Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 45 seconds

Website Development and Hosting

web-hostingMore and more non-profits are looking for ways to involve their donors, and one way to do that is with a dynamic website.Websites have evolved from static sources of information to interactive communities but as Joseph Knecht, Managing Director of VipaSolutions, points out "many nonprofits struggle with their identity. What they need to realize," Joseph explains, "Is that they are a business and they need to sell themselves."

With the amount of competition for donor’s dollars, nonprofits need to leverage technology to show donors how their donation is being spent. A well-designed website not only disseminates core information about the nonprofit but it provides a way to forge a connection with the donor.

Joseph believes that, "Often donors feel they are only contacted when the non-profit needs money." One way to correct that is to create a website that allows the donor to see exactly how his donation is spent. This gives the donor a feeling of ownership in the organization. That is why many web developers encourage the nonprofit to take a systematic approach to web design. First, the nonprofit should ask, "what results do we want to get?"

Next, the nonprofit needs to answer the "why" question, that is why should a donor give to that particular non-profit? Michael Smith, CEO of Raster Media, says nonprofits have specific needs like "driving more donations through site" but they also face challenges like tight budget and little or no technical staff.

It is important; Michael goes on to say that the nonprofit communicate "not only their objectives but their limitations to the developer up front. Whether its budgetary, staff or otherwise, good development shops will find a way around your limitations to make sure you get what you need out of the website."

Ed Bebee, Owner of IronStrikesIron, agrees that a solid foundation is the key to a successful website. He works with nonprofits to determine goals on a tactical basis. He wants to know "what do they hope to accomplish" and he encourages them to think beyond just a website. He helps them determine what resources are needed to support on the website. This includes technical support, finding volunteers to maintain the website and help with establishing editorial schedules.

Ed sometimes encounters nonprofits, that think they need a new website, but what they really need is good content and a schedule to get the content uploaded. To make it easy for the nonprofit to keep content fresh, Michael of Raster Media advises getting a website with a content management system. He says, "This will allow you to make changes, add content, and keep the site fresh and up-to-date without the need of any technical staff. It will also give you a greater ability to grow your site as you grow, and not have to start over every time you want a new look or change your strategy."

IronStrikesIron offers as much support as the nonprofit needs. Some nonprofits have a technical staff; others have no technical staff whatsoever, and for those organizations IronStrikesIron provides constant background support. Along with the actual website, it is important for nonprofits to consider how the website will be hosted. Working with a company that both develops and hosts the website lowers the frustration level in those situations that require technical assistance. This way Ed says, "The non-profit is not dealing with support that is one level removed."

Some nonprofits are large enough to have their own in house servers, but for those that don’t there are several offsite-hosting options. Using a hosting service allows the nonprofit to remain "focused on the tactical not the technical aspects," says Ed.

Michael Drobnis, President of Solution-Works, offers two different hosting options, shared hosting and virtual private server (VPS). In shared hosting, one server hosts several hundred companies. The positives are it is less expensive. The negatives are that if someone runs a bad script on another website it can take all the web sites hosted on that server offline.

VPS servers on the other hand are one physical server partitioned into several private servers. Each server has its own operating system. If one company on the VPS server runs a bad script, won't take down the other sites. It is a little more expensive but offers more flexibility.

Taking the time to really determine the ultimate goal of the website, whether it is donations, information or community, and selecting the right hosting service helps ensure a solid website that will serve the nonprofit for many years.

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