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Nonprofit Website Options: Finding Your Voice

Your website represents your voice, your story, your cause. It’s the most important element of an online creative strategy. You want it to communicate your mission and values in a dynamic way that moves readers to join you in achieving your goals to do more good.

What are some elements of a successful website by today’s standards?

Design standards have evolved along with technology and the needs of publishers. There are several sources for excellent and beautiful website templates to start with. Unless there is some need for a complicated app to be included, most nonprofits can achieve memorable sites without incurring a large cost.

Many nonprofits use WordPress to build their websites. WordPress is an open source project built on nonproprietary code base in PHP. That means that no one company owns or licenses the software. To use WordPress, you must download it onto a web hosting platform like GoDaddy or DreamHost in order for it to be published online. WordPress has been around since the early 2000’s and programmers have evolved many templates since then.

One popular option is the Divi WordPress theme. The Divi Builder lets you compose your own layouts with functional blocks covering a wide range of functionality, or you can choose to develop your site with one of 18 pre-made templates. It also includes options for phones and mobile devices. WordPress requires a slightly higher level of skill from a staff developer, but since it is an open source solution, you can depend on it not to disappear as a commercial solution might if the company goes out of business or is sold. Many developers believe that open source provides more stability, but sometimes a short ramp up time and relative ease of a commercial solution may tip the balance.

Two commercial sources for compelling templates are Wix and Weebly. Their online editors are based on a straightforward drag and drop model. You can begin with one of the many templates that are offered and then customize the look to match your brand using your own logo, branding, photos or videos.

Both services offer a set of free apps that give you integration with other social media platforms so you can easily link the website to your Facebook page, Twitter feed or Instagram account among many others. Other free apps provide maps, event calendars, basic SEO functionality, mailing list subscriptions, and blogging forms.

Wix sites are hosted free as long as you don’t mind having the Wix name appear in your website address. If you want your own domain, you can purchase a domain name for a very reasonable amount. This is a fantastic deal! To get solid design, app integration and hosting for a basic price gives most nonprofits a good launch point. If you need more powerful apps for marketplace functionality like Eventbrite, PayPal and the like, it’s available for slightly more money.

Here is a comparison table from Website Builder Expert that sums up the differences between Wix and Weebly.

One of the most important things is to ensure your site is responsive. That means that it will display the way you want it to be seen on a phone. Often times, pre-made templates have that ability built right in. But, you’ll want to check the design on an iPhone and Android device to be sure it has transferred as you intended.

Having a compelling online presence doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming for do-it-yourself-ers. There are a number different options available that are very reasonable in cost and allow you to tell your story with visual flair and style. Several nonprofit IT support groups also publish guidance and advice on the subject. Here is a good column from Tech Soup to start with. And another great article from NTEN on how to build an effective landing page for fundraising.

Perhaps you have decided that you want to have an external company handle the website design and implementation. There are many companies that specialize in nonprofit web design. One of my favorites is Elevation. To get some inspiration, check out their collection of the 150 Best Nonprofit Websites. Don't underestimate the power of the visual. Photos that tell your story are a good way to stimulate a response from your supporters.

Skimming through these beautiful examples will surely get you up and going no matter what method of development you choose. Have fun!

Jayne Dutra is dedicated to social advocacy for underserved populations and the community at large. She believes in building public engagement to bring awareness and improve conditions for all citizens. She can contribute help with social media, digital content strategy, graphic design, grant writing or data analytics.

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