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014 – 9 Reasons Your Non-Profit Needs Great Website Hosting

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Non-profits rely on the generosity of others. If you’re running a non-profit or charitable organization, you know that the bulk of your fundraising comes from donations. Your website is a great way to build a community around your organization and to present your cause to the public and potential donors. In order to do this, you need to have a great website hosting company to ensure your site is secure and fast.

In today’s podcast episode, David talks about the backend side of websites that few people think about. He dives into the server, and why it’s crucial that your website is hosted on a reliable platform that’s easy to manage.

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Episode Transcription

Non-profits rely on the generosity of others. If you’re running a non-profit or charitable organization, you know that the bulk of your fundraising comes from donations. Your website is a great way to build a community around your organization and to present your cause to the public and potential donors. In order to do this, you need to have a great website hosting company to ensure your site is secure and fast.

In today’s podcast episode, I’m talking about the backend side of websites that few people think about. We’re going to dive into the server, and why it’s crucial that your website is hosted on a reliable platform that’s easy to manage.

I’m going to start by telling you about a recent client project. When my company, Wow Digital, puts proposals together, we always include website hosting as part of it. We have a server that’s located on Canadian soil, and runs on green energy. We’re doing our best to lower our footprint on the environment. I’m mentioning that we have a server because it’s an important part of this story.

After a few months of working on this client project, which had thousands of documents, thousands of accounts, and was a project with lots of custom code, our client let us know that they wanted to use their own server. This was not a problem. Although we have over 70 clients hosted with us, we have about a dozen or so who have their own server, or preferred to stick with their existing vendor – there are various reasons, but I’m not going to get into them here.

The website was completed, and ready to be launched. Out comes our 132-point website checklist that we go through before launching a product, and we start going through them. As we get close to the end, part of what we do is run a test migration from our staging environment to the live environment. This is a critical point, especially if it’s not our server, and not under our control.

So we’re off, and run the migration. Everything seems to go well. It’s a site that’s over 2GB, so it take a little longer than usual, but we’ve worked on hefty sites before – we knew what to expect.

We get through the rest of the checklist, have the client point their domain name to their new hosting space. All systems are go, and we migrate to the live environment. Done. We go through the rest of our post-launch checklist to confirm things are running how they should be, and they are. Another smooth project launch.

Not 4-hours later, we see that the site is running sluggish – it’s taking about 47 seconds to load a page, whereas before it was under 2 seconds. We deploy special caching and other techniques to speed it up, and improve the site to 12 seconds. My team and I then spent about 8-hours troubleshooting and testing, however we’re at the mercy of the client because they control the server. Without server admin or root access, we can’t remediate the issue.

It turns out that there was a misconfiguration of the server and their new space needed to be wiped out. the client pointed the domain to their old site, and then deleted the old site. We then ran the migration to where their old site was, and so far so good. It’s been a couple of weeks, and everything is stable.

Why Do Non-Profits Need Great Website Hosting?

Let’s face it: You have limited time. You want to get your information about your non-profit out to the public in a timely manner. The most successful and well-known non-profits don’t just pass on the baton of providing services, they are constantly innovating and introducing new ways to interact with their community. If you want to compete with these organizations, you need to find a great website hosting company.

Having a slow website will not only be a deterrent from someone trying to find information, it also means that it will become a thorn in your site as you use the platform for managing and maintaining the site. If it’s slow on the front-end, it will be slow on the back-end too.

Why else is this so important? A high-quality website can generate excitement, encourage donations, and get people to interact with your cause. So, if you don’t get your website hosting right, your non-profit will simply fall behind. You need a host that will make your website safe and accessible for your community and staff. A bad host can keep your website offline for days at a time.

What is Website Hosting and why is it important?

When we talk about websites, we tend to think of all of the technical aspects: Web Design, UI, UX, Mobile Responsive Design, Aesthetics, etc. But websites require backend technology, a domain name, DNS entries, A-records, CNAME, MX records, rack space, storage space, backup processes, caching, provisioning and more.

If you’re not familiar with website hosting, I’m going to help you, because you should be – to an extent. Website hosting is where your website’s content lives. It’s what shows the information when you enter the URL address of your website.

When you click on a link to your site, the browser queries your website hosting company to access the content you have on the website. Sometimes it’s a database lookup, images, documents, etc. All of that information, AKA data, is stored on a server.

