TechSoup@PND

Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

A Few Good Blogging Tools

The article below was provided by Idealware, which helps nonprofits choose software that is effective and affordable. For more articles and reviews, go to www.idealware.org.

Why do we blog? Personal reasons aside, blogs are particularly useful for organizations as a way to publicize expertise on a topic in your issue area, educate constituents, promote your work, or share your story from behind the scenes. By making your organization easier to find through search engines, generating new content with a blog is also helpful for promoting your Web site and online information.

Blogs are a way for nonprofits and charities to show a little personality, too. By having multiple authors — staff members, volunteers, or even friends of the organization — you can show a diverse set of perspectives and experiences, adding depth to your online presence. This also provides opportunities for supporters and constituents to share their stories — for example, you could ask a volunteer to write about their experience working with your organization on an important or emotional project.

If you use your blog to recognize the efforts of your supporters or highlight what makes your organization's mission and work special, you can encourage more people to volunteer, donate, or support you in other ways.

There are many good reasons for nonprofits to keep a blog. Here are a few good tools to facilitate your blogging.

Free and Low-Cost Tools

There are a number of free or low-cost tools on the market, but many times, the best platform is the one you already have. If you have a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or Plone for your Web sites, you already have a strong blogging platform. Another advantage of using your CMS is that you can host your blog on your organization's Web site instead of having two separate locations and design schemes. After you've set it up, staff members and volunteers can easily author blog posts, giving your organization multiple voices and personalities.

If you don't have a content management system, or want a different blogging platform, you have other options. Free platforms let you test the waters a bit before you jump into the more advanced pool, but if you find one with enough flexibility and features, you may not need to switch. Look for a tool that lets you use your organization's branding and design scheme, or look and feel, to help unify your online communications across channels. You should also be able to add a custom URL, or Web address — www.idealware.org/blog is preferable to Idealware.blogspot.com, as it makes it easier for people to find you.

Make sure the features and functions you need are included in the platform, but note that some might not be part of the free version. Most basic blogging tools follow a "freemium" model, where you can add additional features and options for a cost. Different platforms offer different features: for example, WordPress charges a premium for an ad-free version, while Google will pay you to display advertisements on your Blogger page.

Free Platforms

WordPress.com. In addition to its open-source CMS, WordPress provides a free, straightforward blogging service for those who don't need or want a complete Web site. Besides basic blogging features, including some standard statistics, WordPress offers paid premium services. For example, if you want your own domain name for your blog (instead of http://name.wordpress.com), you'll need to pay an extra $13 to $25 per year.

Movable Type. Movable Type offers both free and paid versions of its Movable Type 5 platform, as well as a free open-source version for developers. The Movable Type 5 Pro Blogger license is available at no cost to qualifying individuals, sole proprietor bloggers, and education users from preschool to grade 12, while a license for business use starts at $395.95. Developers and individual users can have unlimited authors, and both the individual and business licenses include social network integration, custom fields, and optional technical support for an additional cost. While Movable Type is an attractive option for schools and educators, larger organizations may be priced out.

Blogger. Blogger, which is now owned by Google, has been around a long time. It's easy to use, with straightforward setup and easily customizable themes. By default, Blogger displays a rather prominent bar at the top of each blog that's branded with the Blogger logo and links to random other blogs, which can distract from your organization's theme if you don't remove it. Google makes it easy to add your own domain name (instead of http://name.blogspot.com), which is registered through a Google partner for $10 per year.

Tumblr. Tumblr is a relatively new, easy-to-use platform, often used for short-form blogging — posts are typically shorter or less involved than normal. Because of its popularity among teenagers and college-aged youth, blogs built on Tumblr can reach a younger audience than other platforms. It's easy to set up and fairly simple to customize.

More Feature-Rich Options

A free or low-cost blogging platform might support your needs, even as your online presence grows, but more advanced options — that also cost more — provide features and capabilities you may decide you want. How do you know if you've outgrown your blogging platform?

  • You need a more customized theme. If the free tool you've been using doesn't allow you to update the theme or appearance of your blog to match your Web site, it probably makes sense to find one that does.
  • You need more advanced features. While free platforms offer a lot of basic features, some specialized features either cost a premium or require a more advanced tool. Many platforms allow for multiple authors, for instance, but lack extensive tagging and archiving abilities, which can be important for extensive or long-running blogs. High-profile blogs tend to attract a lot of unwanted spam in the comments; pitches for discount electronics or male enhancement pills can detract from the content of your blog posts, and for some organizations, may be inappropriate or offensive to the intended audience. Some premium tools offer anti-spam features that might be worth an upgrade.
  • You need more technical support. Different tools tend to offer varying levels of support for users. Many open-source platforms, like WordPress, tend to only offer support through community forums and documentation. While more tech-savvy organizations can easily solve basic issues this way, many bloggers may prefer having a live person to help them.

For organizations that want more advanced features in a blogging platform and are willing to pay for them, there are a number of more feature-rich options available.

Squarespace. Starting at $8 per month, Squarespace is a commercial Web site and blog management platform that offers straightforward setup and design. Even a basic subscription has a robust set of features, including 24/7 support and a custom domain. Squarespace also provides some custom services and emphasizes integration with multiple social media channels and mobile devices.

Typepad. Starting at $8.95 per month, Typepad is sort of an initial step up from the free platforms, offering some advantages like custom domain names and technical support. However, organizations looking to customize the design of their blog will pay more.

Wrapping Up

In general, many free and low-cost platforms offer enough flexibility to grow with your organization, as well as custom themes — either free or for an additional cost. If your nonprofit uses a Web site content management system, that can be a good option for hosting your blog. A CMS offers more flexibility in terms of appearance, built-in functionality, and add-on features, but it may require more technical skill to set up and maintain than just a blogging platform.

The best blogging platform is the one that supports the majority of your needs and is comfortable for your staff to use, letting your bloggers focus on the important part: creating and sharing content.

For More Information

"Five Best Blogging Platforms," Lifehacker.