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Tallpath is a service of the Media Futures Institute, with over 20 years experience working with nonprofit and publishing organizations.
Even the smallest non-profit organization, agency or association can benefit from having a well planned website that serves its basic communication and programmatic needs. The best reason for a web presence is the awesome potential for reducing costs and efforts and/or increasing effectiveness.
On the most simple level, a website can function as an online brochure that provides an overview of the mission of the organization and it's services to interested individuals. It can also provide information on volunteering opportunities, events and fundraisers. This can help alleviate staff of the task of making such frequent explanations by phone or taking time to mail out similarly related print materials.
The site can also provide links to related organizations and local resources, and in turn ask to receive similar online referrals from those organizations' websites.
Interested parties who visit the website can choose to follow up either by phone or via an email response form on the website that is automatically directed to the appropriate staff person.
Starting Simple and Planning to Grow
With proper planning, an organization can phase in new components to a website that were traditionally handled by printing and postal mailings. Sites can be planned to supplement and/or replace traditional communication tasks.
Signup forms (sometime called guestbooks) enable individuals to add their name and address to your mailing list (this may start out as an addition to your traditional postal mailings and later transition to email communications via an organizational listserve).
An organization's newsletter and other printed materials can also be provided online, making available an unlimited number of copies with no postage costs attached. Electronic documents can easily be saved as Portable Document Format (PDF) files which include all the photos and typography in a layout identical to the original printed piece. Individuals downloading these files have the option of reading the material on screen or printing copies.
Frequently requested documents or forms can be placed on the web. Forms may either be printed, filled out and mailed back or handled electronically via email. Electronic forms can be designed to import into an organization's existing database or to update a searchable online database designed especially for such purposes.
An organization that frequently sells resources (books, tapes, videos, etc) can create an electronic storefront that enables users to purchase these materials online with their credit cards. The purchase order is then forwarded via email to the appropriate staff person to complete the order.
The Parts and the Process
There are several steps and components that are necessary for getting online and creating an organizational website.
1. Planning and Design
The first step in creating a successful web presense is deciding what you want to achieve and assembling the materials you need. If it's a simple site like a brochure, it's just a matter of some text and photos. You then need to make sure the text is on your computer in it's final form (get someone to proofread it), ready to go to the web designer. Photos should either accompany the text in the same digital folder (presuming they're digital) on be in a envelope, neatly labelled. The more organized you are in advance, the less time and effort will be involved in getting your site designed and up.
The best way to organize things is to think of your website as a binder with a bunch of tabbed sections. Each section covers a different topic: mission and mandate, activities and projects, staff and board, volunteers, events, resources and links, contact information. You want to have each section have different visual as well as written elements on the page, so it's good to hunt up elements that you can use that are appropriate to your organization. Pictures with people in them always work best. Diagrams, charts and other visual representations of information can also be effective in some sections. Make sure you own or have the rights to everything you want to use.
Design is the next step (or re-designing in the case of an existing site), which means:
creating icons and other decorative elements, and a logo (or modifying an existing one);
making decisions about colors, and overall look and feel
formatting text information for maximum readability and legibility
determining a navigation scheme to allow visitors to move between pages
deciding how to best organize the information based on the expected audience and their information needs
choosing and formatting appropriate images
setting up forms for gathering information from visitors
writing the code necessary to display the information as a website.
Typically this is the task of a specialized web designer working closely with the appropriate staff to problem solve the communication issues involved. A well thought out, carefully planned and executed website of 10 to 20 pages will typically require 20-30 hours to complete, and most good web designers bill out at $75 per hour.
Blatent plug: Tallpath provides web design services to nonprofits and publishers for between $400-800 (depending on the complexity of the website), and would welcome the opportunity to discuss your website project and show you some of our completed websites.
Take the time to consider the overall design ahead of time and to collect the necessary source materials in advance (texts, pictures, etc.). Having a clear idea of content and organization beforehand can reduce the time spent on unnecessary design costs, and the designer can focus on the visual and navigation issues.
2. Registering Your Domain Name
Creating a web address or domain name links your own personal address to the physical location of your website. Our web address is "http://www.tallpath.com" (what this means when you type that address into your browser and hit enter is (in reverse order): there is a commercial (.c0m) website by the name of tallpath that is on a world wide web (//www.) server, which you can access using the hypertext transfer protocol (http:) - go there now. Since we registered this name, whenever anyone types this address in their web browser, they are sent to the computer in Kelowna that physically stores our web site. Domain extensions besides .com (commercial - the most common and popular) available include .net (network), .org (organization), and .ca (Canadian). More and more, nonprofits prefer the .org or (when Canadian) the .ca designations.
