Platform Options for Building Nonprofit Websites
There are myriad tools and platforms that promise to make it easy for you to get your site up and running quickly, with new ones appearing every day. They primarily break down into two categories that we’ll call “website builder platforms” and “self-hosted content management systems.”
What they all have in common (along with many other CMSes):
- Free to use. Just install it on your own server and you never owe them a dime.
- Open-source software, which means that the programming source code is publicly available for anyone to review for bugs or bad functionality, and that they are developed by passionate communities of programmers.
- Regularly updated to comply with new standards.
- Anyone can build applications on top of the platform.
- Have a thriving ecosystem of developers that extend the CMS functionality (with plugins) and customize it to just about any niche and purpose.
- Have no limitations on how much they can be customized. Want to add a feature?
- Require a hosting package. Unlike the previous section, since the application is free, hosting is sold independently. Many hosting providers now offer “managed” hosting, which helps with providing support services to keep your site running smoothly.
Drupal and Joomla are powerful and flexible content management systems, which run many large-scale websites. They can be customized to your heart’s desire—or more likely, to your programmer’s heart’s desire. Designed for more industrial use, small and medium nonprofits will have to hire a developer to set up the site to work the way they want.
WordPress: Power, Flexibility and Ease of Use
WordPress started out in 2003 as a simple blogging platform, but its constant updates and improvements have made it the most popular platform on the internet—now powering 28% of all websites online, including some major websites that have used the source code to develop their magazines and shops!
Whereas the hosted website builder platforms listed in part one, above, are designed for people with limited technical ability, WordPress attempts to make it easy to build something simple—starting with the pre-packaged themes and out-of-the-box functionality—and quickly get into much more complicated designs and functions with custom themes and add-ons.
Using the same framework as WordPress.com (listed in the previous section), the self-hosted version of WordPress strives to be a perfect blend of power and ease of use. It is incredibly extensible with virtually unlimited free and paid themes and plugins for whatever your organization wants to achieve online.
There are pre-built plug-and-play themes and plugins that can quickly turn a WordPress site into:
- An online learning platform
- A business directory
- An online magazine
- A membership site
- A discussion forum
- A crowdfunding platform
- An e-commerce site
- An event and ticketing system
- A hotel management system
And many more…even all on the same site at once. Virtually any kind of system can be (and has been) built on WordPress.
Advantages of Self-Hosted WordPress Websites
As we listed above, there are many advantages to creating a site built on WordPress. And as the number one website platform on the internet, many other tools and services create plugins for WordPress to make integrating them easy. If a new popular social media platform springs up, they’ll integrate with WordPress sooner than they will with any other platforms.
Unlike site builder platforms, the ubiquity and customizability of the platform give nonprofits using WordPress the ability to:
- Launch a website in minutes
- Optimize the site’s performance for SEO and load times
- Customize social sharing functionality and appearance
- Customize the site’s look and feel to appeal to their audience base
- Connect it to their preferred donation systems
- Create and share unlimited types of content quickly and easily
- Have multiple article/blog sections updated frequently
- Refresh the design at any time without starting from scratch
- Move the site easily from server to server (host to host) seamlessly
- Integrate with third-party CRMs like Salesforce/Patron Manager, MailChimp, Insightly, Hubspot, Constant Contact, etc., etc.
- Future-proof against new technology. WordPress core functionality and third-party themes and plugins are constantly adapting to the latest standards and best practices.
- Extend functionality with third-party analytics, advertising systems, and thousands of other integrations.
Disadvantages of Self-Hosted WordPress
With great power comes great responsibility. And that is a trade-off when considering using WordPress for your nonprofit.
- For someone who isn’t technologically savvy, WordPress can be intimidating.
- Some plugins and themes may not be securely coded and can be vulnerable.
- Updates to the WordPress core may occasionally break third-party plugins.
- Unlimited choices can lead to paralysis by analysis. You may want to bring in a professional developer and/or designer to get you started.
- You will need a hosting provider. The good news is that most providers also include unlimited email addresses @yourdomain.org, and can even host multiple websites on one account.
TIP: Nonprofits are eligible for free hosting and discounted WordPress managed hosting. That means your nonprofit site is hosted and run on the latest WordPress for free, forever. Grab our guide for the info!
Conclusion: Which Platform is Best for Your Nonprofit Website?
We don’t try to hide our love for WordPress, for its power and flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your org today. Its cost is also frequently lower than monthly payments you might incur on the templated platforms over time. As your organization grows, you’ll be able to add functionality, marketing tools, enhanced analytics, and much more.
If you can’t make the initial investment in either learning to set up a basic WordPress site and choosing a theme (or hiring someone to help you through those phases), we recommend SquareSpace for its well-crafted designs and features like SSL and donations.