Create a Low-Cost Chapter Website

Effective Aug 1, 2019, Alumni Spaces is discontinuing their free websites (see Alumni Spaces Discontinues Their Free Sites Effective August 1, 2019). If your chapter site uses one of these, you’ve got just a few weeks to find a new provider. Even if you haven’t been an Alumni Spaces user you might find yourself wanting to create a website for your chapter or club. In this post, I help you get started on that journey and offer some suggestions for website builders you can use to create one.

Alumni Spaces’ Symphony Product

Alumni Spaces is discontinuing its free Ensemble product to focus on its Symphony product. Symphony is a suite of tools used by alumni associations that includes website capabilities for local chapters. It may be worth discussing with your club coordinator whether your alumni association would invest in this platform if you have found the free site to be really valuable. All chapters within the alumni association would be included in the network and would get their own site. The university would be able to manage their network and obtain valuable data and reports as part of their subscription. That may be a long shot but it’s certainly worth a discussion with your club representative.

Low-Cost Website Options

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In the event that their answer is “no” or your plan is to find a new website anyway, I recommend low-cost website builder. Normally, I would be the first to suggest a free tool but in this case, you’ll get what you pay for with a free website builder – little support, wonky building tools, and potentially the inability to use a custom domain name if you own one. Regardless, not all clubs will have the budget so I’ve included low-cost builders that have a free option. 

Get Ready to Find a Website Builder

Google “website builder” and you’ll find a bunch of options out there. Let’s go through a quick list of questions to ask to understand what your chapter’s needs are for a website.

  • Do you own a custom domain for your chapter that you want to tie to your website? For example, our club owns CharlotteHeels.com and use this on our website.
  • Do you collect money through your website for club dues, donations, or through the sale of items?
  • Do you collect money through your website for club dues, donations, or through the sale of items?
  • Will a one-page site suffice or do you need to be able to build multiple pages and menu-based options?
  • Will you need an integration to your email marketing tool, payment provider, social media or other vendor applications your chapter might use?
  • What’s your budget for a subscription website service?

The answers to these questions will help you as you assess what website builder is best for you.

WordPress.com

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If you have become accustomed to Alumni Spaces’ administration and want a similar experience, create a WordPress.com site. Alumni Spaces is built on top of WordPress so the controls and experience will be nearly identical to Alumni Spaces. You can find more information on pricing and features per plan here. The Premium plan which is $98 annually is the most cost-effective with enough features for most chapters.

Pros:

  • Similar design experience to Alumni Spaces
  • Get a free domain with purchase of the Personal plan and above or you can point your existing domain to the site
  • Can have multiple pages on your site.
  • Can use existing, free themes or create a custom one
  • Get social media and simple payments integrations with the Premium plan

Cons:

  • The Free plan offers little functionality. Must buy a plan to get more functionality and get rid of the ads and WordPress.com footer
  • The e-commerce experience leaves a lot to be desired but you can work around that by pointing to your payment provider’s site when necessary

Weebly

Weebly is on my list because 1) it offers a free plan and 2) I have a website on Weebly. Weebly is great for websites, no lie. You’ll need to purchase a plan to get the most out of your subscription. Pros

  • The builder is easy to use with plenty of free templates to choose from

  • The site can have multiple pages with a menu that’s easy to setup

  • They have a great dashboard and insights tools

Cons

  • They discontinued their MailChimp integration awhile ago. The Weebly proprietary email marketing tool is not free to use and is in addition to the Weebly subscription. 

  • Have to add and purchase apps to integrate with other tools. Have to have the Connect plan ($5 per month) to connect your custom domain to the site

The Totally Free Option: Google Sites

I advocate paying for a website builder; however, if you have no budget Google Sites might be your only option. It’s free. Totally free. Always free. Google Sites is essentially a wiki page creation tool but with some of the features of the other low-cost options, I mentioned above.

Pros:

  • Domain name mapping is free (you can bring your own domain)
  • Drag and drop editing and simple website building features
  • Website can have multiple pages
  • Integration with other Google tools
  • Free themes

Cons:

  • Cannot remove the footer (“Made with the new Google Sites, an effortless way to create beautiful sites. [Create a site] Report abuse”)
  • No integration with other tools such as payment providers
  • Reminder – it’s free and you get what you pay for (not much)

Bonus: Have an Alum Help You

Are you up for this journey? If you aren’t, you may have some enterprising, talented web designers in your alumni chapter who would be willing to help. It never hurts to send a shout-out to the group to see if someone would be willing to spend some time helping to build a site for you. If you have a little budget, you might even be able to pay them for assistance. This can be an awesome resume builder for a new grad (Hey New Grade Your Local Alumni Club Has Some Great Opportunities for You!) or for the seasoned web designer, a way to give back to their university while adding something to their portfolio.

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