Repost: Written by me, originally published on TechnologyWorks.org
Note: This information is presented here for my portfolio. It was entirely relevant in 2002, but it is not entirely relevant today.
These are scenarios of developing and maintaining a website that are common to small- and medium-sized nonprofit organizations.
This is an all-too-common model for a nonprofit Website. Often the organization is left with no way to contact the volunteer, and no information or authority to regain control of their Website or their Internet domain. Meanwhile, the information on the site is out of date, and they have no way of updating it. Recovering from this scenario often takes some detective work, patience, hardball tactics and/or groveling.
The In-house Geek typically manages a static Website, and uses some kind of Web publishing software such as Microsoft FrontPage, or Macromedia Dreamweaver. However, the In-house Geek may be also manage the site through some of the content management solutions described below. If an In-house Geek does not document the how the site is accessed, structured and maintained, you may be left in a scenario no better than the Vanished Volunteer.
Part Time — Imposition vs. Extension
Often a nonprofit has a staff member who stands out from the others in his or her competence with computers. And often this staff member gets the honor of developing and maintaining the organization’s Website – or gets stuck with it, depending on their perspective. This is common scenario works best when the purpose of the Website is well defined, and it is an extension of the staff member’s job description. When it’s an imposition on the staff member, or it’s their unrelated “occupational hobby” the organization can end up getting either less out of their Website, or less out of the employee.
Occasionally a nonprofit will hire a full time employee to manage their Website. Sometimes the employee will even know how to manage a Website. Unless the nonprofit defines itself as a Web-based organization, this scenario can end up being high cost, and with little benefit.
Not knowing where else to turn, many nonprofits have, not surprisingly, turned to professional Web developers or designers. This scenario yield a very professional looking site, but the manager of the site is still the gatekeeper (bottleneck) to changes and updates. If an organization makes frequent updates, it can cost more over the course of a year than the cost of implementing a Content Management System.
This may seem like a great deal, but the manager still ends up as the bottleneck, and can easily turn into a “Vanished Volunteer.” If you have access to a pro bono Web developer or designer, a better use may be to have him or her help with the customization or design of a Content Management solution – or with the training of an In-house Geek.
Content Management is a complex topic that covers the infinite variety of ways content gets created and then published to the Web – and what happens to it along the way. Here we are referring very generally to solutions that allow nonprofit staff to manage part or all for the organization’s Website using a Web browser – as opposed to having to buy, learn, and use special software.
Depending on which registrar you used to register your Internet domain(s), you may have available to you tools to create, manage, and host an inexpensive, easy-to-use, and professional-looking Website. These tend to be static sites with a limited number of pages, but require no special software or training to implement. You will have a variety of layout options and color schemes to choose from.
An Application Service Provider (ASP) can provide a specific feature to your site, such as a search engine, or you can turn over your entire site to an ASP with many pre-built, integrated features. The “Registrar Special” is the simplest form of a site run on rented ASP technology.
Free/Low-cost Web application
There are several free and low-cost Web applications that will run a Website. These vary in the features that they offer, ease of installation, and ease of customization. Most nonprofits will need to hire some expertise in order to install and configure these applications on a Web host. Once it is installed, however, you only pay for the hosting and modifications.
Commercial Web application
Commercial Web applications are similar to the free and low-cost applications, however they may be backed by technical support from the company that developed the application. In some cases, the Web hosting requirements may be more expensive. The industrial-strength models can be extremely expensive, and are only appropriate for organizations that are extensive Web publishers, and have a high volume of Web traffic.
Built from scratch
An organization that builds a Website with a content management system from scratch has either done a ton of research, or none at all. With so many products available, the only reason for starting from scratch would have to be that none of the existing solutions provides enough of the needed features, that modifying an existing product would be more costly. Even in this scenario, there are content management platforms that would preclude having to reinvent all the tools as well as the wheel.