Build it and they will come? Not!
You need, at the very minimum, a website. E-mail discussion groups are only that--discussion groups, and the public has somehow been trained to expect something more. It need not be fancy, and there are still freebie webhosts around.
In fact, from what I've seen, the more basic of websites I've seen come from groups who have the most active, effective presence in the real world. They're too busy serving their functions in face-to-face meetings and activism projects to concern themselves too much with a fancy website.
Some of the freebie hosts, such as Freeservers.com, provide a site editor that pretty much does the job for you. If you don't have a volunteer in your group with technical expertise, this could be a way to go, provided you can resist the lure of the bells and whistles offered. Too much junk on your start page make it (and the org) look unprofessional. You intention is to convey information, so leave your animated graphics, MP3s and pictures of your kids/dogs/65Mopar for a different kind of site, or areas other than the start page. Stick to text and simple graphics, and work toward having a page that loads in eight seconds or under. I don't personally go along with the current trend of jamming a lot of info in tiny type on the first page. A social activism group needs to have special concern that their information be accessible by anyone, not just those with perfect vision and lighting-fast connections. When I started this site, I checked to see that my husband could read it without his glasses.
Also check this site:
Why advocacy sites fail
It's a good idea--critical, in fact, to have the front page of your website address who you are, what you do, and a bit of what you hope to accomplish. Check to make sure your mission statement or other text is free of spelling and grammar errors. Remember, most often you'll be introducing yourself to strangers, so explain any acronyms and avoid jargon if at all possible. Get a friend who is not involved with your issues to take a look and see if your point's getting across.
Make sure your content is 1) Accurate, and 2) Legal. If you use stats or facts, refer to the source. If you use written work done by someone else, make sure you have the right/permission to use it. It's tempting to copy and paste stuff from somewhere else that looks interesting, but first make sure you have the permission of the author. It never hurts to ask! Here are some sites that give the skinny on copyright issues.
Avoid using your org's website to promote your home business or favorite MLM. This clouds the issue, and visitors won't know whether your real purpose is to promote the cause, or sell them something. A discreet link to your business website on an inside page is acceptable, but beyond that, don't dilute your message with other concerns.
Once your website is up and rolling, make sure you or your volunteer in charge of these things keeps it updated and responds to requests for info. More than once I've e-mailed an org and never got an answer, or if I did get one, it was weeks or months later and I'd already located the info I needed elsewhere. Once I e-mailed a DV shelter in a southern state that claimed to provide help for men. The e-mail contact they gave for general info was the same as the one on the first page, the one to use for immediate help. Three weeks and a couple more e-mails later, I finally gave up and phoned. I was told they only check the e-mail every few months, because they get so little, and only one person in their office understood how to do it. Sorry, but that's not the way to run a website. Never promise what you can't deliver, particularly if you're offering assistance of any kind.
And one more thing--never, ever, publish a page that's "Under Construction!" Your ideas may change, and those looking for that info you promised them way back when will be disappointed when it doesn't materialize. They'll think twice about going to you for info again. What you want is repeat visits, and a good relationship with your cyberfriends. A little bit of reliable information is worth far more than lots of empty promises.
Then you begin promoting your site. This is important! It's also a continuing process. Here are some links for the basics of website promo, that mostly address the questions of getting on search engines and directories and improving your standing in the listings. Webmonkey has some basic info,
Self Promo is updated frequently as conditions change. Believe me, things change fast in cyberspace!
However! It currently takes months to be listed by the major search engines, so while you're waiting for that all-important Yahoo listing, there are other things you can be doing. I read somewhere not long ago that the average website gets 3 hits a day. Well, you can do far better than that, even before you get listed by Yahoo.
Trade links with as many related websites as you can. The better-trafficked your buddies are, the better it reflects on you, as well. Your links are also taken into consideration when the search engines decide whether to list you.
Get yourself listed by local community directories. Often your city, county governments, or local newspaper will have a community directory that lists websites of non-profits/community orgs for free. Also check with colleges and universities, the chamber of commerce and the cultural council, if there is one in your area. A hint--check first to see what their criteria are for listing an org before you apply. Some friends of mine recently helped out a lady get listed by her local paper, because they required that the site have a certain amount of traffic (website hits) to prove its viability.
Most of these listings will not require a 501(c)3, because so many groups are not. Just your statement that you are a non-profit community service org is enough. Sometimes they want a snail mail addy and phone number, and it's a good idea to have that info on the site anyway, to assure the public there are, in fact, people behind it.
Post your meeting announcements and other news about your org on as many of the online boards and forums as apply. Don't forget the local forums, such as they have at About.com and other places. Try to be as active as you can on the forums. I find every time I post a message somewhere, it commonly results in one to five immediate website hits.
Make sure your signature line for your e-mail reflects that URL. This is especially helpful when you're posting to unrelated discussion groups.
Fill out those profiles on Yahoo Clubs and About.com forums! This is another chance to get your website noticed. Add a link to your site on any Yahoo Club to which you belong.
Don't forget to consider offline promo, as well. If your group or org has stationery or business cards, make sure that URL is on there. Every piece of paper that leaves your office relating to the org should have the URL included somewhere.
T-shirts or hats that promote your org could also be a help, especially if you're doing a demonstration and appear on TV or in the paper. I can't tell you the number of times I've checked out a site just because I saw it on somebody's t-shirt when I was in town.