Website hosting for charities - a beginner's guide

computers uploading to the cloud

The purpose of this article is to help those who are relatively new to websites and hosting to get their heads round the topic. We build a lot of websites for charities but the material here should be applicable to any website project.

The basics of hosting your charity website – a dummy’s guide

Simply put, the World Wide Web is a vast collection of computers connected to each other. A set of protocols allow people to access the information stored on these computers by typing in addresses (such as

Everything accessible on the web, including your charity’s website, must be stored on a computer that is connected to the web. Another name for a computer which is built especially for storing public website files is a ‘server’.

Just like your PC or mobile phone, a server has an operating system. There are two main camps here: Microsoft and Linux. The first you will be familiar with; the second is an open-source operating system that has gained real traction in the world of servers and is the most common.

Also like your PC, a server must be up to the job. If your server is slow and archaic, your website will behave likewise.

So how does my charity choose a hosting provider?

A hosting provider is simply the company that provides you with access to and control over your server. 

Whoever built, or maintains, your website is usually the best person to advise you on hosting provision. They will be familiar with appropriate providers and be able to guarantee your website will work with the selected provider. They may even provide this service directly or through a reseller arrangement (as we do). A number of providers offer free website hosting for charities

Your hosting provider does not have to be linked to the company that maintains your website, but this can sometimes make the process of carrying out updates easier.

If you are a UK-based company, it's normally a good idea to pick a UK-based hosting provider so that your server will respond more quickly for most of your website visitors.  Other concerns are the availability and quality of the technical support, the cost of extra bandwidth if things go well, and the regularity and reliability of back-ups should the worst happen.

Shared v. Dedicated vs. Clustered hosting

Dedicated hosting

Dedicated hosting means that you have a whole server to yourself. This arrangement has the advantage that you can configure that machine exactly how you like and you can look after multiple websites if necessary. This arrangement can also give greater security, though this depends on your set-up and other factors.

Shared hosting

Shared hosting means that you share one server with other customers. Each customer can only access their own files and limited configuration options.  Shared hosting may be on a 'virtual private server', in which case customers may also have access to a server control panel as if they had their own server.

Clustered grid hosting

Clustered grid hosting is based upon groups of computers that are configured to work together very closely. These ‘clusters’ of computers increase efficiency by sharing different tasks between a large number of processors. They are also characterised by high reliability, because if one computer in the network fails, the others pick up the slack.  Files are also not necessarily stored on just one machine. Instead they are stored on the cluster. As with shared hosting, clusters of servers will normally host files for a number of different customers simultaneously.

If you have any further questions or think we’ve missed anything important, feel free to post a comment!

21 March 2013
Andy Pearson