A forum is a place for discussion and community interaction. For some charities and non-profit organisations they can be a lifeline, but for others an unnecessary distraction. So it’s wise to think carefully before jumping in to creating your own forum.
Ask yourself – does my charity or non-profit organisation need a forum?
Why using a forum might be a good idea:
- To interact regularly with your volunteers or supporters
- To provide support and advice to the people your charity was set up to help
- To run online events such as fundraising competitions
Why using a forum might be a bad idea:
- Once a forum has built up a membership base and is receiving lots of visitors and posts, it can become very time consuming to maintain with approving new members, sorting out people’s problems with logging in and posting, not to mention having to ‘manage’ a community of people who may not always agree and may not always be polite! All of this may outweigh the benefits of having a forum in the first place
- You will need volunteers (or paid staff) dedicated to maintaining and managing the forum
- If your organisation has any relation to issues that might be considered controversial, people that oppose your ideas may use your forum to post derogatory or abusive comments
- If you have a large organisation (or if it becomes large at a later date) forum hosting costs can start to spiral. If you have more than 50-80 people browsing your forum at any one time you really will need some proper solid hosting, and this rarely comes for free! (Unless you have a very generous hosting company 🙂 )
So – if you’ve read all that and decided that a forum IS a good idea for your charity or non-profit organisation, read on to find out where you can go to set one up for free!…
FREE forum hosting services:
*Note – I haven’t tested all of these services, the only one I have had significant experience with is Forumotion and their service seemed pretty good, but had occasional ‘downtime’. Your best bet in choosing which one to use is to check out their support forums, there you can see how many complaints they have from users and how they deal with them)
1. Forumotion – http://www.forumotion.com
2. Free Forums – http://www.freeforums.org
3. Lefora Free Forum – http://www.lefora.com
4. Forumer – http://www.forumer.com
3. Make Forum – http://www.makeforum.org
One drawback – many (if not all) of the services listed do put adverts on your forum. This is how they make the money to host your free forum. Usually though these are only displayed to unregistered users so your regular members will not be irritated by them.
Most of these services run on phpBB forum software, which is a very popular open source software used by millions of sites around the web.
Getting set up is fairly simple (although so far I’ve never seen a good quality forum software that wasn’t just a little bit tricky to manage!), and if you’re web-savvy there’s lots of different ways you can make your forum stand out by using different design choices, adding your own headers, extra pages, polls etc.
But of course, if you’re unsure on all that you can still get a very effective forum up and running where your members and supporters can have a ‘chinwag’ and get to know each other better. Content is the key – post regularly and make it interesting!
If you’ve got your own hosting account and enough resources to run a forum (if you’re unsure always check with your hosting company) you can install forum software on your own account and have more control over the entire site. This gives you a lot more scope for making the forum unique to your organisation and customising it to your needs, but also means more maintenance in terms of backing up the database, updating the software and being ready to spring in to action should anything go wrong (always keep backups!)
If your hosting account includes SimpleScripts software you can install phpBB with just a few clicks! It’s very easy to do and saves you a lot of time and hassle.
Got any questions about setting up a forum for your charity/non-profit? Or perhaps some advice for others about setting up their forum? Please feel free to leave a comment!