Web Sites for Small Organizations

I developed and maintain a web site for a relatively small (100 or so members) organization. I rolled out the first few pages about 18 months ago and it’s been growing ever since. I’ve learned a lot which isn’t surprising since I had absolutely no knowledge of html, php or how to administer a site. Members of the organization who belong to other similar organizations are starting to ask me, “Can you show me how to do a web site for us?” This is a loaded question which usually translates into, “Will you build a web site for us?” Since I’m not in that business, I generally ask them what they want their site to do and point them to books and web resources about how to go about using html, finding a host, choosing between shared and dedicated serving, registering a domain, etc. What I’d like to do here is share some of the applications I use to make it go. I’ll skip the bit about finding a host and all the other mechanics of setting up the site framework because I’m sure there are more authoritative sources for that stuff. Here’s the short checklist of things that I thought we needed as a minimum:

  • Calendar of events.
  • Document library.
  • Information on how to join the organization.
  • Announcement/news page.

Mission accomplished with a handful of html pages (I use Dreamweaver) and we were off and running. I read up and learned how to make a contact form. That was the first bit of interactive functionality I came up with. It’s still in use. If that’s what you need for your organization, you’re in good shape. Of course, manually updating and uploading html pages can get a little time consuming so I started looking around my host’s Fantastico list of applications. Naturally, the first one I installed was WordPress. WordPress provided the ability to manage time-based announcements as well as publish a calendar of events (using the superb EventCalendar3 plugin) easily and efficiently. Now WordPress can be used as a Content Management System (CMS) so you can probably skip all the html stuff and lean on WordPress, if you wanted to.

Now with WordPress running and the web site growing, I started to use FeedBurner to take my WordPress feeds and convert them to html via FeedBurner’s BuzzBoost function. I could take important information on the blog and embed it into the html part of the web site so if someone just wanted to see the upcoming events without all the news articles, they just click on the Calendar html page which has the events feed in WordPress BuzzBoosted for presentation on the html page. Neat but certainly not required.

One of the other benefits of WordPress is commenting so members or other interested parties can provide some feedback, if they choose. I had installed a Simple Machines Forum because I was used to administering a message board and I thought that would be a good way for members to exchange information. As time went by, the message board is the least used bit of our web site except for our organization management which uses it rather heavily to collaborate and work on issues without having to meet face to face. If my organization is typical, you won’t get a lot of feedback from anyone so don’t put too much effort into fostering it. Just my opinion.

One of the other things you absolutely need is the ability to show photos. People love to see themselves. My host provided free licensed versions of a photo gallery generator by Coffee Cup Software that I use to make the photo galleries. It works ok but I would look for an open source program that does the same thing and will run on a Mac. If my host didn’t provide this software free of charge, I’d be using something else.

Managing the organization roster online rather than on someone’s Excel spreadsheet was next. That was a simple MySQL database and some easy to create (thanks to Dreamweaver and this essential Dreamweaver companion book) forms.

If your organization has more than 50 or so members, an email mailing list program can be helpful as well. I use the open source phplist program with great success. My personal ISP limits the amount of emails I can send at once but using phplist avoids that problem plus it allows you to manage subsets and multiple mailing lists. Recently I keyed the phplist MySQL database with a foreignkey to match the existing roster MySQL database so now they can be linked and correlated using php scripts, crons and queries so when we change the roster subgroups, the mailing list groups are updated as well.

Another “nice to have” open source program is LimeSurvey which I use to manage voting and rsvps. Doesn’t take long to set up but it’s yet another application to keep updated and administrate. Optional.

Of course, there are some things that flat out failed. Live chat on the blog was an abject failure. Polls on the blog also failed. I had whos.amung.us running for a while until their performance dragged our web site down.

I hope this experience provides some ideas for you if you want to start or enhance your organization’s web presence.

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