We have reached the point in the internet revolution where organizational websites are not only common but expected. If you don’t have a website, you don’t appear to exist. With more people using search engines to find information than ever before it is critical that your organization have a strong web presence. This post will cover the importance of chapter websites and ways to improve or start one.

Why You Need a Website

Like I said earlier, if you don’t have a website, you don’t appear to exist. Here are a few more reasons why it is important:

  • Websites lower the barriers to participation and help you gain members and build chapters.
  • They allow potential members from geographic areas outside of traditional population centers to find your organization and get involved.
  • If you don’t have one you are missing out on a vital form of communication, making it much more difficult to spread your message.
  • You can raise money online. Many people are less intimidated of contributing to a campaign or organization online than in person.
  • Reporters are less likely to take your organization seriously if you do not have one.

Creating a Website

I strongly suggest that your organization’s website have its own domain name. Orgname.wordpress.com might work for a personal blog, but not really for an organization. This is a matter of being taken seriously by visitors, making your site easier to find on search engines, and the ability to have a memorable URL to put on all of your materials. The most popular domain registration service is GoDaddy.com (from right here in AZ).

There might be someone in your organization that already has experience making websites. (Check out my post on getting the most out of your members). If not, I suggest using Campaign Window. Campaign Window allows you to create professional quality sites quickly and easily. You could also hire someone to build a site for you, but this can be extremely expensive (for example, hiring me to do a basic site design costs a minimum of $1000). If your organization is going to build your own site, you need to get a domain name, select a hosting service, and decide on a platform. Platforms include TextPattern, WordPress (not wordpress.com), Drupal, etc. The technical aspects of building a website would take up this entire post, so I won’t go into it here. Some online research will go a long way in finding good resources and advice on this.

Qualities of a Good Political Organization Website

  • Effective websites have dynamic content – When I was but a young padawan learner under the tutelage of Tony Cani at the Arizona Democratic Party, he had a saying that he would relay to everyone that wanted us to make them a site: a website without dynamic content is just a brochure available online. I have since stolen this saying because it is so accurate. If there will never be new content, visitors have no reason to come back. A website today is expected to be a participatory tool and up-to-date information source.
  • Successful sites are frequently updated – This ties in to dynamic content, because it is determining how dynamic the content is. The more your website is updated, the more active your organization will appear. When you see an organization website that has not been updated in months, you come to the assumption that the site has been abandoned and the organization is defunct.
  • Allows online contributions – As I mentioned earlier, many people feel more comfortable donating online than in person. It also makes it much easier for members to ask friends and family for donations. Anything that makes fundraising easier is a welcome addition.
  • They are informative – Most people that initially come to your site are their looking for information. Make it easy to find contact information, event information, and how to join. A visitor should also be able to tell exactly what you group is about when they land on your front page.
  • The are press-friendly – Your current and past press releases should be available on your site. (My post on press releases is available here). A reporter that is following up on a release will probably come to your site for more information.
  • Have action items – Make it easy for someone to take action on the issues your are working on. Some people that are somewhat interested in the cause but not yet ready to take the plunge into membership can still make a small contribution to your effort. The visitors can add up and bolster your cause in aggregate.
  • Have a blog – I have covered chapter blogging at length here in an earlier post.
  • E-mail list sign-up – Include a sign-up form for your organizations email list. This should be readily accessible from your front page. List-building is one of the most important tasks you have as a chapter, so you want to make it easy for visitors to sign-up.

Today West Virginia Blue has a post with 10 tips for Democratic candidate websites, but many of this tips also apply to organization sites as well, so check it out.

Does your chapter have a really great website? Share the link with us as an example. Did I miss something? Have any other ideas? Do you have experience working with some of these site platforms? Leave a comment and share!