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Building a Nonprofit Website on a Shoe-String Budget 

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.

Assessing Needs

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:

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.

Check out part two of this post where I discuss the downside of shoe-string budget websites such as scalability as well as inexpensive hosting solutions.

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.

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Reader Comments (6)

You might also want to look at the free group sites available on WiserEarth (http://www.wiserearth.org). Any person or organization that is working on social justice and environmental issues is free to set-up shop. The advantages are that it is free, very easy to use, and as a bonus your content will be seen by a wider community than just your group members. To see details of what WiserEarth groups offer check out: http://www.wiserearth.org/article/wiserearthgroups and if you want to create a group go to: http://www.wiserearth.org/group/action/new/about
August 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngus Parker
You can utilize various rss aggregation tools such as feedburner or your social media rss feeds to aggregate useful content for your website without having to pay a content writer.
August 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Serwatowski
I've never worked with Google sites but will definitely check it out. Thank you for sharing your experience.
August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKerri Karvetski
@Angus - Thanks for that recommendation; I hadn't heard of wiserearth.org, but will need to check it out.

@Kevin S - It's true that RSS can aggregate and automate content, but what content would we want to feed to our members if not our own? I'm hoping we can get a few volunteers who will help ensure fresh content when we build a more robust site, and to build a base of volunteer bloggers eventually, but for now our needs are really (1) having a web presence and (2) using that presence to convert people to give, opt-in, join us on Facebook, and participate in events. A news feed or content from another site might help keep things fresh and add one more thing for visitors to do, but for now we're happy using the site as a static hub for people to connect to our other interactive presences on... though there are certainly better things to come in the future :)

@ Kerri Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Google Sites certainly have their strengths, but keep watching Frog Loop for Part 2 where we go over the weaknesses (and there definitely are a few..), as well as other resources for nonprofits in need of a web presence.
August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin B. Gilnack
This site and article were VERY helpful. We were using a personal webspace on Cox using MS FrontPage and it crashed. We have a big event coming up and need to communicate with our participants. THANKS for your generous suggestions.
October 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Oppel
Grassroots.org also provides free website hosting and web builder options for nonprofits if you have a 501(c)3! This information is great,
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrassroots.org

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