If your server is configured correctly, you can drop the www. - leaving just http://tallpath.com - and achieve the same result because your browser and the internet presumes you're a website. Additionally, you can set up subdomains for special projects or products and refer to them directly in your address. For example, if you have a directory of services which is commonly used you can have this as it's address: http://directory.tallpath.com.
It is easiest to have an Hosting Provider already selected before registering a domain name, but if you are concerned that someone else may grab your domain name before you, do it first and then come back and add the DNS information that your Hosting Provider will give you.
Registering a domain name costs $10 to $20 a year, and because it is a competitive business prices have been falling year over year. We recommend shopping around for the best price. Multiple-year registrations further lower the price.
Once you have your domain name registered, and as long as you renew it when it comes up, it is yours no matter if you change service provider or hosting provider.
3. Internet Service Provider (ISP)
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) sells you a connection to the Internet -- such as a dial-up connection using a modem and a phone line or higher speed DSL through your phone lines, or through your cable line. They may also offer web and email accounts, but generally you are better off using a Hosting Provider (see below) for that and use the ISP for physical connection of your office computers to the Internet.
Ask around to find out who has the best - most reliable - service at the best price. If you plan on spending a lot of time using the Internet, get a high-speed, always-on service like DSL or cable, rather than dialup.
Costs associated with Internet connection vary with the provider, and the faster the connection, the more it will cost. A high-speed cable connection, for example, will cost approximately $30/month if all your computers share the same connection. There are additional charges for setting up the connection, and for whatever modem is required.
4. Web/Email Hosting Provider
A Web/Email Hosting Provider operates a host computer (also called a web server) which is connected to the Internet at a very high speed, with plenty of bandwidth. They host your Website and email addresses so they are constantly available to the public and you. Web servers are computers that have a permanent and fast connection to the Internet and are usually staffed around the clock to make sure they are functioning properly at all times. Tallpath has web and email servers in Kelowna and Pittsburgh PA, and depending on your needs will house your website in one of those locations.
Costs associated with hosting a website can run between $5 and $100 a month depending on the anticipated file storage needs and special access to programs or files (i.e. database hosting, media streaming, etc.). Tallpath charges a flat-rate of $49.95/year which includes a variety of software and services, unlimited bandwidth and storage, and always-on service. Further details are availabe on this website.
5. Maintaining Your Website
Once your website is up, you are going to want to start making changes and updates to the current pages, and adding new pages. It is important to identify who in your organization will be responsible for making these updates and allocate the resources appropriately. We recommend developing staff capacity for keeping your website evolving.
The advantage of keeping this work on staff is that changes can always be made in a timely fashion, simple mistakes or typos can be easily corrected, and, most importantly, the web site can more easily become an integral part of the organization rather than an after-thought. We have developed a number of tools to make this process as simple as possible.
Email Update allows you to email changes to the server and they are inserted after being scanned and verified. It's not instant, but it's very effective for those who do not want to learn scripting or coding. You can add new pages using Email Update, but it is difficult to add new pictures without incurring some costs from a web designer.
Live Update is designed for slightly more technical users, and is done through a web browser. While some knowledge of html is required to operate the program, it nonetheless greatly simplifies the process of making changes to the point where most people who are comfortable using the Web and are willing to learn are capable of being trained to edit their own web pages. By using this system, your organization would not have to rely on technically-oriented volunteers or outside web designers with sufficient skills, but would be able to make your own changes as you need them.
5. Online Outreach
Email has proven is an ideal medium of communications for organizations. It is immediate, powerful, and cheap. Many people are in the habit of checking their email regularly, so notices of events, meetingz, new resources, etc. are easy to send out on a regular basis to keep your audience informed of your activities. We recommend spending the time to maintain good membership and supporter records in a database, and use mailmerge programs to conduct regular email campaigns.
In any and all email communications we recommend that you keep it short, include a number of links to individual web pages on your site or to a newsletter page on your site, rather than making the message too long with text. Have a permanent "signature" at the bottom showing your complete contact details and one-sentence version of your mission statement. Encourage people to forward your messages to others. Avoid attachments as much as possible, and test your emails regularly on a number of machines not in your office to make sure they are coming through as you intended. Use a clean machine to do larger mailings, to avoid sending viruses - and check your machines regularly for them.
