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Nonprofits can profit from Web sites

Nonprofits can profit from Web sites
by Rodolpho Carrasco
Saturday, July 31, 1999 in Pasadena Star News
[Rodolpho Carrasco is associate director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. Check out more articles by Rodolpho Carrasco here.)

In recent weeks I have been deluged with requests for two things: how to develop an internet lab and how to build a web site. The inquiries into creating a net lab come principally from people who pick up on the allusions I make in various articles about Harambee Center's lab. The web site queries come largely from news about an all-night "web raising" event held at our lab last week. It seems worthwhile to share here a few learnings related to both subjects.

The lab: Our lab exists through the generous support of Earthlink Network, a Pasadena-based internet service provider. The general question I receive from other nonprofit agencies and schools is, "How can I get someone like Earthlink to build a lab for us?"

The answer comes straight from Fundraising 101: "Make a proposal and follow it up. Perhaps you will be chosen." In the competition for attention, there are things that can set you apart. One item that seems to grab the attention of any donor is when your project is already underway. Few get excited about a project that doesn't yet exist. A program pitched with, "We will do this once we are funded" has less chance for adoption than, "This is what we are doing, and you may join with us if you choose."

To those desiring an internet lab, don't wait for big funding. Take what you have now and do it, even if all you have is a Quadra 605 with 8 megabytes of RAM and an 80 megabyte hard drive. Go buy a modem for $60, sign up for an internet access account, buy some cheap web page design software, and put up a page. If there is no budget in your nonprofit for these expenditures, pay it out of your own pocket. Funders like that. Why should they give to a project to which you yourself are unwilling to give?

The web site: I sent an announcement to the Harambee email list about a July 22-23, all night "web raising" event, detailing how seven young people and three adult staff stayed up all night in our internet lab, creating and posting to the web three separate web sites. My announcement was picked up by the president of a large, international association of youth workers, who forwarded it to his entire email list. I discovered this when I checked my email last weekend and was deluged with requests like, "Subject: help! I need a web site."

Most people wanted to know how much it would cost them to put their group up on the web. Here's what I've been telling them, excluding web design services, which I'll get to below. Internet access: $20 a month ($240 a year). Web site hosting account: About $20 a month ($240) a year + a $40 setup fee. Your domain name ( $70. Basic, commercial web page design software: $100. That's it. For $690, you can post your own site to the net.

From this point, though it's not rocket science, it's not easy. You will have to pay something extra. You will either pay with your time or your money.

If you choose to do it yourself, you will pay with your time. Anyone can put up a decent web page. You may have to learn what to do, but tutorials are available, books are omnipresent, and web design classes are plentiful. Watch, read, then learn by trial and error. You can learn jazzier staff, but that will cost you more time as well as money for the books, tapes, etc.

You may choose to pay with your money. Prices for web services vary. Many professional designers will not do basic sites for less than $1,000. Costs can range between $2,000 and $4,000. A friend of mine who designs dynamic web pages earns $200 a page. With this method, it's not just money that's a cost. What happens when the web design contract runs out? Who will maintain the site? One of the worst things that can happen to a site is to not be maintained.

For small nonprofits and businesses, the more worthwhile investment is to learn to maintain the site yourself. It's less money out the door, and it's a long-term investment in keeping costs down as your web site increasingly becomes an asset.

That's been our experience at Harambee. Over three years, we have developed our site ( to the point that it accomplishes some basic, helpful tasks. We do not generate direct revenue from the site at this time, though we will roll out an online donation option before the year is over. We exist through the donations of individuals and groups, so the names and addresses of people who sign up on our web-based electronic mailing list are valuable. We also save lots of precious time: people asking for information about our center, our brochure, or directions to the center can be referred to our web site.

When Earthlink chose to help us develop an internet program, we were in a good position to operate a program that transfers marketable, information economy skills to students enrolled at our center. On the scale of all the benefits our investment in our web site has brought, that is the best one of all.


The copyright for these materials are owned by Rudy Carrasco.  These materials were used with permission by TechMission