Having just a website limits your organization's ability to inform, communicate, and enage your constituents. It decreases the chances of search engines finding you and as a standalone web presence its design and content are challenged to appeal to diverse age groups and interests. Having a website as the hub of your web presence makes sense, but today you need more.
Add a blog can help you engage your public with fresh news, opinions as well as calls to action. There is some opportunity for two way communication because people can comment on your postings. You can also include an RSS feed of your blog on your website. That way visitors to your website can see some of the content on your blog and hopefully be enticed to pay a visit. Of course you can link to your website from your blog as well.
Use a free or low cost e-news application like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to send out newsletters to folks that sign up for them. You can include links to your website and to your blog, thus driving traffic to them and on every site you have you can promote the e-newsletter. They are easy to produce - see our example built on Mail Chimp.
Facebook offers non profits the ability to have an organizational page as well as list yourself as a cause that people can donate to. I don't think Facebook is a great fundraising tool, but it is an awesome connector of people. People find out about you through their current Facebook friends but also you can upload your address list and Facebook will automatically find your connections if they too have a Facebook page. Then invite them to join you.
Having your own private social network (I recommend ning.com as the platform) may be a good idea, depending on your strategy. It allows to form a network of community of constituents around any cause or purpose. It takes a bit more effort but you don't have to be a propellor head to use it. Click here to learn more.
Twiiter is a microblogging tool and you can use it to connect to people, follow what they are doing and saying but also have them follow you,. Use Twitter to send out messages about what you do and what you think interests your followers. You can link your postings to your blog, website, Facebook or wherever.
Use online tools like ning.com or Google Sites (or others) to create an extranet for your staff, volunteers or collaborative partners. Extranets are especially helpfiul if you are collaborating with others that you can't always meet face to face or need a central depository for documents, group discussions, event schedules, etc.
If you are a small to mid-size organization, you can build most, if not all, of the above web matrix using free tools.
If you don't need a super sophisticated website, you can build one using free tools. I recommend Google Sites because of its ability to integrate with other Google products like Google Docs. There are even database driven template pages you can use.
Build your blog using Wordpress or Blogger and you get a content managed blog with a pretty good choice of templates for free. No hosting costs either.
Facebook and Twitter are free to use and both have an array of applications that you can integrate into your sites. There are some free applications now that allow you to fundraise using Twitter.
Ning offers a free version too, though it has advertising down one of the sidebars, but Facebook has advertising too. You can get rid of the advertising for a very modest monthly charge.
And if you want an extranet, build another Google Site for that or use one of the other many free "wiki" platforms.
I realize "free" doesn't mean there is no investment of staff time or some extra costs such as using a graphic designer if you want a special logo or visual treatments, but overall you can build a robust web presence for very little money.
If you are going to use outside help, use it to help you form your overall strategy and to train your staff how to use these tools. See our Need Help? page.