How to Evaluate Platforms that Provide Websites for Nonprofits
If your nonprofit group wants to create a website and has put you in charge of that effort, where do you start? If you’re like most people, you fire up your web browser and plug in some search terms, looking for alternatives you can compare through diligent research. Most of the options that float to the top of your search results come from paid ads. Further down the list, among the actual options that pop up, your quest begins. If you want to simplify the process of finding the right platform for your group, keep these essential elements in mind as you evaluate website platforms.
No setup fees
You’ll probably run across some options that don’t cost any money, but they come with severe limits on the features they include and the number of members your group can enroll through them. When you start to look beyond those “starter” site options, you quickly discover that many of the platforms that target nonprofits seem not to realize that most organizations such as yours probably don’t have unlimited resources to devote to site costs. Some of these providers charge setup fees that can range in the thousands of dollars—and it’s not immediately obvious that what you get in exchange for these fees makes these site platforms superior to other options. Ideally, you want to avoid large upfront costs and get your site going without a huge expense.
Comprehensive feature set
Like any product or service, website software comes with a wide range of feature sets. We’ve already mentioned the freebies and their minimal capabilities. As you probably can surmise, the free website tiers exist for one purpose: To entice organizations such as yours to sign up and then pay additional fees for access to more features.
When you investigate websites for nonprofits, you’ll see provider after provider enumerating long lists of features and capabilities. Before you fall in love with one of these offerings and sign up, however, verify that you’ll actually be able to access and use all of them, and confirm which are standard and which require additional costs to upgrade.
Up-to-date code and site appearance
The last thing you want in a brand-new website is an out-of-date code base that your provider cannot update readily to keep up with modern website features and security provisions. After all, your website becomes your online home, and you need to verify that the resources you add to your site are safe there. You also need to ensure that if you use your site as an online invoicing and payment resource, industry-standard security protects personally identifiable information and financial details from being intercepted. You also don’t want to invest in a website that looks like something you might’ve created a decade ago.
As you investigate websites for nonprofits, ask these providers how often they update their code, how flexibly you can design your website to reflect the spirit and personality of your organization, and, in general, how they plan to keep their platform in synch with current needs for security and design.
No web programming expertise required
Unless you’re a group of web programmers or someone in your organization volunteers to learn how to set up a site from scratch, you’re going to want to find a way to create your online property without extensive expertise. (Just a note about that volunteer who offers to learn: Website programming is complex stuff, especially if you want to build a site that can handle secure online payments, event reservations, member communication, and more—not really a learn-as-you-go subject.)
When you evaluate website providers for your nonprofit, make sure that you see the behind-the-scenes view and know exactly what’s involved in creating and customizing your site. What kind of administrative dashboard does the provider offer? Is it easy to set up organization features? Does the provider offer a platform that you’ll enjoy using? Don’t sign up with any provider unless and until you get answers to these and other questions about usability and the expertise level you’ll need to achieve successful results.
Easy-to-use site builder
Along with the ease of use behind the scenes and the features that a provider offers, you also need to know how readily you can build, customize, maintain, and add pages to your website through any of the platforms that you’re considering. Do they offer professionally designed templates that you can adjust, customize, and post to build your website? If you decide to delegate some aspects of site development to other people within your organization, will they be able to understand what to do, or will they be confused by needless complexity? For that matter, does the provider offer online help—for site development and behind-the-scenes feature setup—so you can walk yourself through steps and procedures? And what level of person-to-person support will you receive from their tech staff?
Communication with members is the lifeblood of every nonprofit organization. Your website should be a primary tool to facilitate that communication. As you evaluate where to develop your website, investigate whether each individual platform you’re researching enables you to conduct member communication securely among members who must log in to post or read messages. Find out whether these platforms include built-in text messaging—and the ability for members to opt out of receiving texts.
Do your due diligence the easy way
As website software providers for nonprofits ourselves, we think the best way to answer all these questions and research all these essential comparisons among platforms is through a software trial that enables you to see what they’re really like from behind the scenes. How else are you going to decide whether the features fit your needs, the implementation of those features works well for your expectations, your members like the look and feel of the site you develop, and the privacy protections suit your expectations? That’s why we at Membershine offer you a completely free 30-day trial period.
When you sign up for our free trial, you won’t even need to provide credit card details. Set up your nonprofit website on our platform, experiment with our features, see what your members think, and make up your mind on the basis of real-world experience with our software. We’re convinced that our combination of broad standard feature set, modern code, professional design resources, responsive platform, extensive help system and expert support, sensible pricing, and commitment to continuous development will convince you that your organization needs a Membershine website.