NPOs on the web

Non-Profits need to acknowledge the web.

More than any other type of business, NPOs stand to gain the most from the current trends that we see on the internet today. It has leveled the playing field, if they are willing to get on board. The main problem that is facing NPOs, is the lack of tech savvy. There is a huge gap between what a board of directors wants, and what it is willing to pay for; it is not willing to outlay much capital for some murky promise of return on investment.

Typically, non-profit organizations are about five years behind their for profit counterparts. They still think that it too costly to seek professional web services. Besides they know someone who has a teenager that is good with computers. They seek donated labor above qualified labor. That may have worked five years, ago. Hell, I am the first to admit that that is exactly how I got started in web design; I knew about computers! Unfortunately, there is so much more to consider while building an online presence that an amateur, not willing to put in the time doing continuous professional development, will not be much help to anyone in the long run. Add to this that most of the administrators that I work with either don’t have a cell phone, or do but not a smartphone. Their priorities are not in technology, or marketing.

Once I sit down with a manager, or a board of directors, they always acknowledge that having a web presence is important, but they don’t understand the need to maintain it. They just want to get that website out there and get back to work helping people, building the community. And I agree with them, but… and this is a big “but”, if they were willing to give a couple hours a week to their online presence, they could touch so many more people, reach a much wider public and make their services much more known than by any other “conventional” means, such as traditional advertising and marketing.

In 2000, upon returning to Canada, after a lengthy stay in Asia, I started working at, and later running a non-profit tutoring centre. I remember when I first started, someone had paid to have a website made. Someone in the tech cognoscenti said that it was the thing to do (well it probably wasn’t, yet, the thing to do.) So they paid an outrageous amount of money for a clunky, table-laden website that nobody visited and that management didn’t understand. That site died a slow horrible lonely death. Forward to 2008 when I said that it was time to get onto the web. I was told “we’ve tried that. It didn’t work; it just cost us lots of money and we never got anything back.” Now even back then I knew that the web was the place to be; putting ads in the local papers every once in a while was not cutting it, and besides they couldn’t see the value in that either. They expected an immediate return on investment.

The only way that we were going to get onto the web, was if I did everything myself. And I did. I taught myself web design, to avoid fighting over the cost issue. Am I glad that I did! It enabled me to take control. I will admit that it was not always easy going, but it was worth it!
I am not advocating that every administrator of an NPO learn web design to save money, but what I am saying is that NPO managers need to better understand the web and the opportunities that it provides. As we go forward, I believe that everyday wasted will result in falling two or more days behind the competition. This is especially important if an NPO’s competition is a for-profit organization!