You have a mission, you have stories, you even have a donation flow, and you might even have a website but it is out-dated, and if it is not mobile, Google has punished it and pushed it out of sight in a search so your potential donors and volunteers can’t find you.
A well-designed, user-friendly website is vital to share your mission, reach new members, and raise money. But updating and maintaining this site affordably can be a financial challenge.
By the end of reading this nonprofit’s guide to an affordable website, you will understand the costs involved in setting up and running an up-to-date nonprofit website and learn shortcuts you can take to give your nonprofit a stronger yet affordable web presence.
First up, you’ll want your site to be a CMS (Content Management System) which allows you and your staff to edit with a Microsoft-Word-like panel. And, though there are a few CMS out there, hands down, in 2016, we and other experts recommend self-hosted WordPress as the least expensive way to design a site that serves up the strong search engine presence so important to a nonprofit. Avoid Joomla and Drupal as they will be too complicated for non-coders to handle. And avoid the free sites like Wix, Weebly and even WordPress.com if you want strong search engine results. These free sites cause search engine stumbles for many reasons, the strongest being limits in functionality and meta data.
So what is the cost of this new self-hosted WordPress site that is going to give your nonprofit a strong internet presence?
Let’s break down the elements that go into website which include WordPress, domain registration, hosting fees, themes, customization, add-on functionality such as email list collection, donation pay flow, and contact options, training and upkeep.
What is the Cost of WordPress?
Self-hosted WordPress software can be downloaded either directly from WordPress.org or via many web hosts. The software is powerful, highly customizable in design and functionality, and is, in fact, free.
WordPress cost: $0
What is the Cost of a Domain Name?
A domain name, the address of your website (ours, of course, is bethesdadesignweb.com), is vital to allow your nonprofit to have a professional look and allow visitors to respect your mission and to find your site online in a search. Domain names are available for registration from a domain name registrar. The cost to register a domain name is typical $12-$16 a year. We assume you already own your domain, if not, please be sure you are keeping tabs on when it might need a credit card update. Nonprofit web masters often inherit their role without knowing where the domain or website is hosted. Find your current domain and website host here. Need help? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for domain and hosting search assistance.
Domain cost: $12-$15 a year
What is the cost of Hosting?
Hosting costs vary widely but most WordPress owners with a smaller site and web budget are quite happy in Bluehost. If your current site is hosted elsewhere, it would be best flow to have the new redesign set up on your new Bluehost account, while the old site remains live. When the new site is ready, your designer would point your domain name away from the old site and to the new site – that is what it means to go live.
So what will your new hosting cost? If you do indeed choose Bluehost, hosting is shared and will cost you somewhere between $4 to $7 per month, less during various sales. Bluehost is an affordable host with excellent infrastructure and even better customer support which you’ll need hopefully only occasionally throughout the life of the site. If you believe your site may receive high visit volume, you might want to go with a more high end host dedicated to WordPress such as WPEngine.com. Pricing there starts at $29 per month
Hosting Cost: $50 to $400 annually
What is the cost of Your Design?
The smartest most affordable route to a custom design on WordPress is via a theme. The designer you hire would install a theme and customize it as little or as much as you want. However, it is important to not just use any theme for two reasons. One, there are many badly built themes for WordPress that can ultimately break or at least harm your search engine rank. (Google punishes bad code via search engine results). And, two, a theme that is not a child theme and coded with quality can easily break during the many WordPress core updates that come through each year, as often as weekly. For both these reasons, we recommend the child themes that operate off the Genesis family built by Studiopress.com. There are other themes and in fact other child theme vendors, but we prefer and use Genesis exclusively because of the quality of the code, the fast customer service, the easy update features of the themes and more.
One of our favorite themes to help nonprofits tell there story is Atmosphere Pro Theme. Visit the demo, even purchase and download. If you use this theme or another Genesis child theme on your new WordPress site, you will eventually be uploading the zip file from where you downloaded it on your computer. Just be sure you buy both Theme and Framework and download them both.
Theme Cost: Typically $99 for both Genesis and the Child Theme (Other vendors might range from $59 to $200, either one-time or annually)
Cost of Hiring a Website Designer to Customize your Theme
You must set up your own Bluehost account, and you can follow my DIY Web set up tutorial here to do that as well as install WordPress and your Genesis framework and child theme.
But then comes the need to customize the theme to fit your organization’s mission and content. You might have simple changes, such as logo upload, colors changes, and basic theme set up. Or you might have complex changes, including advanced functionality, inner core adjustments and donation payment flow integration. Either way, the site will need one-time set ups involving layout changes, permalinks, page formatting, server adjustments, high-quality imagery manipulation, meta data, SEO set up, cacheing, DNS settings adjustments, and back up systems, and other areas that only someone trained in web development should be tackling.
This is the point you need to hire a web developer or designer to get your design and site correctly adjusted so the site operates correctly. Costs for this theme set up, customization and content migration start around $1000 and rise depending on project needs. It’s a one-time cost if you do updates yourself moving forward, and well worth it to get your site set up correctly and be giving educated advice on your new online home.
Most design pros will estimate your project via a proposal with a 50% deposit required to proceed, and the final payment days before going live. To get an estimate, you would need to provide information such as the theme you chose, if you did the install, the URL to your current site, or – if you don’t have a site – the number of pages of content and functionality you need.
Be sure the proposal includes options for care of the site after going live. At Bethesda Design Web, we build into every project a firm one-hour training with a client or their appointed staffer or volunteer the day after going live in which we walk them through every aspect of their site, and follow up with a step by step document on how to do basics, such as update plugins, update text, swap pictures, and more. We also offer maintenance plans of various levels of care, but only half of our clients take those options, preferring to care for their site themselves. Here are three nonprofits who do their own updates based on our training: Girls on the Run, CPFE.org, and Elasevilla.org
Development Cost: $1000+ depending on project needs
Ready to Redesign your Nonprofit Website?
Now that you have a sense of costs, are you ready to move forward with your redesign? Again, we recommend our tutorial here if you want to proceed on your own to purchase your new Bluehost account, and install WordPress (Seriously easy, explained in the tutorial). Then contact us or another designer to go ahead with installing a Genesis theme, customizing it, perhaps migrating your content from your old site, and taking the site live by making your domain point to your new spiffy site, and away from the old site. Of course, you can just let us install WordPress as well. Request a detailed proposal from us either by emailing us here or submitting our free proposal form.
Annual Cost of Your WordPress Nonprofit Website in Summary
Most of the costs involved are in the set up of the site. Annual running of a WordPress site is actually quite affordable if the initial set up is correct and if someone is trained to run updates. The one-time costs include the theme, and professional set up and design work, and the annual ongoing costs are the domain, host and, if you so choose, maintenance subscriptions. Where expense comes in is when the site is not set up right, and things happen like crashes during donation campaigns, or poor performance in a Google search, or being hacked, a very costly experience. Final bit of advice, setting it up right the first time is key to long term cost-savings.