Hosting Options for Small Non-profit Web Sites

 

ODU Virginia Beach Higher Education Center

 

This spring, I enrolled my church in Google Apps for Non-profits. Being new to the process, we started with a Small Business Trial enrollment, then the non-profits enrollment, and finally, tying the two together.

Today, I started my second Google Apps for Non-Profits application, this one for Old Dominion University Institute for Learning in Retirement. ODU ILR is an almost all-volunteer run non-profit. We have two office staff that handle member enrollment, program registration, book keeping, and receive the member’s program fees for us. We have a web site, accounting system, member enrollment and course registration system, and do mass mailings. Most of these systems were established in the 1990’s and have become dated, especially our MS FrontPage and Juno.com E-mail.

Since I joined, I have been updating the E-mail service and the web site. I’ve recommended that we use a content management system for our web site and Google Apps for E-mail and most of our every day writing and drawing. This article is about my second attempt at a Google Apps for Non-profits application. And this time, I did it the right way by starting with the non-profit application and segueing to the product application. The work flow looked like this.

  1. Purchase oduilr.org from EasyDNS
  2. Wait a while (a month or more, I’m retired!)
  3. Start the application at http://www.google.com/nonprofits/join/
  4. Once your status is verified, the wizard will prompt your to open a Google Apps account.
  5. During this process, you will verify domain ownership by setting up a CNAME record using data supplied by Google. A wizard walks you through this.
  6. Next, Google will check to see if there is a web server active on the domain. If not it will prompt you to set up a parked domain page at Google using Google supplied A record data.
  7. Next, the work flow has you Initialize G-mail for web access and invite some users.
  8. Normally, the sign-up process will have you set up MX records to redirect E-mail clients to G-mail. For this, you must have your domain web host up and running.

Recommended Hosting Options for Small Non-profits

When I first began my stint as church webmaster, my church purchased hosting service from a mass market host who must not be named. Mass market hosts offer one stop shopping. They’ll register your domain, act as DNS provider, hosting provider, and E-mail provider. Our experiences at both UC Norfolk and ODU ILR are that the E-mail is spammy and the hosting service does not provide the resources needed to run a modern CMS based web site. The up market accounts get more storage but, typically, not enough PHP memory. Most have no account type provisioned with 256 MB of PHP memory needed to run a Drupal 7 site.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com, a service of AutoMattic.com, is a robust WordPress as a service shop. They host this blog, they are my registrar, and they are my DNS provider. The experience has been first rate. They worry about updates and database migration for me. They will host MX records if I am really jonesing for dave.hamby@retired-moocher-dave.org for my E-mail. If you like WordPress as your site’s CMS and can live with the WordPress.com curated plug-ins, WordPress.com is a class act. They’re not in with the want fries crowd. They’ll host a church or small business site for $120/year for domain registration, domain mapping, E-mail provider mapping, and web service.

Pantheon

Pantheon is in the WordPress and Drupal hosting business, nothing more. They don’t register domains; they don’t do E-mail, so, you need to purchase domain registration and  E-mail separately which works for my two non-profits. However, they must be DNS host for the zone because the  web service container moves from host to host at RackSpace. This means:

  1. EasyDNS is our domain registrar
  2. Google is our mail provider
  3. EasyDNS will be our DNS host for oduilr.org
  4. Pantheon will be our web host.
  5. EasyDNS  will have our MX records for the G-mail portal
  6. EasyDNS will have CNAME records for our oduilr.org Google Apps services (g-mail, drive, groups, etc).
  7. We have development, test, and live environments.
  8. We have git source code control.
  9. Pantheon maintains core, Open Academy, and Open Outreach.
  10. We have 1 click updating of our site’s code base.
  11. We can test the new code base with our live content without putting our user experience at risk
  12. Our bill is about $325/year for domain registration and hosting.

After consulting with EasyDNS support, I learned that EasyDNS could do all of our DNS hosting using the basic service. The trick is to note that the EasyDNS UI is in flux. The default UI is a simplified one called the streamlined editor that lets a client set up name server records for his mass market host and a few other basic tasks. To set up MX records for Google Apps requires use of the older modular editor. These are available as tabs on the domain’s DNS Settings page.

Interestingly, when I posted the query, the CEO, Mark Jeftovic, responded. Mark, in addition to his day job,  blogs at http://markable.com, plays rock, and does a bit of recording.

A Google Sites Option

I’ve not explored Google Sites in depth but I did notice that Google Sites offers WordPress 2010 or 2014 theme as one of its options. These are good looking themes that would serve a civic league or other small association well. They are included as part of the league’s Google Apps for Non-Profits portfolio. Google provides one stop shopping for domain registration, E-mail, and site hosting. The non-profit would have to pay for the domain registration but the other services would be free. This is a very attractive option for simple sites that don’t need a strong calendar display.

So, I Breed Dogs, What about me?

I have friends who have small businesses. Matt Cohen is a marine photographer specializing in sailing and regatta photography. Rachael Romano Kelly breeds and shows Vizsla hounds. Geordie F. O. Kelly is a Navy band master and jazz guitarist with a recording or two out there. How about them?

I think there are two good options. For Geordie, probably WordPress.com is best. WordPress has elegant themes for professional musician sites. WordPress is also a good option for Matt and Rachael. WordPress offers several elegant photography themes. Matt and Geordie may wish to sell records or prints. E-commerce is beyond the scope of this article but WordPress with the right plug-ins and themes will sell records and prints.

The reason I like WordPress for my friends is that WordPress includes software updates and disaster recovery as standard parts of its service offerings. Each of these friends has a day job and none are software geeks. WordPress will also handle E-mail integration. They provide MX records allowing integration of Google Apps G-mail. Google will provide a single Small Business E-mail for $5/month or $50/year pre-paid. Everybody has seen the greyhound rescue site with E-mail crazygreyhoundlady@hotmail.com. There’s no need for that when you can look professional for $5/month.