The more often you are in touch with your membership and supporters, the more likely they will appreciate your good work. Make your email messages regular (same day each week), interesting and informative, include quotes and short testimonials, headings and bullet points, and links.
An email-based group discussion list (also known as a listserv) allows many people with the same interest to easily communicate with one another via email. Once the discussion list is set up, anyone can 'subscribe' to the list for free by sending a subscribe request to the discussion list email address. Then, anytime a message is sent to the listserve address, it is automatically sent to everyone else who is subscribed. Anyone who is subscribed can participate by sending and receiving messages.
An additional feature enables all email messages sent to the list to be archived on your website, so that anyone interested in looking over the ongoing discussion would be able to do so by visiting your site. Furthermore, a permanent record of the discussion would always be available. This can be a useful part of an organizational web site and requires no maintenance. If your audience is comfortable with email an is communicative, this may prove an effective loyalty-building too.
Typically for non-profit organziations and associations, the Web is best used as a publishing medium (one to many), or an online resource center (many to one), rather than an interactive communications medium (many to many).
Web based bulletin boards and chat rooms, on the other hand, require a user to make a special trip to the particular website in order to participate. It is difficult to develop a habit of visiting a new web site regularly among people who may not have convenient access, if they only have access at work, or are very busy.
6. Resource Directory
Information and referral are a key area where nonprofits can serve their communities. People need effective access to the best and most current information on services available directly from the organization, and in the greater community. Creating such resources is not a trivial task.
In many cases, organizations have had steep learning curves to climb when conceiving and implementing such sophisticated web projects. Careful analysis is first needed to determine how online community information systems can best fit into the larger pictures of an organization's other programs and goals - and also work in harmony with staffing and volunteer resources. Systems analysis, and technology and communications strategic planning are key components of such projects and special expertise is required.
7. Credit Card Transactions
If your organization wants to accept credit card donations or publication payments over the web, then you have two options: Paypal or expensive. Tallpath has experience with both options, and we will provide that information as required.
Down the Road
As technology progresses and offers increasing opportunities for online service delivery, personalized service, data-sharing and data-security, new services are more dynamic and useful than ever. This is especially aided by organizations with savvy staff, whose growing knowledge and expectations for technology's role powerfully leads to improved project results. Tallpath is ever enticed to pursue projects that uncover new capabilities that transform organizations and the people who are served.
Some of the recent trends in online work for nonprofits are towards bettering the knowledge-sharing capabilities for all users of our systems and providing effective methods for online collaboration and community development. Tallpath envisions a world where the solutions found to a problem in one place will flow as a matter of course to all places where that problem exists so that communities improve one another naturally.
Tallpath Technical Infrastructure for Nonprofits
We use the following open source software to power our web and email hosting services for nonprofits and publishers: FreeBSD, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, OpenSSH, Postfix, Sympa, Sendmail, MailScanner, SpamAssassin, Clam AntiVirus, BIND, Proftpd, PHP, mod_ssl, OpenSSL, OpenWebmail, MHonArc.
Terms of Service for Nonprofits
Tallpath makes no service guarantees, but we believe our
limitations are comparable to those of corporate hosting services. All
systems are supported by long-term uninterruptible power supplies and
generator backup that protect against electrical power failure; however,
these systems could fail, resulting in service disruption. Server
duplication provides redundancy for some services; still, data lines and electronics are not perfectly reliable,
and network or component failure could result in service disruption. We
secure our servers carefully, but denial-of-service and other attacks could
result in service disruption.
Mission-critical applications that require near-perfect availability and cannot sustain 1% downtime should not be hosted at Tallpath. Based on almost 10 years of experience, we expect at least 99% uptime for each service over every calendar month. Servers are backed up daily and monitored during PST business hours.
In consideration for your use of Tallpath services, you agree not to: distribute, send or cause to
send any unsolicited bulk email using Tallpath systems; violate any local,
state, national or international law, except in the context of thoughtful,
nonviolent civil disobedience; infringe the rights of any third
party, including but not limited to intellectual property rights and privacy
or publicity rights; interfere with or disrupt
Tallpath services, those of our users or any other person or service,
including but not limited to hacking, portscanning, banner checking or other
invasive investigation of machines; make excessive use of
Tallpath services, including but not limited to network bandwidth and
computer system resources; violate or cause Tallpath
to violate the terms of our upstream providers' Acceptable Use Policies.
All Tallpath hosting is at-will and may be revoked at any time for
violation of these agreements, for any other reason or for no reason, though
this has never happened and we hope it never needs to.
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