Small (and not-so-small) nonprofits have a lot in common with small business. They have work--a lot of it--that needs to get done and they don't usually have the time, energy or resources to devote to their online presence. At the same time, they know that since most people go to Google to find just about anything anymore, they recognize that if they aren't online, they have a problem. A great post by Seth Godin sums it up this way (just insert the word "nonprofit" where you see "business"):
The web has changed the game for a lot of organizations, but for the local business, it's more of a threat and a quandary than an asset. My doctor went to a seminar yesterday ($100+) where the 'expert' was busy selling her on buying a domain name, hiring a designer, using web development software, understanding site maps and navigation and keywords and metatags and servers...
These are businesses that have trouble dealing with the Yellow Pages. Too much trouble, too much time, way too expensive. So, should local micro-businesses just ignore the web? Or should they become experts in the art of building and maintaining a website?
We're talking about people who don't like to tweak. About local businesses that are struggling to be found by people a block or a mile or five miles away. Entrepreneurs who can't be bothered to understand typography or HTML. Why does my dog's vet have such a lame website? Why do basement waterproofing sites sit moribund? Do they all have to become experts and spend the money--or sit it out and lose out?
Sound like your nonprofit? I thought so. Here are four tips from Seth (with some of my own commentary and a bonus tip) to get you online with minimal time and fuss and an investment of about $60/year--or even for free!
1. Set up a blog through Typepad
For about $5/month, you can set up a Typepad blog. Says Seth:
Pick a 'quiet' and professional blog layout. Your first post should include the name of your business, your address, your specialty and your hours and phone number. Click the button that says "Feature this post." From now on, this post will be at the top of your blog (which is really your 'website', so first time visitors will see it front and center. When you go on vacation or stock a new line of products or have a story to tell, just blog it.
The beauty of this first step is that for $5 you have a web server, a professional layout, no worries about design, a site you can edit yourself in no time and no hassles with weird domain names.
If you want to go even cheaper (although there's a bit more of a learning curve), you can't beat "free," which is what it costs for a Wordpress blog that also offers professional-looking templates, a web-server and the ability to edit your site whenever you need to without the hassle of going through a webmaster. You can also find a TON of plug-ins to improve the look and functionality of your site and many nonprofits swear by Wordpress. But again, going this route will mean a bit more of an investment in time and learning, so if you want to minimize both, you may want to stick with Typepad. (For some tutorials on using Wordpress, try this series on using WordPress for Church Websites and The Instigator's 6 Basic Tips on Using Wordpress)
2. Build a Squidoo Lens About Your Nonprofit
Full disclosure here--Squidoo is a company started by Seth. The jury's still out on the effectiveness of Squidoo, although you'll find that 1) Squidoo is doing a lot with and for nonprofits and 2) starting a lens is pretty simple, so it's probably worth the time and effort to check it out and build a lens.
Again from Seth:
Build a Squidoo lens about your business. List your hours and stuff. Then insert a google map of where you're located. Put in a list of books if you think your potential (or current) customers will benefit from an understanding of what you do. Insert a guestbook so your favorite customers can give you testimonials. Put in an RSS feed from your blog, so every time you update it, it will show up here, too. If this is too tricky, have your smart next-door-neighbor do it for you. You won't have to do it again.
3. Get Some Photos on Flickr
Flickr is an easy-to-use online photo-sharing site. Nonprofits all over are using it to tell their stories visually. Beth Kanter of Beth's Blog is the nonprofit "Queen of Flickr," so if you want to see how to use the site in your nonprofit, I suggest you start with her great resources. If you're starved for time, start with this post and pick out the topics that interest you. But be sure to browse through the rest of what she has, too--there's some great stuff for when you're ready to get more advanced. Also check out this article on the Top 10 Flickr Hacks for Public Relations.
4. Engage Your Donors, Volunteers, Customers, Staff, Etc.
Once you're up and running, involve other people in the process as well. Get people to mention your organization on their blogs. Ask people to pose for photos that you can post on Flickr. Or have someone give you a testimonial that you can share. You don't have to invest a lot of time and money in learning new tools if you don't want to. Just start making good use of these basic options. Stay on top of telling your stories through words and pictures and your online presence will grow.
Bonus Tip---Add a Widget
If you find that you are ready to branch out from the basic steps above, here's one more to consider--adding a widget. A widget is just a snippet of computer code that you can embed in the blog you created in Step 2. Someone else writes the code (don't worry--you don't have to be a programmer) and you just find it and put it on your site. Typepad has a bunch of widgets that you can install with a few clicks of your mouse--no cutting and pasting required. (You can access the widgets through the "Design" Tab in your Typepad account.) And Wordpress has widgets here. Another great resource for widgets is Widgetbox. Just don't go crazy when you get there. Also check out Beth's Blog to read about how she used a widget to raise $100,000 for charity and how to build a community of supporters using widgets.
So there you have it. Seth's (and my) suggestions for getting online for $60/year (or even for free!) and a few hours a month. Doesn't get much easier or cheaper than that!
UPDATES--Check out this article by Sean Carton "Seven Ways to Get the Most out of the Web on a Budget." Also, if you want to get a little fancier with your Typepad blog, check out this "hack," "How to Create a Landing Page." It will walk you through how to set it up so that the main info on your company is always on your "front page."