Okay friends, it is time to have a serious chat. I know that you work or volunteer for a nonprofit and cash and resources are tight there. You have a lot to worry about and have to be smart about how you use your cash and donors. You should not be spending those donations and grant funds frivolously.

On the other hand, I am sick and tired of nonprofit professionals looking for the free or ultra-cheap options first. FREE OR CHEAP ISN’T BETTER! In fact, it’s almost always worse. Nonprofit professionals need to understand this because you get what you pay for.

So, I am going to tell you exactly why I hate this mentality and give you some suggestions how you can use your nonprofit status to work with reputable and excellent service providers instead of cheap ones that offer cheap products.

This post is going to drop some hard truths on some of you, but I would rather break it to you now so you can do something about it instead of potentially making the mistake again and it costing you.

As a note, I am going to use websites as my primary example in this post, but you can also use these examples for services or products you may use or offer.


How good can it really be?

If I offered to sell you a car for $300, would you buy it? What assumptions would you make about that car? Probably that its barely being held together and this is its final drive before it ends up in a scrap yard. Would you feel comfortable with your children or loved ones driving in it? How about your beneficiaries? On the other hand, what if I offered to sell you a $15,000 car. What assumptions would you make about that car?

If you want a good product, you pay for it. Money is a way of valuing time. If you look for free things before you look at paid options all the time, it says that you don’t care about peoples time.

Is that a harsh thing to say? Probably. Is it true? Yeah, it is.

Think about how much a basic website (using a template) costs. For the tech, maintenance, the website template, and actually building the thing, you can expect to pay between $300 and $1,000. And that’s just for the nice looking framework and hosting. What if you need something customized for it? On average, a custom built website costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

Now, think about the guy that says he can build you a custom site for $35. To be blunt, what steaming pile are they trying to sell you for that price? A person or company is building websites to make money, so how can they offer that product at such a low rate so that it is still profitable to them? Where are they cutting costs? How much time are they actually spending building your site? Are they just spending 5 minutes copying and pasting a big block of text into a few premade pages and that’s it?

What does a cheap product say about you?

Take off your nonprofit hat for a second and put your consumer hat on. Would you eat at a restaurant that looks dirty, dark and unappetizing or would you rather eat at one that looks clean, happy and the food looks good? Obviously the clean place. Now replace “eat at a restaurant” with “donate to a nonprofit.”

Your image is important people! A positive image leads to trust in an organization and brand. If there are spelling errors, formatting issues or bad designs, potential donors will not trust you and will not donate.

To put it simply, having a cheap looking website/service/product decreases your chances of getting support.


Once you realize your website isn’t working because it looks cheap

Okay, so you have realized that you made a mistake with a cheap developer and they made you a bad website. Now what? Unfortunately, you have to do what you should have done the first time: hire a reputable developer.

Here is what you do:


1) Find a few companies/designers that offer the product you NEED

Do some research and look online for designers that have experience working with nonprofits and look at their previous work. A reputable designer will have a portfolio of past projects for you to look at to see their work. Build a list of designers you want to bid for your job (that’s right, you are going to have them bid on your site!)

Rank the designers from the ones you like most to the ones that you like least and take notes about what you like about them. Do you like how they use the whole webpage? Are their designs clean and uncluttered? Do they have a quick turn around time? Are all of their testimonials glowing? You will use this list later when they come back with their bids.

Developers may ask what your budget is to get an idea of how serious you are.

You should come up with a REALISTIC budget for what you can pay. Remember, you are purchasing a quality product here, so lowballing these developers will make them less likely to want to work with you. You are going to have to pay something for this site. But, with this approach, you can now be more flexible with the amount you pay.


2) Play your cards right

The interesting thing about nonprofits is that you have something to offer the people and companies that work with you: by working with you, the image of a for-profit company improves. The act of simply being charitable and helping those in need is valuable to a for-profit company or individual. Its why volunteering and business partnerships work with nonprofits. You can use that to your advantage.

When you are going through the bidding process with each company, tell them:

  1. Who you are, what you do and your plans for the future
  2. Exactly what you need in a website design
  3. Let them know you are looking for bids on the website design you described and explain what you will give them in return
    • Print a certificate thanking them for their support that they can put in their offices
    • You will tell other people how much you liked their work and how great they were to work with
    • Depending on your country, you could also offer them a tax write off for any discount that they provide you since that is one of the perks of being a nonprofit!

Then, wait for them to all come back to you with an estimate.


3) Remember that it probably isn’t going to be a free product, but it IS going to be a quality product

Once you have their bids, see if the developer you liked most gave you the best deal. If not, let them know that another developer you don’t like as much gave you got a cheaper bid. Tell them that you really wanted to work with them (and let them know the reasons you liked them) and ask how you can get the price down a bit more. Once you have completed bidding, provide them with the content with they need ASAP and make yourself available to them. They are doing you a favor by providing a discount and working with you, the least you can do is show them that same courtesy.


What if we can’t find an option that works for our budget?

Don’t sacrifice quality. If you can’t afford a functioning website, then you shouldn’t pay someone to make a crappy page for you just to have a page. Facebook groups (for example) are easy to use and a great substitute that is a solid product. Can’t afford a vehicle? Work out a deal to get bus vouchers or discounts on Uber. Can’t afford to rent your own space? Look at local gathering spaces like a coffee shop or a library.

Remember, this is about mindset. Instead of looking for the cheapest products and sacrificing quality, find the quality products first and then find ways to get the price down. As nonprofits, we have bargaining chips of our own. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your mission/image/programs with products or services that waste the time and energy of the people you serve.


What Now?

Like I said, this process applies to everything from negotiating a discount on laundry services to buying a transport vehicle. It starts with your mindset. Instead of looking for free or cheap products and services, look for quality products and service providers who are willing to decrease their price. Then, allow providers to bid and use your nonprofit status to make it beneficial for both of you. Follow up by valuing their time and showing them you are grateful for their support because they are saving you time, energy and headaches.

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.

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