Revised with new information as of October 16, 2017

Coyote Communications Technology Tip Sheet Logo

 
Choosing a Web Site Server (host) & URL
associated costs, "free" web sites, domain names, etc.

 
This advice is written with small nonprofits in the USA, Europe, etc., and tiny NGOs and government programs in developing countries, in mind.

Forget trying to find a free place to host your web site. Later on this page I note all of the reasons a nonprofit, NGO, government agency, school or other mission-based organization should NOT go with a free web host.

My own web site is hosted by Hostgator, for about $5 a month, and I'm a very satisfied customer. In addition to lots of web space, I get lots of online reference information and online tutorials, great customer service, and "pop" accounts (allowing me to have email addresses using my own domain name). I highly recommend it to mission-based organizations. In addition, no one at HostGator has ever slaughtered an elephant and the company does not use a sexist advertising campaign to promote itself, something that cannot be said of another popular web hosting company. I've used Network Solutions and Dotster as well for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting.  

The URL (web address) you choose, if it is your own, is YOURS, and can be pointed to whatever server where your web site resides. My web site, coyotecommunications.com, has had two different web hosts over the years, but my web address never changes. So don't worry if you choose a web host now and, in a year or two, want to move it. Just make sure, before you pay a web host, that you ask, "Do I own the URL, or do you?"

If your nonprofit absolutely cannot afford five bucks a month, and your Internet provider doesn't include web space in the package you are already paying for, then find a board member, volunteer or other supporter willing to pay this fee for you with a reputable web host. This is an excellent thing to create a crowdfunding campaign around - raising $100 to cover your web hosting for more than a year.  

I do NOT recommend free web site hosts, EVER, because:

Your organization deserves better than what a free web site host can offer!

My only exception to the never-use-a-free-web-host rule is the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR), a web design competition by the nonprofit Knowbility. This event gives nonprofits expert-designed web sites that are fully accessible for people with disabilities. For one year, Knowbility will host your web site if you don't yet have a host - but only if you are a participant in that year's AIR event. 

If you want your organization's Web site to have advanced functions, like interactive databases, dynamic content (that automatically updates itself), etc., you will need a server that can provide you with these functions. Ask the web hosting company you want to choose if they can host these functions (they will NOT build such for you, however).  

DON'T attempt to buy your own server! The cost of staff time to keep the server up and functional is TREMENDOUS. Most web hosting sites offer packages where you can use advanced functions.

Choosing your web address

When considering your Web address (also called a domain name or URL), your Web address should be:

Most web hosting companies will, for an additional fee, get you the domain name you want, if its available. I use dotster.com to see what domain names are available (as well as to see who owns what domain name).

How to choose your URL? First, look at your company name. Is it short? Then it's a good candidate as a URL. For instance, here are nonprofit URLs that are the full names of nonprofits:
If your formal name is too long, is there a nickname or acronym your organization goes by, that people use as much as your full name? For instance:
Don't create awkward, hard-to-remember shortened versions of words that are in your organization's name - for instance, don't make International into Intnl, or Management into mnge - no one will remember those. If the abbreviation you have come up with isn't commonly said, don't put it in your URL!

You can also choose a URL based on what your nonprofit does. For instance, the United Nation's Online Volunteering service doesn't have UN in its URL - it's simply onlinevolunteering.org. Or Uplift Family Services in California, which bought the URL helpkids.org

If the URL you want is taken (helpgoats.org), consider adding a location to your URL, if it's short and easy to spell and remember - helpgoatsoregon.org - or, if your organization is international, add the word global after the URL you want - such as helpgoatsglobal.org (none of these were real URLs at the time of this page's publication - but I am fond of goats).

If you are having trouble identifying the best URL, this is a great thing to crowdsource: ask your volunteers, including your board members, for ideas.

You may want to also buy the .com version of your web address, if it's available and people might mistakenly remember it as your web address. Your web hosting company can help you point this additional URL to your .org web address.

Also see:

 
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