Without a good hosting company, you run the risk of your website being slow, limiting the number of visits you have, and in dramatic cases affecting your search engine ranking.

Hosting is the most important piece of the puzzle for your website, but often one of the least thought about.

You can also save a lot of money with the right hosting provider.

When I started working at the hospital, I conducted a full systems audit. I found that just from the Marketing and Communications department, there were three external servers that we were paying for. Those servers, were provisioned about a decade earlier and we extremely slow, but yet we were paying astronomical amounts.

Within a couple of months, I spun up a fourth server, conducted migrations and amalgamated everything on that fourth server. One month later, we shut down the first three servers and realized a savings of over 91% moving forward. Not only that, the new server space was faster, could handle more visitors and was able to have 5 9’s of uptime, that’s 99.999%. This had nothing to do with redesigns of sites or new programming. It was, I’m going to simplify here, just a matter of consolidating sites and databases from archaic hardware to a new platform.

Imagine what you could do with multiple of 10’s of thousands of dollars. What could your non-profit or charity do with that?

Hosting can also have a huge impact on the success and growth of a non-profit. According to a study I read a little while ago, approximately 41% of CEOs of non-profits globally are not using their websites as a business tool. This can be for a number of reasons, but a primary one identified was because their non-profit websites are too complex to maintain. They often suffer from poor navigation, which is a design flaw, and performance, which is a server flaw. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

How do I choose a great website hosting company?

With websites becoming the “face” of non-profits, you need to ensure your site loads quickly and is always updated. This is especially important if you’re planning a campaign. A poorly designed site can attract all sorts of “evil eyes” and, if the wrong information is presented, can cause damage to your organization and to your reputation.

So whenever I’m asked this, I always recommend interviewing your potential providers.

Start with a list of questions that will help you to choose the right provider for your needs.

  1. How large is your support team?
  2. What activities do you perform on a daily basis?
  3. How much traffic do you typically see on a monthly basis?
  4. What are the backup options if something were to happen to the server?
  5. How often do you experience outages? How long do they last?
  6. How can I get in touch with support?
  7. What are the limitations in the hosting plan?

A good support team will know the ins and outs of how to implement quality website hosting to ensure your site loads quickly and is always kept up to date.

They will also have multiple avenues for support – ticketing platform, email and phone.

They’ve been in business for years. If you want someone who is dedicated to helping you, look for a host who has been around for 10+ years.

Considerations for your website hosting

Security

Everyone wants to know that their private information is secure when using a website hosting company.

A website hosting company that offers their customers secure, private access to their site is essential. You can’t just put up a web page and expect it to be seen by millions of people, unless you go with a hosting company that offers SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL allows you to send and receive secure web traffic. A web host that offers this will help make your site more secure.

Backups

You can’t have everything in one place.

You need to have a backup to your website. It is a good practice to have a website backup that’s stored on the server as well as off the server.

Time zones

In this day and age, it’s easy to have people around the world working for you. However, in the case of servers, you want to make sure that your hosting company operates support in your time zone, or close to it. Typically, I recommend that they’re in your country, and the web server is on the soil of your country too.

When an emergency comes up – think something like you’ve accidentally deleted a big portion of your website just as a press release or email campaign is about to go out – having to wait for the next day is not indicative of the type of support you need. Trust me on this one, you think that you’ll be fine, but a time will come up, and you’ll be grateful you heeded my advice.

Budget

Also, know your budget. Budgets are always top of mind for charities and non-profits. This is especially true for the very small organizations out there. Yes, you can get hosting for under $30/year, but in my experience those quite often come with a web to untangle should you wish to grow your organization and really put yourselves on the map. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

The importance of security

Your website is probably the first point of contact with the public and it’s important that the public can trust you and your organization. The first step to building trust is to secure your website. You want to make sure that there are no mistakes or negative content on your site.

A few options to consider are Let’s Encrypt, Cloudflare, and FortiGuard.

These services provide a number of mitigation steps for hacking and attacks on your site, such as a DDoS attack – which is a denial-of-service attack. This happens when multiple systems flood the bandwidth of your server, eating up the resources. I spoke about an attack I was able to mitigate that originated from China in Podcast Episode 8 – to listen to it, head over to wowdigital.com/008.

