I recently sat down with our neighbors here at Float Left Labs to discuss their lack of a website. First, I’ll give a little background about our neighbors. They are a small organization which teaches English as a Second Language to the different immigrants and refugees in Manchester. Since moving next door to us in October they have been thriving with over 50 people coming in to the office every week from 8 different native languages. They are doing amazing work with a small staff who are quiet capable at teaching ESL, but are not necessarily the most computer savvy people.
Our brief meeting started amusingly when I was explaining the process of purchasing a domain and setting up a website. I believe the exact wording stated was “Oh, so I’m not going to walk away from this meeting with a website am I?” No, Unfortunately not. But that’s part of what we do here at Float Left Labs; we educate nonprofits about what they can expect and how to build a website.
See, the average computer user doesn’t realize setting up a website consists of 3 separate components. Domain, Hosting, and Code. Some hosting/DNS companies try to make it easier by making it so you can do all 3, right from their application. but even then there still are 3 components. Here’s a quick review on how to set up a website.
1. Domain Name
The first step towards setting up a website is to find and purchase a domain name. This will be the URL, or the address people type in to get to your website. To purchase a domain you may use godaddy.com, or DynDNS, or countless others. (I recommend supporting the local guys at Dyninc)
The process for this is always pretty much the same. You type in the URL you would like to have, it tells you if it is available and/or if other similar names are available and you proceed to answer questions until you purchase. Domains typically run from $10-$20 per a year. You may be able to purchase multiple years at once at a discounted rate. Please note domains expire, so make a note of the expiration date and be sure to renew it before then.
After Purchasing the Domain for your site you will need to have a place for it to live. Again, there are several companies that will host your website for a low cost. As a basic first website there isn’t too many ways you can go wrong. There are several hosting companies that will provide hosting for free to nonprofit organizations. For example, we at Float Left Labs use dreamhost http://wiki.dreamhost.com/index.php/Non-profit_Discount
As a side note, Dreamhost also allows you to purchase domains…. So if you use them you can save the hassle of purchasing it separately. If purchased separately there will be one added step now where you have to modify the DNS records to point to the correct hosting company. Think of it as telling the post office you’ve moved. I recommend asking a very tech savvy friend to help with that.
Okay. Now that you’ve got the domain and the hosting…but you still don’t have a website! The actual pages for your site will need to be built. These will be written in html code, so the best bet is to have someone else set this up for you. Sure, you could just open word and make a website and export it- but would that honestly look good? Would it be an accurate representation of your organization? Online presence is important so I highly recommend investing time and possibly money into this part.
Now that that’s all said and done you’ve got a website. Congratulations!
But… For the case of most small non profits you won’t have the ability to update it. So now I’m going to tell you about a simpler alternative.
WordPress is customarily thought of as a blog engine, and rightly so. That is after all, what it is. But with a little configuration it can be set up and easily maintained as a website for organizations. We use custom installed WordPress for websites all the time.
You can also use WordPress. WordPress.com allows you to set up a blog for free. This (covers part 2 and 3 from the previous section) It will also allow you to purchase a domain, listed under its premium services. Now there are some benefits as well as limitations to using wordpress.com, but for a small nonprofit organization just starting out with their first website it is a great fit.
How do you start? Go to wordpress.com click sign up now and the form is pretty self explanatory from there. It will allow you to choose from hundreds of predesigned template, upload logos, images, create pages and posts, widgets and plugins. You can also configure it so your posts go to an internal page (for example: news) instead of your homepage.