Parent volunteers are amazing and often times, the lifeblood of a school, but aside from rare circumstances, they should not be used to design your school website.
Yes, parents help with programs and keep things running smoothly when you’re understaffed, and are all around great to have on your team.
But that doesn’t mean you should use them for everything, even if they offer to do it for free.
One of the few things you don’t want to skimp on is your school website, and even if you find a parent who can design you a site, you should probably still say no.
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Free Websites Are a Bad Idea in General
One of the reasons you may have for letting a volunteer design your website is cost.
Building a website can be expensive, so finding ways to cut costs can be particularly important – especially for schools on a tight budget.
While there are some great ways to save money building a website, it’s also one area you really don’t want to do cheaply.
For one, free websites are usually done quickly and with minimal customization to save on time. This means that any specific features you want to include which may be more complicated are almost always skipped in favor of a basic template.
Second, it’s hard to know exactly how professional the end-result will be. Sure, you could hit the jackpot and find a parent volunteer who designs websites for Fortune 500 companies, but that would be relatively the same odds as winning the actual lottery.
You’re more likely to be stuck with someone who designs websites as a hobby, but even if they do it for a living and are somewhat talented, you still have to factor in their time and effort. Simply put, you won’t be getting their best.
Finally, there is a lot that goes into creating a great website that most amateurs (or those working for cheap or free) will overlook in favor of getting it done quickly and easily, including skipping SEO strategies, using poor analytics (or none at all), and forgoing creating a mobile-friendly version of the site.
While all of these things may seem like things you can skip in the short term, you will inevitably find yourself wanting them down the road. That can mean redesigning your site all over again, which can cost you significantly more money than getting it right the first time.
Volunteers Aren’t a Long-Term Solution
Another major factor in saying “no” to parent volunteers is the reliability factor.
Websites need constant care and maintenance. They need to be frequently updated, and content shifts and changes over time, especially for school websites that need to keep up-to-date on community news and events.
When someone signs up to build you a website – and they’re doing it for less than they would normally charge, or even for free – they’re typically doing you a one-time favor. They haven’t signed up to keep your website running for the years to come.
Even if by some miracle you find someone who says, “Yes, I’ll take care of your website for free from now into eternity,” you still don’t want all of your eggs in one basket. Having to rely on one person to keep things updated can be a drain on that person over time.
What happens if they’re sick but you need to communicate something urgently, like a school closing due to weather? What happens if they are out of town on vacation and your system crashes?
Having an unpaid person responsible for your entire system is a recipe for disaster.
What You Should Do Instead
The good news is that there are solutions to your website problems, and they don’t require saying yes to every parent that offers to help.
Set a Budget
The first thing you want to do is set a budget. Knowing what you can and can’t afford will help you figure out just how many people should be involved in the process, as well as how complex a design you will be able to implement.
While you may not get everything you want out of the site if you have limited funds, any capable designer will be able to give you everything you need while staying within your budget. You should also include long-term maintenance as a part of that budget, and if you simply don’t have the funds, consider raising support. Your site is worth it.
Assess Your Current Resources
Second, you’ll want to assess your current team of people already employed by the school. Are you already paying someone to run your current website, and can you pay them to design a new site or upgrade your existing one?
Having someone already on the payroll means less energy spent searching for new designers. Of course, that means that you believe in the skills of that person, and it should go without saying that you should offer to pay them more to do any work (don’t assume they will do it for what they are already making).
Hire Outside (Long-Term) Help
If there is no one who works at your school who is up to the task, consider hiring a freelance designer with a great portfolio or with a design agency who can match your budget. Hiring outside help whose job it is to make sure your website looks great and runs efficiently can make all the difference.
Again, you want to focus on long-term solutions, whether that means contracting with that freelancer or agency to take care of your website for several years, or you always have the option of hiring someone to build and then switching maintenance to someone (being paid) at your school already.
Just keep in mind that you will need to check if your school system has any requirements for what your website needs to include, and make a list for any potential designer you use.
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Having a parent volunteer to build your website may seem like a cheap and easy solution to your problem, but there are many factors that go into building a great website that they may not be able to fully cover.
You want to look for designers that are first and foremost qualified to do the work – you don’t want some amateur creating something that will have to be redesigned down the road.
You also need to factor in long-term solutions – who will manage your website during the week or month? Who will handle emergency issues or update your site on the fly?
And finally, consider hiring a team of paid workers who will put their time and energy into making your website the best it can possibly be.
If you’re still worried about finances, create a budget. Any designer worth their salt can create something great for you without requiring you to spend a fortune.