If you’re looking for something lower cost, in that episode I also talk about some other platforms, free and paid, if your website is running WordPress.

The importance of speed

Let me start of by asking you a question. When was the last time you waited a minute for a website to load?

For me, it has to be when I was on dialup. The last time I used dialup was in 1997, before we got cable internet at home.

Now imagine you’re researching and come across a charity website. If it takes that long to load, what are you going to do? The answer is that nobody knows, I would bet that you wouldn’t wait long enough to find out before clicking the back button. It’s no wonder charities and non-profits have so many problems getting donations! When you’re trying to raise money for your organization, the last thing you need is to see your site loads slowly. After all, if you’ve just gone through a redesign and spent money on a fabulous, shiny new website, you want people to be able to see it.

There are some websites out there that are extremely slow. This makes it hard to get the information you need quickly. Your organization can have a website that is so slow that people are walking away because it’s so painful to look at. A great website hosting company will always look at the speed of your site and integrate solutions to ensure your site is optimal.

The added benefit of a fast website? Higher search rankings! Google’s algorithm uses site speed as an indicator within their platform.

The importance of hosting your design

If you want your site to look professional and appealing, you need a web host with a great track record. You need a web host that can keep up with you and your needs. This means you can work with a host that has amazing customer service. A professional hosting platform can do wonders for your brand. After all, people spend more than 80% of their time online on their computers and smartphones.

Systems are growing more complex. Interaction and interconnectivity are growing too. Being able to render pages at milliseconds seconds, and being able to transmit that data, images, videos, and such doesn’t have to be a burden on the server if it’s configured by professionals.

The importance of customer service

The mission of your non-profit organization is to help others, but your organization needs support just as much as your community needs yours. They need your guidance, your feedback, and your donations. They need you to tell them the best way to use their resources. Unfortunately, because of the unique nature of a non-profit organization, their customers can sometimes feel neglected. As a non-profit leader, it can be incredibly difficult to give both time and resources to an organization that has no payroll. If they don’t have a reliable website hosting company, they will struggle to get the traffic and funding they need to help those who need their services. However, what they need more than anything else is excellent customer service.

The importance of dependability

Websites can be costly to create. Website hosting companies limit your the risk, helping to keep you secure. Allowing anyone to access your website with just a single URL or even a login code is an invitation for attacks, even if being conducted by automated bots. If hackers access your site, they can wreak havoc with your content and your visitors’ information. They can install crypto-mining software, steal passwords, and do more.

Not to mention that your website is a critical part of your organization and if someone loses access, your non-profit can’t function at all.

Having regular uptime monitoring is mandatory in this day and age. Every website owner understands the importance of site uptime. Unfortunately, a website is only available if it’s online and working properly. You can use a tool like Uptime to monitor your site availability.

Conclusion

One of the most powerful ways to build relationships with a non-profit is to create a website that attracts interest from donors, potential volunteers, and visitors. However, you’ll need to make sure you have an excellent website hosting service to ensure your site is secure and fast. Make sure you choose a service that helps your non-profit reach their fundraising goals and is flexible to their needs and missions.

Find the right match for your organization, ask the right questions, and do your due diligence.

And now a little plug, at Wow Digital, we provide free SSL certificates for clients that host with us. We’ve been hosting sites since 2002, and have a track record for providing 99.999% uptime. We also meet everything else mentioned in this podcast episode. We’ve helped clients migrate from old and slow hosts to ours, and even to other servers. We’ve also worked with clients to modify their existing hosts and implement caching and other techniques at minimal costs.

If you have questions about your current website host, infrastructure, or other needs, please reach out and connect with me today. Head over to wowdigital.com/consult and book a free 20-minute session with me where we can talk about your server and I can give you some tips on how to improve your hosting.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I’m looking forward to having you listen to the next ones that we’ve got coming up. If you’ve enjoyed this episode please leave feedback on iTunes or wherever you listen to this podcast, I’d love to hear your feedback and it would also help others find the show.

Be sure to check out the show notes for the episode, head over to wowdigital.com, click on podcast, and search for this episode number and you’ll find all the links, details, and other information that has been discussed in this episode.

Are there any other topics that you would like to hear about? Just send an email to [email protected]. Thanks for listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast!

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