When starting your nonprofit, advocacy group, or other civic organizations, there may not be a budget to pay for website development – or even hosting services. That was the case when we started thinking about what to do for the volunteer-run Greater Boston Young Democrats (GBYD), a regional chapter of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, which operates a 501c4 as well as a PAC.
But, even without a budget or a lot of time, there are options for putting together a quality web presence. While getting GBYD off the ground, we wanted to put our time and limited resources to programming that serves our members and we created this site with an investment of only $10 to register our domain for the year and a few hours of my time working in Google Sites.
The following is the process we went through, but please remember every organization has different needs from a website and resources for making it happen, so make sure you plan your site accordingly.
You have a few non-hosted options to consider, but for me they really boiled down to “do I want to blog or a website that integrates numerous features?” The conclusion was: we need a few key features that other platforms couldn’t easily provide, such as:
- Contact sign-up form: Any grassroots organization needs to provide their website visitors with an easy way to get involved in the organization – and whether you’re looking for donors, activists, volunteers, or anyone else, an email sign-up form is the first step. This was easily created using Google Forms and Spreadsheets – check out Wild Apricot Blog on using Google for easy data collection.
- Integrating a public Google Calendar that makes our info widely discoverable through Google and embeddable on our site. If you’ve never created a Google Calendar before, check out Google’s tutorial for nonprofits. On the topic of calendars, if you’re creating Facebook events, it’s very easy to export them (see “How do I export my events to another calendar”) and then import them to your Google Calendar.
- Embedding public documents like our charter: As we drafted the charter for our organization, we used Scribd to share and invite feedback. The viral nature of Scribd enabled us to reach people we otherwise never would have, and we wanted to embed the document on our site. While Google Sites blocks Scribd’s code, they do allow for embedding Google Documents and Presentations, enabling us to share the document publicly AND to share, edit, and automatically update the Charter document through Board members’ Google Documents and on our website at the same time.
Considering Other Options
Platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger can be useful free platforms for organizations that have the capacity to keep quality new posts coming, but alas we do not at this point. But, besides primarilly being blogging platforms, there were shortcomings with each service that helped tip the scales toward Google Sites. Wordpess.com unfortunately blocks most embed codes from 3rd parties (e.g. Scribd, Google Calendar, forms), although if you use WordPress.org’s platform on a hosted site, you are free to embed 3rd party Java and other code (plus install any of their 6,000+ plug-ins). I was pleased that Blogger does allow 3rd party code, but unfortunately is not setup to have multiple pages (if you know how to make subpages on Blogger, please leave a comment!).
If you’re less concerned with add-ons and versatility and more concerned with writing and sharing content, starting conversations, and being easily discoverable through search engines, these are both good options to consider.
Other Benefits of Google Sites
In addition to core features I was looking for listed above, there are a few value-adds that anyone looking at building a site with Google should know about such as:
- Integration – Google Sites allow you to add any of the more than 193,000 gadgets to their sites.
- Beyond the website – In addition to creating your site with Google, you can use Google Apps to host your emails for that domain as well (and 501c3’s get access to a host of other free applications).
Thanks to this feature you can email staff, and combining that with our Google Site, we now have a nice branded http://mail.gbyd.org page for Board members to use to access their email.
- Multiple users – Google makes it easy to share documents, calendars, and even access to updating your website with multiple users. This enables you to maintain the privacy of your account and creates accountability by knowing who is updating what.
- Quasi-blogging capabilities – You can use the Announcement Page template to post updates like a blog and the Recent Posts Gadget to display them on your main page, or anywhere else. To complete the workaround, you can use feed43.com to generate an RSS feed to create a feed, add it to FeedBurner, and then promote it on your site to start syndicating your posts.
- So you want to get paid? I would strongly caution anyone, especially nonprofits, against putting advertising on your site; however, Google Sites, as well as Blogger allow for it. WordPress.com does not.
- Contributions -Organizations can easily integrateONLINE GIVING! Google Sites, Blogger, and WordPress all allow you to have a contribution button (it really only involves html to display and image and link to a Paypal, Google Checkout, or another payment processing site). WordPress lays the process for setting this up pretty well.
This article was written by Kevin Gilnack. Kevin is the Membership Development Associate with the Providers' Council. He also chairs the Greater Boston Young Democrats, co-chairs the National Council of Nonprofits Shared Webinar Subcommittee, and sits on the Young Democrats of Massachusetts Board of Directors and on the National Council of Nonprofits Products & Services Committee.