If you need a website for your non-profit organization and don’t know how to get started, this article is for you! It will walk you through each step from setting up your domain name to processing donations online.
Step 1: Register Your Domain Name
A domain name is your address on the web. It is the last two (sometimes more) words in a website or email address. Sumac’s domain name, for example, is “sumac.com”. It is important to register your domain name as soon as possible, as you might find that the one you want is taken.
When choosing a domain name, be sure to choose one that is simple and reflects your non-profit. So, for example, if your organization is called “Save the Penguins,” you might want to choose something like “savethepenguins.com” or “stp.com.” Alternatively, you could go with a .org or a suffix specific to your country (e.g. .ca in Canada, .au in Australia) web address.
In order to ensure that no two people try to use the same domain name, there are domain registrars – companies that keep track of domains that have been registered and make sure no one else uses them. There are hundreds of domain registrars to choose from: register.com, internic.ca, Namecheap, Domainsatcost.ca and tucows just to name a few. In order to tell if your chosen domain name is taken, visit the registrar’s website and type in the domain name. If it’s available, you can register it for about $10-15 per year. This means that you will be the owner of this domain name and no one else can use it.
Step 2: Pick a Web Host
A web host stores the website you create and transmits it to the Internet, so when someone types in your domain name, your website appears. In some cases, the domain registrar will also offer web hosting. If not, there are hundreds of web hosting organizations to choose from. A couple of examples: Acornhost and Canadian Web Hosting. Both offer web hosting to non-profits for $3.95 a month.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a web host should be the quality of support. You want to choose a web host that has excellent support, so that if you are having a problem with your website, you can call them up and sort it out right away.
Step 3: Create Your Website
If you are building your first website, you may want to use the website building software that comes with your domain registrar or web hosting company. It will be easy to set up for beginners and relatively inexpensive. Another good place to start may be the iWeb program, which comes with Macintosh computers, and allows you to choose and customize many templates to build your website.
Later on you might decide to buy stand alone website builder software or hire someone to make a custom website for you. Creation of a website entails two distinct types of skills: design and development. A designer deals with colour, layout, and the general flow and function of the website. A developer turns the designs into working web pages. Sometimes the same skills can be found in one person or organization, sometimes you will need two. If you have a tight budget, you may want to consider employing the help of Charityfocus.org which leverages volunteers to work with small non-profit organizations to build custom web-solutions.
For help designing a website that is user-friendly and attracts big donors, see: How to Impress the Wired Wealthy and Capitalize on the Rise in Online Giving. You can also find some good design tips and examples of great nonprofit websites here.
Step 4: Choose a Method to Accept Donations
Once you have your website up and running, you’ll want to start accepting donations online. In most cases, non-profits just starting out will opt for using a third party processor to process donations because it is the most convenient solution. In a few minutes you can have a “donate now” button on your website and your donation page up and running. For a comparison of third party processors, check out: Weighing Your Options for Processing Donations Online.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind setting up your own payment page, you may want consider using a software with payment processing that is built-in and connected to your database. In the end you will save time on data entry and money since you don’t need to pay a third party.