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Website mentors: offering free guidance for not-for-profit organisations to set up their own website

An effective website is now a "must have" for not-for-profit organisations

Increasingly, not-for-profit (NFP) organisations are realising that having a website is no longer optional: if you don't have one, your ability to link with the world is limited. It will become more limited as the pace of the electronic revolution increases.

But many associations and other NFP groups encounter difficulties in having a website:

• the high cost of having a professional build one for you

• the cost and other difficulties in keeping the website up to date when someone else has control of it

• the "image problem" that often results from handing the job to an amateur

• the great complexity of organising and configuring your website settings the first time around.

The concept behind our mentoring

You've heard of the old saying: if you give me a fish I will not starve today; if you help me to fish I will not starve while you remain with me; but if you teach me to fish I will be self-sufficient.

The same concept applies to our NFP website mentoring.

This is a free service that helps NFP organisations to acquire the key knowledge and expertise they need to build and maintain their own simple website.

It is a pro bono activity of The Strategists, a consortium of management consultants. We do this to help build a more lively community.

We are not affiliated with any other business or body in providing this service.

The good news

There may be bad news about not having a website but there's plenty of good news about recent developments:

• Costs have plummeted in recent times: for example, the annual cost of a domain name (the personalised bit that comes after "www") used to be well over a hundred dollars a year, but is now about $11 per year.

• Costs for an ISP (Internet service provider) to host (i.e., look after) the domain are far less than they used to be: plans with minimum-overhead ISPs that are suitable for NFPs are now only $4 a month.

• Software to build an efficient website suitable for NFPs has become much easier to use, with much better built-in graphic design.

• Its cost is less than one-fifth the cost of the software that most website design businesses use.

• Perhaps most importantly for DIY, the "learning curve" for this software is a tiny fraction of what's needed to learn the "professional" software .

What we provide

This is what we normally do:

• We give you step-by-step guidance on how to obtain a domain name (on the telephone while you do it).

• Similarly we give you step-by-step guidance on signing sign up with a suitable domain-hosting service.

• We configure your website (ftp and password) settings for you and provide notes on what they are and what they mean, for your records.

• We advise you on which of several web design software packages could suit you.

• If you choose the software that we're familiar with (more on this in a moment):

– we present you with some sample designs to choose from (the one you’re viewing now is one of the less formal designs)

– after you have made your choice, we set up the structure of a very basic initial site for you, and show you how we did it so that you can take over and expand it

– we recommend appropriate video tutorials and/or e-books that will make it easy for you to become proficient with this fairly simple but effective software.

This usually takes you and us about three hours of time.

Website management workflow

Typically your organisation will incur:

• $11 a year for a domain name

• $4 a month for hosting (for as long as you operate the website or change to another Internet service provider)

• one-off costs of about $100 for the software and either $8 or $25 for an e-book manual for the software

• if you prefer learning by video tutorial, $20 for a month's subscription.

What’s the catch?

None really – our advice package comes free, and there are no hidden "up the sleeve" costs – in fact no costs at all from us. The costs above are with third parties, chosen for their appropriateness to your needs, who are not associated with us.

But there are some provisos:

• Taking the "fishing" scenario we mentioned at the beginning, we "teach the basics of fishing" but are not on call to help you to develop better fishing rods or lures! More literally: after the initial guidance we will not provide you with a Help Desk service – we simply can't afford the time. However, we will put you in touch with online forums where you can ask questions of experts – the particular forums we use are pretty good – but the responsibility to acquire the knowledge to be self-sufficient must be yours. This project does not require any previous knowledge of website building software, but you will need to have more than a casual approach so as to make maximum use of the advice we'll provide, and to quickly take charge of what will be an interesting and pleasant journey.

• We have expertise with choosing and buying a domain name and getting it hosted inexpensively. That's available regardless. However, our in-depth expertise is confined to:

– RapidWeaver™ software

– which only runs on Macintosh™ computers.

Why don't we offer this service for PCs running Windows™? Because we are not operating this service as a business. We've been using Macs for 25 years and don't feel like taking on the traumas of running Windows™. We have lots of other things to upset us without that....

But don't despair if you don't own a Mac: you only need occasional access to one. Someone in your NFP organisation may own one. A neighbour. Work colleagues. Maybe relatives – especially younger people.

But if all that fails, consider buying a Mac (we don't own Apple shares either). A brand new desktop model (iMac) now costs only $1300 – which is about the cost of a professionally built bespoke website before the bills come in for modifying and updating. The Mac would then be available for use in support of other things in your organisation.

In a nutshell

We believe we can maximise our contribution to the community by passing on the things we know: how to get a domain hosted cheaply, how to build a reasonably simple website that looks good, and how to acquire the knowledge needed, up to the level chosen by you.

Beyond this assistance, if we were to operate a Help Desk we would not be spending our limited time well – especially when really good help is available on RapidWeaver discussion forums. So our mentoring ends as soon as you understand how the basic website was built and have the resources to obtain further advice from the various sources available. You’ll find it especially easy to update or amend photos and text on your website.

We will have armed you (and perhaps another person with you, because having another "trained up" person makes sense) with the information that you need to be empowered. You’ll be “fishing” self-sufficiently.

One final thing

Actually there is one “sort of” catch. It arises because it's central to human nature not to value something you haven't paid for. We have seen this time and again from NFPs that we have helped as consultants.

So your payment, when we hand the tentative website design to you, is $50 to one of several charities we support. Direct to them; not to us.

What could be fairer?

Next steps

• Discuss this with your committee?

• Acquire the use of a Mac.

• If it's decided to go ahead, contact us and tell us why you need our support. There may be a waiting list, depending on demand and our availability.

– The team at The Strategists