This week I'm helping Sallie Owen and her intrepid group of small nonprofits look at how to use Wetpaint to build a free website.
Today I'm going to start by exploring why I think a wiki can work as an organizational website and why I think Wetpaint is a good option for nonprofits that want to go this route.
Let me first say, though, that there are other options that can work, too, including using a blogging platform like Wordpress or other site-building resources like Weebly. My goal with this series is really to show just one of the ways that nonprofits can build a site for free. So let's get started.
What is a "Wiki"?
Basically a wiki is a piece of software, either online or stored on your organization's server, that allows anyone to easily create and edit web pages. If you know how to create and edit a word processing document, then you're more than halfway toward having the skills to create a wiki.
Why Use a Wiki to Build Your Website?
The vast majority of nonprofit organizations are tiny outfits, run by people who believe in a cause, but who don't necessarily have a lot of technological savvy. They also don't have a ton of resources so for many of them, getting online may just be a dream. It's a dream they need to make reality though because in a web-enabled world, you need to have a website.
Using a wiki to put together your website is what I'd call a
"good enough" solution. Unlike a site you build with the "professionals" you'll
have less control over the look of your site and will have less
ability to optimize it for search engines. But for most nonprofits,
especially really small ones, "good enough" is great, especially if it
means the difference between having a website and not having one.
There's no question that you need to be online, so if a wiki is what
gets you there, then I say "go for it."
A couple of other reasons why I think a wiki can be a good choice for building your site:
- Easy to set up and update--Wikis are really easy to use and require minimal technological expertise. Because of their ease of use, this also makes them easy to update because you don't have to rely on your "web guy" to do the updates for you.
- Built-in Two-Way Communication--As you'll see, wikis have built-in comment features, which means that you can get immediate and ongoing feedback from site visitors, something that many web citizens are increasingly expecting from any site they visit.
So you've decided on a wiki. Why use Wetpaint?
I've played around with a lot of wikis and ultimately I've come to believe that Wetpaint offers the best bang for your buck. More accurately, it gives you the right set of features for free.
- Design Done for You--One of the major costs of a website lies in the design of its look. Of course, you could design it yourself, but then we could be talking one ugly site. A Wetpaint wiki does the design work for you, with a number of nice templates from which you can choose. You can still "personalize" them for your organization with your own banner and graphics, but a lot of the basic design is already done for you with the templates.
- Use Your Own Domain Name--A nice free option offered by Wetpaint is the use of your own domain. So instead of "www.mynonprofit.wetpaint.com" you can have "www.mynonprofit.org." I haven't seen this option with any other wiki packages and the fact that it's free is even better.
- Easy Integration with Google Analytics-- You'll want to use Analytics to track trends, monitor traffic, etc., but you won't want the hassle of trying to figure out how to put it on your site. Wetpaint not only gives you the option (unlike other wikis), it also makes it pretty simple to set up.
- Good Privacy Controls--For a public website, privacy controls are not as big a deal. But one benefit of a Wetpaint wiki is that it lets you keep your wiki completely private if you'd like and doesn't charge for the privilege. This can be a nice option if you want to use a wiki for your board minutes and materials or for staff information, for example.
What About Downsides?
Like any free solution to a technology problem, there are some downsides to using Wetpaint. I've already mentioned a few--less design control and less ability to optimize your site so that search engines can find it easily. Another downside is ads.
Wetpaint is a money-making proposition, so they have to get their bucks from someplace. To keep it free for your use, they sell advertisements, which means that when visitors come to your site, they'll find Google AdSense ads related to keywords in your site. For most organizations, I think this is probably more of a nuisance than anything. A lot of people just filter out the ads and don't even really notice them. But you may want to put some kind of disclaimer on your site indicating that the ads are not put there by your organization if you're worried that people might associate them with your nonprofit.
The Bottom Line
I think that a Wetpaint wiki is a more than viable option for building a nonprofit site. It won't have all the bells and whistles of a "professional" site, and it will have those pesky ads, but it's a "good enough" solution that I think offers a lot of benefits for organizations, particularly smaller nonprofits.
Today's action item is simple--start thinking about what you want to include in your Wetpaint website. If you have some materials already written up, begin to gather them together. If you don't, start thinking about what you want to include. Later in the week you'll want these materials handy so you can start filling in the content for your own site.
Coming up tomorrow--I'll give you a tour of a few Wetpaint sites so you can get an idea of how other organizations are using Wetpaint to build an online presence for themselves.