Non-profits: are blogs better than websites?

It’s a common scenario for your average non-profit (and a lot of small businesses as well):

1. You need a web presence. Goes without saying, right?

2. You have limited staff and budget, and nobody in your agency has the time, skills or desire to design your web site.

3. Even if you can budget a few grand to get the local HTML student to design a site for you, there are some inherent problems with this approach:

a. That student is moving to Methuselah after the job and won’t be around to maintain it.

b. The site needs regular updating to be viable, and nobody even wants to know what “ftp” stands for, much less “xHTML” or “CSS “.

So, why not set up a blog? Admittedly, it is more than just an alternate publishing method. It’s a different approach to communication. The traditional non-profit web site is brochureware: it describes the organization’s mission and programs; it asks for donations; and it provides contact information. Blogs can ask for donations and provide contact info as well, but they are not static descriptions of organizations and their services. A blog is a dialog with an organizations constituents. Using it as an overt marketing tool would be disastrous — nobody wants to hear sales pitches in a blog. So, again, why take a completely different approach to the web from the standard?

1. Brochureware requires web design staff, contracted or in-house. Blogging sites like blogger.com and typepad.com have professional, CSS templates designed that remove the need for in-house or outsourced HTML development.

2. Once your contractor creates your web page, updating it generally requires in-house expertise in html, ftp or ssh, and a host of other acronyms. Blogs are easy to update, and require only the most basic computer skills.

3. How many CBO’s do you know of who have brochureware web sites that are out of date and stagnant? A common rule of thumb on the web is that your content must be regularly updated for your web site to be appreciated. Again, blogs are easy to update.

4. As social service providers, isn’t a web interface that opens up a dialog more appropriate than the traditional marketing approach? Blogs offer a more authentic way to communicate with constituents. Web sites are more commercial in nature (in general).

5. RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Blog content can be subscribed to; web sites have to be visited. This might still be an obscure point, so I invite anyone to check me a year or two from now and show me that I’m wrong about this: we are moving to a model on the internet where users subscribe to information, and only visit the sources when the feed provides incentives. This will be the standard web paradigm. Brochureware is going to start depreciating as users become more savvy – and demanding – about how convenient it is for them to access your information. All popular blogging services provide built-in subscribable feeds as an option.

6. Repurposing content. As your web presence grows, the blogging format is distributable and republishable (building on point 5). For example, I also have a more traditional web site. I use the blogging model to create numerous sites for different audiences, and maintain them by providing content in one place that the other sites subscribe to via RSS. If you envision growing a true web strategy, the technology that bloggers use is geared toward labor-free redistribution of content, and that fits well in a budget-strapped environment.

Of course, you still need an on-staff resource, and it might have to be someone as far up the ladder as the CEO to set the right tone. But the tech skills required are minimal – blogs are all about what we have to say, not the trappings of how we say it. So I think it’s a compelling opportunity for budget-strapped non-profits to not only get on the web, but possibly be more effective with the web.

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