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Know what you need to come up with an estimate

There aren’t many things that vary in price as much as a nonprofit website, which can easily range from £0 to £100,000. This makes it very difficult to know how much to budget, and whether any particular website agency or provider is offering good value for money.

This post explores the two key components that affect the price you pay for a website: the technology you use and the amount of strategic input you need.

Three types of website technology

The technology driving a website will have a significant impact on its cost to you, the amount of control you will have and the ability to expand its capabilities in the future. This section explores the three most popular types of website technology, from cheaper to more expensive.

Option 1: Website building apps

An increasingly popular option, especially for smaller charities, is a website building application, sometimes called a SaaS platform (which stands for Software as a Service). We’ve written elsewhere about lots of great website builders available with very low associated costs. The whole idea is that they look after all of the software installation, setup and maintenance for you. You get less flexibility but more stability and access to huge economies of scale.

Cost of ownership (setup and support) over 4 years: £0 - £5,000

Option 2: Open-source distribution

Open-source content management systems like Drupal, Wordpress and Joomla are all technically free (anyone can download the source code). A key strength of this option is the flexibility they offer for customization making them suitable for a very wide range of purposes. This flexibility however means that they will always need to be specifically configured to create a charity website that is effective and easy to manage.

Open-source systems are very flexible, which is great if you have the right support, but they are also complex which means there is a lots to think about, discuss, test and refine. Additionally, open source systems like this normally cost more to maintain because your implementation will probably be customized with its own peculiarities and ongoing security updates will not be installed automatically.

Open-source distributions minimize the setup costs of an open-source content management system by pre-configuring countless variables to suit a particular use case or audience. This shares the cost of development between many customers whose needs are similar. Open-source distributions are also typically easier and cheaper to maintain and you may get functionality that you don't currently need that can be easily activated in the future.

Cost of ownership (setup and support) over 4 years: £3,000 - £12,000

Option 3: Open-source customized

Historically this has been the most popular option for charities, largely because of the lack of good options in the two categories above. With a customized open-source system the charity pays the full cost of the time taken by the developer to optimize the content management system for their needs.

The big advantage of this approach is that unusual requirements can be accommodated and the system can be built specifically around your needs. Of course, this comes at a cost both in terms of initial setup and then future development and maintenance. Every time you need a feature you'll have to pay to have it developed.

As you’ll see from our cost range below the quality of what you get in this bracket is extremely variable. A large reputable agency may use this approach to build an amazing site that is well refined and tested. A small agency without a proven track record may be learning on the job and the resulting website may be very buggy and not stand the test of time. Ongoing maintenance costs become much harder to predict because even if the underlying system is well known you may find yourself tied to the agency who built the website because they are the only people who understand (and are willing to support) the idiosyncrasies they have added to the underlying open-source platform.

Cost of ownership (setup and support) over 4 years: £10,000 - £50,000

Summary

You can think of websites like clothes: bespoke tailor-made stuff is great if you have lots of cash or if you really need it, but it’s always cheaper to get something off the shelf. And if you can try before you buy it hugely reduces the risk involved in the purchase.

Strategy input

The second key factor affecting cost is how much external strategic input you need. There will be various stages that require your input and are often best owned by you. But charity-specific agencies will be able to offer lots of input even during these early stages.

There are lots of ways you can gain external input on your charity communications. We’ve grouped the strategy options below into three rough tiers going from cheapest to most expensive and then noted a few common 'extras' to bear in mind.

Option 1: Self service

Some charities are blessed with super-talented communicators who have done this all before, or are quick to learn. Obviously employing these kind of people is an investment in itself but once you have them, their expertise can really cut the costs of your website project.

There are loads of free resources out there to help proactive marketers to build a great communication strategy and implement it across multiple channels (a great place to start is our comprehensive set of charity marketing guides). This self service approach is very compatible with website building apps that are designed to put you in the driving seat straight away.

Cost: £0

Option 2: Professional guidance

More commonly, charities have some internal experience but are also daunted by the process of a website overhaul and are looking for confident, experienced external input to help minimize the myriad decisions and choices. What you need here is someone to walk you through a process step by step. You are probably happy to do much of the content strategy implementation yourself but you want access to deeper expertise to define the process, review your work and suggest improvements.

Cost: £1,000 to 5,000

Option 3: Complete outsourcing

Unusual though it is, nonprofits do sometimes find themselves in the position of being cash rich and time poor. In such circumstances it can be really helpful to outsource the whole website re-build. This can quickly become expensive because the agency needs enough time to get a deep understanding of your organization to make decisions on your behalf and deliver a suitable product.

So this tier includes time for an external consultant or agency to get to know your organization, work with you to refine the overall communications strategy and then draft key messages, sitemap, user journeys, and top level website content.

Cost: £5,000 to £20,000

Extra considerations

There are a few other things to bear in mind that can have an impact on your costs:

  • Brand identity development: £1,000 to £5,000
  • Search engine optimization: £1,000 to £5,000
  • Graphic design: £500 to £2,000
  • Commissioned photography: £500 to £2,000
  • Content migration: £500 to £3,000

Conclusion — so what will it cost?

Hopefully you can now see how the needs of a website can easily grow as you consider all the surrounding marketing and data management needs. It’s relatively easy to get a charity website cheaply if you have access to good internal expertise. If you don’t, costs can escalate.

Here are a few examples of how you can apply this article to arrive at a budget for your project:

Startup or small charity (less than £100k turnover)

This may be your first website and you just need a simple, professional-looking web presence to present a trustworthy image, explain what you do and allow people to get in touch.

Setup (£) Monthly (£)
Tech: Website building app - 20
Strategy: Self service - -
Extras: Brand identity development 1,000 -
Total cost of ownership (over 4 years) 1,960


Medium sized established charity (around £4m turnover)

You already have a website but it's out of date, hard to manage and not mobile friendly. You need a complete revamp, a new design and a much better content structure with features such as events, resources, donations and various ways for people to get involved.

Setup (£) Monthly (£)
Tech: Website building app 4,000 100
Strategy: Self service 2,000 -
Extras: Brand identity development 2,000 -
Total cost of ownership (over 4 years) 12,800

Large charity (greater than £20m turnover)

You have custom needs that cannot be met by off the shelf products. Streamlining your administration and syncing data is crucial and you need to be able to call on your agency regularly to develop new functionality.

Setup (£) Monthly (£)
Tech: Website building app 20,000 400
Strategy: Self service 10,000 -
Extras: Brand identity development 7,000 100
Total cost of ownership (over 4 years) 61,000

Total cost of ownership

Be careful not to fall into the trap of evaluating the setup cost only. As you've seen above, it’s crucial to consider ongoing development costs, support, hosting, etc.

Of course it depends on your own circumstances — some charities find it easy to get large one-off grants while some prefer to pay less setup, but can afford larger ongoing costs. But often funders are open to flexibility as they also understand the 'total cost of ownership' concept and want you to run sustainably.

We recommend doing the sums for a three to four-year life span. And if you prefer to spread costs then ask the agency — they may well be willing to consider a deferred payment approach.

For more from White Fuse, visit www.whitefusemedia.com.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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