Lewis Kelley from the National Forest Foundation has asked how much it would cost for their organization to blog. The purpose of this post is to discuss a basic yearly budget that encompasses setup costs, labor costs and online services. Let’s do some of the basic math.
Assuming that your site is not going to get more than 40,000 users per month and no more than 20 GB of bandwidth, I suggest you simply go with a shared ISP account. This isn’t going to break the bank at all. I use NEXCESS.NET. They’re very cheap. The mini-me plan is $134.59 a year for site hosting, daily site backup and a dedicated IP address. If you exceed your monthly bandwidth, it’s roughly $1/GB.
If all of a sudden, you get a lot more traffic, you can move up to the “Gettin’ Hits” plan which is $259.18 but that assuming traffic in the 40,000 user range. Seriously, you’ll be extremely lucky to get to this level in the first year so consider it something GOOD to worry about.
You can have your choice of Drupal or WordPress and they’ll even migrate your existing WordPress installation for you for free. I haven’t tried migrating a Drupal installation to them but I’m pretty sure they can do it.
OK, so for less than the cost of an Xbox 360, your nonprofit now is on the web but wait! There’s more to consider. You need the following
- front-end developer (someone who can integrate your design into WordPress or Drupal)
You don’t have a wireframe for your site and you don’t have a design yet. Generally speaking, a wireframe is going to be difficult for many nonprofits to carry out on their own. A wireframe is like a blueprint for what a site is going to look like. It’s not supposed to have colors or pics, just black and white boxes depicting where on the page everything is going to be. Technically, you should be able to print it out and pretend to navigate the site on your own. Just to help out nonprofits even more, I’ll be putting up a sample wireframe that will build out a site similar to the one at apaforprogress.org. If you don’t want to wait for me, simply go over to the site and copy the the way the featured headlines and the river of blog entries work. That’s more than good enough for a first pass. I would prefer that nonprofits follow a reasonably clear cookie-cutter information architecture than one that is custom-made, expensive but doesn’t follow good information architecture principles. Stay tuned for the wireframe!
As for the design, sadly, design is very, very custom and I suggest you find a designer that not only is a good designer but one that is also knowledgeable about the platform (either Drupal or WordPress) that you want to run with. Be aware that most themes in Drupal or WordPress don’t incorporate Huffington Post-like magazine sensbilities. Or alternatively, you can use existing themes and try to make them work with your wireframes. Just so you know the cost for designing the APA for Progress site was less than $600 but we also bought an existing theme and just tweaked the header and color set. Total cost was in the $750 range.
Once the designer is done, you will end up with a bunch of Photoshop files in .psd format. From there, you need to convert the .psd files into working XHTML and CSS files that will work with your Drupal or WordPress theme.
Luckily, there are a bunch of services that do that. I’ve never had to use them since I can do it myself but you might want to try PSD2HTML. The cost for moving the .psd over to HTML in WordPress with their hi-end solution (which you should choose) is $412 and $512 to move it to Drupal.
So you’re talking about $1200 for setup of the site’s look and feel but it’ll be cookie-cutter. Trust me, I have the feeling that even a cookie-cutter information architecture will be better than what your nonprofit has now. Over time, you can change the information architecture but by then, you’ll have a better sense of how the site operates and how it flows from a user’s perspective.
Labor costs are going to be a kicker. The problem is this: you need to someone willing to post a lot (on their own) while the site traffic starts to ramp and you get volunteers to your site. If your nonprofit already has a strong volunteer force doing offline work for you, I suspect that they would be the first group of people to approach. Let’s assume you get lucky. You have someone full-time who can dedicate 10 hours a week to blogging and a volunteer who pitches in 1 blog post every couple of days. A reasonable post takes about 2 hours to build but seriously, don’t go overboard. Half the time your posts could be really short and you’d still get your nonprofit’s message out there as long as it’s tagged and timely. Let’s assume your volunteer is the more timely person, just picking out news articles from the Twittersphere, blogosphere and any RSS feeds she or he might set up. Total blog posts per week from your staff member and from your volunteer? 7.5. It should take about a month before your SEO traffic starts to build. More than 1 post a day should be your minimum. These posts should follow good SEO guidelines and be well tagged.
Obviously, over 52 weeks, we’re talking about 520 hours of work during that year. Assuming a cost of around $20 an hour for the full time employee that’s $10400. With any luck, your blogging community should be up to around five or six good bloggers by the end of the first six months and by the end of the year site management will probably take more time as your media efforts start running through your new site and getting a lot more traffic to boot. And that’s pretty much how APA for Progress started.
So here’s a final rundown:
$135 for the web site
$1200 for design and front end development
$10400 for full-time employee (.25 FTE)
$11735 for the first year of operation
I think that a very reasonable upfront cost. The labor cost is interesting because your nonprofit may already be paying someone to do work as a communications director. However, don’t worry so much if the blog entries are coming from someone who isn’t trained to be a communications director. It’s more important to communicate enthusiasm and an all-encompassing curiosity about the topic at hand than it is to project a “message” to your blog’s readers. In some sense, a full-time staff person may be the wrong person for this. It all depends. Have people submit writing samples. You’ll find that good bloggers can come from anywhere (hint, hint, even interns and IT directors).