Ask Nancy: Our Org Wants to Launch a Web Site w/o Much $, Time or Expertise. Where Do We Start?

Ask Nancy Our Org Wants to Launch a Web Site wo Much Time or Expertise. Where Do We Start
Dear Nancy,

I am a member of a small non-profit organization for the deaf, and we're now embarking on building our first-ever Web site.

With tight funding, few available hours and little expertise, where's the best place to start?

We're looking for a launch pad that doesn't require too much of an initial outlay but is designed to evolve as does our understanding, needs, content and expertise. It would also be nice if the web can be easily modified by our members to post various events.

Thank you,
Bill Dukarski
GGRAD/HH (Greater Grand Rapids Association of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing)


Dear Bill,

First of all, let me commend you for your realism and focus. You know what you need now, and what your organization can invest. That understanding is THE critical first step!

Your challenge is avoiding a static, unchanging, old-fashioned site for your organization when there are these significant limitations on your time, effort, and/or expertise generally required to create and maintain a dynamic site. You'll need a set up that is easy to build, launch and provides some support — all at a reasonable cost.

I'm happy to say I have a clear recommendation for you — Nonprofit Soapbox. Soapbox is a content management system (CMS, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get content editing tool) that will enable GGRAD/HH to build and grow an engaging, dynamic site without the headache. In fact, anyone who can use Microsoft Word can create and run a web site.

What's great is that the Soapbox folks are expert in working with orgs tight on time, budget and know-how. And they've set up a process that works for them, and for their clients. If you end up needing more help, let's say in strategy or graphic design, you can purchase those services on an as-needed basis at a reasonable cost.

So get in touch with Nonprofit Soapbox, Bill. Then please email me and let me know how it goes. I'll share your experience with Getting Attention readers facing the same challenges.

All the best,

P.S. The right messaging is critical to the success of every nonprofit Web site! Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don't dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz on March 18, 2009 in 08NTC, Ask Nancy, High-Impact Websites, Nonprofit Communications, Recommended Resources | 10 comments
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  • Thank you for the kind words, Nancy. We built Non-Profit Soapbox after our 6 years of experience watching one organization after another reinvent the wheel. By providing high-quality, open source based Web site management tools, we hope to focus on the empowerment of organizations during these difficult times.
    We build bridges from Soapbox to a variety of other tools that provide added value for organizations. These include a variety of CRM tools (such as Democracy in Action,, photo and image services (like Flickr and YouTube), and more.
    Even better, when organizations are able to turn the financial corner, it’s easy for us to scale up their Web site to meet new demands and challenges.
    In a time when it’s critical to lower barriers to donations and messaging to donors, we hope we’re doing our part to help organizations stand up tall without breaking the bank.

  • Marie

    I haven’t used Non Profit Soap Box and can not say how their service is, but when I first looked into them, I saw that being a new start up Non Profit without steady funds coming in, I could not afford their prices.
    I searced for a long time and finally found
    I was very unsure of them. No phone number to contact them with only email.
    I emailed them a few questions, started my 10 day trial on a Saturday Morning very early.
    I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised. I have not had any trouble and anyone that knows any Microsoft applications can make a wonderful website for only $25.00 a month. If you pay for a year at a time, it is around 20.00 a month – no high set up fee. I change content when I want to and can get to it from any computer.
    Will this platform always meet my needs? I don’t know, but for now, $25.00 a month is the best way to go for our organization.
    I’m not sure how much funding the person that wrote to you has, but several grand to get set up seems mighty high to me.
    Thanks for all of your wonderful articles – but I felt that I needed to share my own experience when I saw this one.

  • K Landon

    I can’t comment at all on the service provided by Soapbox, but that is rather expensive for the truly small non-profit.
    For a $4500 investment ((or much less — find a student!), a small non-profit could hire someone to set them up on WordPress (including a customized design), and thereafter the monthly fees involved would simply be the hosting and domain name (easily under $30 annually!).
    See, for instance Web Sites – You Don’t Have to be an Expert (

  • WordPress is an excellent choice for nonprofits too. With lots of online help and free themes, you can get started with a minimal investment of $$. It is open source (free), easy to use and expandable. Look for free nonprofit hosting too. I believe Dreamhost has this

  • I agree with K on this one… I’m sure Non-Profit Soapbox is a wonderful resource for some larger non-profits, but I agree that $4,500 for a custom design plus $50 a month in fees is out of reach for many of the small, local non-profits that I work with. North Carolina (where I am based) has a great non-profit resource organization ( and Tech Soup also has a service directory to help you find designers who work with non-profits:

  • Use a free WordPress blog but make sure it is hosted on YOUR service, not the WP server.
    There’s no reason you have to invest several thousand dollars.

  • I work as an admin for 4 different non-profits in the SF Bay Area and $4,500 is FAR more than any of them have to spend on website launch/design/re-design, etc. I suspect that if the original asker had that much in funding for website work, they wouldn’t have written in asking for suggestions!
    I agree with the previous posters – if you absolutely can’t do it yourself, look for a student in a web-related class – one of my orgs got a fantastic website built by a student who did it as their final exam for an PHP/Java class they were taking at the local Extension Center. Most students (even adult ones at Extension Centers) can use some extra money, and are happy with what you can afford. You can also scan “Services Offered – Web” on Craigslist or post what you’re looking for on Craigslist and you’re bound to get some decent replies at much more reasonable prices. But be very clear up front: We have only $X to spend and we need to have something that does X, Y, and Z as the finished product.
    But really, I recommend to all my people, take some time and look at some of the do-it-yourself ones. It’s really great to know that you can do it, you (and others on your team if they learn too) will have acquired new resume-worthy skills and your org will not be dependent upon someone else if you want to change/modify/revamp your site later (which, if someone else does it, then moves or isn’t responsive, can be like having your website held hostage.)
    Good luck!

  • I recommend Through them I developed a free website by using The people at grassroots and doodlekit are great and offer help if you need it.
    Check it out!

  • Johanna

    I think I can sort of sum this up a bit. There is a difference between wanting a web presence and planning for a longer-term web strategy that involves more complicated tools for donation, user data management, and advocacy.
    If you are looking to really just to have a basic web presence–some pages, a basic blog–and you are in a tiny org with no funding, then WordPress (on DreamHost–excellent suggestion; I run sites using WP/DH myself) is a fine choice.
    If your org is at a place where it wants to think about more than just a web presence/basic blog–if you think you will want to collect online donations and data about donors, and you think you might want to use advocacy tools on the web, then even the Dreamhost/”free” WordPress combo will start to cost you–in time and expertise.
    If you’ve got a tech-inclined person on staff who has the time to learn how to build WordPress out to do more when you’re ready, great! Go for it. If not, then when you want to do more, it will be much harder than if you were using a service like SoapBox.
    SoapBox is extremely cheap for the more sophisticated tools (that are easy for you to use, and supported if you get stuck) it offers. But if you don’t want to use those tools, then you can choose a simpler, cheaper path. But generally you cannot have both.

  • Nancy,
    As you know, another great resource for vetting nonprofit software is

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