How to Maintain a Website - for Dummies
May 20, 2014 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I am a newish member of a volunteer organization. Most of the members are older, and the Board is looking for ways to drive new membership. I think it is essential that the website be updated, in order for the organization to look more progressive, and in turn attract younger members. I feel that I could devote a few hours a week to this task. Difficulty: I don't have, nor have I ever had a website of my own, and don't know anything about maintaining one.

One thing that I noticed before I joined is that their website is woefully simple, and lacks a lot of what I, as a younger, web-using person would consider important content. For instance, the calendar is out-of-date and not updated regularly. There don't seem to be regular updates to relevant information. Basically, you have to physically show up in order to get information. Except, as a new person, there really isn't anywhere to find information as to where or when to show up. For all intents and purposes I stumbled upon the place, and when I did, they were warm in greeting me, but bewildered, essentially asking me "what made you come here?"

I think if the website were regularly maintained, and a little more dynamic, curious folks like me might be more inclined to make the leap and show up.

I believe there is a person who is officially responsible for maintaining the website, but clearly doesn't have enough time to do so. So I am assuming they would not be super interested in taking a lot of time to train me.

Before I up and volunteer myself for this task, I'd like to have some idea as to how to hit the ground running, or, at least have a resource that I could consult when I run into trouble, other than the too-busy person who is currently responsible.

Advice much appreciated.
posted by vignettist to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on what platform the website is currently running. Is it a Wordpress-type blog? Is it using a Content Management System? Is it running in a hosted environment, or does the organization have its own server? Getting some background info on the site would be a good place to start.

Once you have a bit more info a great place with a wealth of web design and development training, from beginner to near-expert, is Lynda Training and Tutorials.
posted by four panels at 1:09 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently took over the website for a similar-sounding membership organization. I am glad I did it because I support the organization, but it was a lot of work. I have made websites before, but only personal blogs and such, and there were difficulties in maintaining the old site while developing the new one. (old one was on Wild Apricot, new one on Wordpress) In the end, I totally botched the transfer and gave myself a huge headache.

If there is any money for the organization, you might consider hiring a pro to get a more dynamic site built and then with a couple hours a week, you could maintain the content.
posted by ohisee at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2014

I maintain websites for a bunch of not-for-profit sites, several of which have started with situations similar to what you've described. The answer to your question, though, depends very much on what technologies the current website uses.

There are a lot of ways to build a website, and depending on the technology it could be either very easy or very difficult to maintain. I would start first by finding out for sure who the person is who shoddily maintains the website and asking them which webserver software is used. Regardless of technology, you will need to interact with this person because they will have to grant you access (using usernames and passwords or other credentials) to add/change/remove website content at some point.

When you ask them about the technology, there are many ways they could respond. Here are some likely candidates:

1. "We use WordPress."
2. "We use Drupal."
3. "We use XX" where XX is another web-based Content Management System.
4. I use a software application to change files on my computer and then send them up to the web server.
5. I log into the web server and edit files "by hand."

If the answer to the question is 1 or 2, you're probably in good shape, because those are pretty user-friendly systems with a pretty shallow learning curve and you can likely edit pages just like you would edit a word document, except you would use your web browser instead of a program like Word. If the answer is 3, it will depend on what the XX is. If the answer is 4 or 5, I would ask the current webmaster if they have considered moving to 1 or 2, and if-not-why-not.

Regarding calendars specifically, I usually recommend that people embed Google calendars in their site. It's VERY easy to maintain the calendar and looks reasonably okay. There's lots of other calendars that look better, but they're not as easy to install or maintain.
posted by tempestuoso at 2:26 PM on May 20, 2014

Consider using to create the site.

Keep in mind that this is not going to be a one-time task. It will be continual ongoing work.
posted by cheesecake at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2014

Squarespace is what we're switching over to at some point this year from Wordpress. List out the must have features for your site and then compare the main offerings and pick the simplest to use. Unless you have an ongoing budget for support or a committed tech person, don't choose something complex. Our Wordpress site got hacked twice due to a plugin not automatically updating. Routine stuff but if I had been away those weekends, it would have been a mess because no one else in the org knows the custom stuff we have on wordpress. That's why we're switching to $10/m squarespace. We'll lose some features but get paid support.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:17 PM on May 20, 2014

"Maintaining a website" and "Keeping the content on the website up to date" are two different things. All the issues you mention seem to be with the latter, not the former.

The reasons why they haven't kept info up to date may be partly technological, as it may be needlessly hard to update things. However more likely is that it's not anyone's job to keep that info up to date, and perhaps the org does not see that as a priority.

Overall I'd be surprised if refreshing the website is per se going to help with bringing in new members. Are lots of people interested in the org, visiting the site, and leaving in frustration? What is the evidence for that? More likely people are just not aware of the org in the first place, or not attracted by what they know of it.

For all intents and purposes I stumbled upon the place, and when I did, they were warm in greeting me, but bewildered, essentially asking me "what made you come here?"

I suspect you need marketing input rather than tech input. A website refresh might be part of what the org needs, but most likely what it needs more is to be asking questions like:

- What kind of people would be interested in volunteering with us?
- What are the options for reaching out to those people?
- What messages would connect with them?
- What, if anything, stops interested people from volunteering?

People aren't going to just stumble over the org's website any more than they are going to stumble over the organization itself.
posted by philipy at 9:49 AM on May 21, 2014

Seconding Squarespace. It has excellent designs and is about as easy to maintain as a website can be. You don't have to worry about hosting, security, updates or (for the most part) learning to code much of anything. Expect a learning curve, but not a horrendously steep one.

Squarespace has competitors that do similar things that would be worth comparing. I would steer you away from Wordpress. It's a lot more flexible and customizable, but it's more work, and unless someone hosts it for you, you have to keep it up to date to prevent your site from getting hacked.
posted by cnc at 11:08 AM on May 21, 2014

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