DIY Website on a Shoestring

Building a website requires a range of knowledge and skills. You need an eye for design to make your website look professional and respectable, as well as the technical chops to turn that artistic vision into a usable theme. You need the experience or the sense of adventure to install the software that supports your website (a Content Management System, or CMS) on the server. And if you need particular functionality for your site that isn’t available out-of-the-box—such as a directory of local schools or a community forum, for example—you’ll need an understanding of the underlying code of your CMS to create it. It’s no wonder the majority of nonprofits need to hire designers and developers to get a new site up and running. Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap project.

For a nonprofit with a shoestring budget and a sense of adventure, however, there are a number of options for setting up a new site yourself.

For the most adventurous organizations, there’s always the possibility of setting up a simple site using an open source CMS—such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, or Plone. These platforms are free to acquire, and with robust online communities of users and developers, there are plenty of community-contributed themes and add-on modules that will allow you to set up the site with minimal knowledge of HTML, PHP, or other languages needed for coding a website. Many web hosting providers already provide one-click installations of these programs. (Want to learn more about open source content management systems? Download our report for free!)

If you’re short on time, or can’t afford to have a staff member take ownership of learning and maintaining the platform, you have another option: one of several low-cost, online tools for quickly setting up simple websites.

Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace are popular platforms that let non-technical users quickly create a simple website by selecting a pre-made template and adding content through a drag-and-drop interface. Depending on which platform you use, there may also be a small marketplace for add-ons, which could add support for event registration or online payments.

A happy medium between these two options is to use a hosted version of an open source CMS. Two of the most popular include and These tools provide a simplified, free or low-cost version of the full CMS designed to support blogs or basic sites with pre-built templates and a limited selection of add-on modules.

All of these tools tend to have polished, straightforward interfaces for creating and editing content, and offer a large amount of pre-packaged graphical themes or templates that can be modified through a nontechnical “What You See Is What You Get,” or WYSIWYG, interface. For a small monthly cost—typically $30 per month or less—these tools can be hosted and managed by a vendor, meaning you don’t need to worry about reviewing and installing upgrades or finding a hosting provider.

However, these tools sacrifice more advanced or technical functionality for the sake of a simplified user experience. If you need to manage multiple users and workflow settings, integrate your site with constituent data, or create custom content types or stylesheets, these lightweight tools won’t meet your needs. It’s also much harder to migrate site content out of these tools than a fully featured CMS—meaning that if you need more advanced features down the road you’ll need to start from scratch again on a new platform. If you expect to grow out of this simple website soon, or think you’ll need more advanced functionality in the near future, you might benefit from starting out on a fully featured CMS now and bring in consultants down the road to help you expand it.

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