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#1: Why NOT to have a website
  • How do you know whether a website is a good idea for your organization?
  • Why would you have one?
  • How can you decide whether any web presence is useful for you?
  • If it is useful, how much of an investment is it worth making?

There is a trend toward putting up web pages if only because "everyone else is doing it". Your clients or members or stakeholders are asking for a web address, or URL. You're being pushed toward e-mail or already have it, so the modems and Internet Service Provider are already going to be part of your organization's communication budget. The question is often "Why not have a website?", as much as it is whether to have one at all.

Here are some situations you want to avoid:

Situation
to avoid:

A volunteer designed a home page for your website; it has your logo, address, phone and fax numbers, and your email link. Maybe you've also put up the information in your basic brochure. But there is no-one assigned responsibility for answering the e-mail, and no system for keeping track of who wrote to you, what they asked for, and when and if they got a response, much less what the response was.

Problem:

You've created the expectation that you're interested in having people communicate with you, but you're not delivering on the implied promise.

Situation
to avoid:

You've decided that you want to put your publications on your Internet site, so you "save as" into HTML from your word processing package, and put them on their own page. They don't look as pretty as they did in print, but you know your stakeholders are most interested in the content anyway.

Problem:

The document may be very long, and print out over several pages, without any planning for how pages "break". Also, once someone has started reading, they can't find the footnotes or references, and they can't get back to where they were before without extensive use of scrolling. You've tried to take material from one medium and "translate" it to another medium. It doesn't work well for the reader.

Situation
to avoid:

People are asking you to post your publications on the World Wide Web, but you count on selling your publications to cover the costs of their printing. So you won't provide them, but you do suggest that people can order them on-line by sending you an email, or by paying in advance.

Problem:

First, the costs of publication shrink considerably if you "publish" on the World Wide Web, and not in print. Second, the costs of distribution also drop a lot. Finally, if you want people to order them on the Web, you need to provide at least an order form that they can print off and fax to you (including credit card information, or a purchase order), or that they can print off and mail to you with a cheque. If you sell large quantities of a publication, it may be worth investing in a secure server to process requests and credit cards, but these costs may be the same as printing and mailing, depending on the size of your buying public.

Situation
to avoid:

You website is up; in fact, it's been up for a year or two now, and you realize that it's out of date. The "what's new" is embarrassingly old. You've found that keeping it up-to-date as an "add-on" to someone's job isn't working very well, and volunteers are helpful but not reliable.

Problem:

You haven't anticipated that it takes time and people to maintain a website, or money to pay others to find the time and people. It isn't magic. It is fast, but it's not magic. Unless you can build it into someone's job, it's not going to be current, and will be almost useless.

Situation
to avoid:

You have a website, but you realize that it takes a long time to open, people complain about it being hard to find, or that it's often unavailable to them. You're relying on free or low-cost services, and can't insist on better service. And you hate how it looks. Even the logo has changed, and you've had to change the address several times because your Internet Service Provider has shut down and made you find a new provider.

Problem:

Your website exists, but it isn't all that useful to you or your stakeholders. You hoped it would increase your profile, make it easier for people to find you, and maybe bring in new donations. But it's not doing any of that. Of course, you haven't planned it so that it would achieve those goals, but now you're stuck with a website that doesn't work, and no funds to do anything with it.

These situations to avoid are not fictional. They've happened in almost every organization that put up a website, unless they waited a long time and invested serious human and financial resources into the process.

The moral of the story is: Be sure you have what it takes to build the website you want, and to meet the expectations your site will create as your stakeholders find it and start to rely on it.

For further information about steps non-government organizations should take before committing themselves to a website, see the following:

None of this means you shouldn't have a web site. It just means you need to play the why and how carefully. We'll be bringing you further tips and tools to help you do that!

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