages everything above and more, with no setup fees and good support, with plans starting at $25 a month. Their CMS is extremely easy to use and designed for nonprofits. I am more than happy to extol its virtues, or help you find and evaluate something else. There are many resources geared towards nonprofits that can help you out.
You’ve chosen an affordable CMS that meets all your needs. Now what?
Think about what you want your website to do. Consider the following:
· Mission statement and goals
· Links to all your social media connections
· Staff/board bios
· Major programs
· A way for people to get involved: sign up for a newsletter, volunteer, etc
· A way for people to donate online (Paypal offers discounted rates for nonprofits)
· Contact information
· Press releases
· Photo albums
· Get creative! You know your organization best.
Make it simple!
· Don’t get crazy with fonts – generally select two, possibly three – one for headlines and one for general text
· Leave clip art in the 1990s where it belongs
· Keep your prose in simple, bite-sized chunks
· Never ask someone to download a document when they could just read or look at something on a page
Remember this website isn’t just for you, it’s also for the viewer – your current and potential members and donors. Make it easy to understand for someone who’s interacting with your organization for the first time.
· Make your site user-friendly (especially when it comes to donations!). This means adding links wherever necessary within and outside of your site. Remove barriers. Make it so everything important is only a click away.
· Keep a minimum of content on each page. If you have to scroll down a lot because there’s too much content on one page, it’s easy for the user to get confused and distracted. (Possible exception – when there’s a list of something in chronological order.)
· Stay consistent with fonts and logos.
· Keep it up to date! If a new user sees something with an expired date, how will they know that other content is still current? (This is why it's great to get a CMS with automated features - i.e., the ability for events to disappear after they've passed.)
Hint: when you sign up for a new CMS, most often there will be a free trial period which will allow you to play with the features and experiment with different looks for your site. During this period, the CMS will assign you a generic url. Usually when the free trial expires, you can still use the site but it will be ad-supported, so you will have plenty of time to play with your new site before making it public. The new site with the generic url will be live on the Internet (so you can send a special link to whoever you want to see it), but the general public won’t see it until you link it up with your custom domain name. In order to link your new page to your custom domain name, you’ll just need to change a few settings in the “backend” of your website. The domain name registrar and the CMS should have easy tutorials on how to do this.