Revised with new information as of October
Choosing a Web Site Server (host) &
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
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
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
I do NOT recommend free web site hosts, EVER, because:
Your organization deserves better than what a free web site host can offer!
- free web site hosts usually require you to host a myriad of
advertisements on your web site. You have no control over these
advertisements. That means services that you really don't want to be
associated with may appear on your web site, and many users will have a
very bad impression of your organization as a result.
- the advertisements that are usually required of a free web host to be
put on your web site give visitors every reason to click away from your
- free web sites can go away with no warning, leaving you with no web
site at all.
- free web site hosts offer little or no customer support.
- free web space offered by, say, the company one of your board members
represent, may not allow you to make changes directly; you may have to
submit your changes to someone at the company and hope that they
eventually get around to making the change eventually. And that web site
can go away in an instant if the company is sold, if the staff member
that secured the free hosting quits the company, etc.
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
- not use an "underscore" (my_nonprofit) or a "tilde" (my~nonprofit);
it's difficult to say such addresses over the phone, it's difficult to
remember, and many people don't even know where those characters are on
- as short as possible
- easy to say over the phone (sometimes, this is more important than
keeping it short)
- easy to spell
- easy to remember
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
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
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