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How To Set Up A Free Non Profit Website

Whether your charity already has a website that you’re paying for or you’re planning one, here’s how to take advantage of your nonprofit status and get everything you need for free.

I’m going to outline here how to establish a quality and functional web presence. Or how to get your nonprofit online for free. I’ll be going deeper into a number of the free services I’ve included in my free resources for nonprofits page.

Free Web hosting – Your Website
In order to set up your website you need a web host. A web host is the company that runs the computers that hold all your website data on them and connect it to the internet. I recommend a company called Dreamhost. They give a free full featured hosting account and one domain name to 501c3 nonprofits.

Start by reading their how to sign up page and then go to their sign up page and sign up for a Hosting account. There is only one hoop you have to jump through – fax a copy of your 501c3 status to them. And then your quickly, usually a day or two, up and running with your free web hosting forever.

Free Domain Name
As you sign up you will be faced with your first tough decision. What to use as your domain name.
Your domain name is sort of like your street address but it guides people to your website instead of a physical building.

You can use whatever fits for your organization as long as it’s not already in use. Start by checking if your organizations name is available, if it’s not try some variations, add your city name at the end, consider abbreviations.

If your organizations name is short and available get it! If it’s long and cumbersome you should consider some sort of abbreviation. Try to keep it short. Shorter domain names are easier to type and easier to remember. You can have a .com .net or .org domain name. .com is the most popular and .org is most common for organizations. Dreamhost gives you one free, but for another $10 per year you can pick up another, so don’t sweat the decision now.

Free Content Management System
Now that you have your web hosting set up you need something to actually host. This is where you will want to set up the infrastructure of your website, the content management system (CMS). The CMS acts as a framework for all your site content – it’s like the cover, binding, and blank pages of a book on which your content will be printed.

I suggest using a free CMS called WordPress. Fortunately, Dreamhost makes this really easy to install. Check out their WordPress how to at http://wiki.dreamhost.com/WordPress.

Once you have WordPress installed you will need to do a little setting up with wordpress to get it how you like it. Be sure to take a look at the WordPress First Steps guide at wordpress.org.

Once you’ve figured out how to use your content management system all you need to do is start adding content. I would suggest starting with an About, Newsletter, Donate, and Contact Us page. But really the sky is the limit.

And that’s it! You now have a fully functional website for free.

Check out my free resources for nonprofits page for more freebies.

What’s your website? If you work at a nonprofit post your site address below and let us know what web host and content management system you use.

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Sandra Sims April 1, 2010, 4:41 pm

    Thanks for the tip. I had not idea that Dreamhost offered free hosting and domains for nonprofits! I agree, Wordpress is the easiest CMS to maintain. The only trick is getting a professional looking theme, customized and installed on the site. Thesis, as you have here is a good choice. Adding a custom header graphic would put forth a stronger image and stay consistent with the organization’s marketing/branding.

  • Dave September 3, 2010, 11:19 pm

    What about using existing free sites for nonprofit websites? Create a Facebook page or a Wordpress blog for free?

    • Justin Wandro September 17, 2010, 9:11 pm

      Dave,

      I agree it’s a great idea to use Facebook and Wordpress.com for free. They are certainly, very easy and quick ways to get something up and running. I highly suggest every Nonprofit have a Facebook page, although in most cases I don’t think it should be the only page they have.

  • Elise September 25, 2010, 3:35 am

    I think WordPress.org (you need a web host), especially the new version 3, is the best CMS. However, many all volunteer or grassroots groups do not have the skills to deal with problems when they occur. It can be helpful to start with a super-easy, free WordPress.com (hosted) and then move up to WordPress.org when you’ve outgrown the .com version.

    If you are making a website for a coalition type group that is super easy and that needs advocacy-type features like:
    (1) a calendar that multiple people update,
    (2) built in email that allows sending to large groups and the ability for folks to folks to self-subscribe, unsubscribe & change their email address
    (3) easy way for the group to sell items and receive donations
    then Google Sites is for you.
    Sure WordPress.org does all this, but Google Sites is much easier for beginners and the hosting is free and easy.
    Plan what you need your website to DO first (functionality) and THEN what kind of web resource you want to do. Lastly do the DESIGN… don’t fall into the trap of doing it first.
    Best wishes, change the world!

    • Terri October 4, 2010, 8:43 pm

      Would you mind helping me out on google sites? I am trying to start a local chapter, and need to have email address and a meeting before I can get the 501 #.

      It is frustrating because I want to start this, but need an email to do it, but I need to have it started to be able to set up a domain with a calendar and email.

      Thanks for your help!

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