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Nonprofit Web Design: Choosing the Right CMS

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A web content management system (CMS) is a piece of software that makes it easy for people to create and edit content on a website. It takes whatever text, pictures, and videos you want on a page and lays them out in a way that’s consistent across the whole site.

There are dozens of CMSs, like Joomla, TYPO3, and Drupal, and each has something special to offer. With so many options, it can be tricky for a nonprofit with limited time and resources to decide which CMS is right for them. To help alleviate a little of that stress, we’ll be comparing and contrasting the two popular systems we implement for some of our projects at Radish: WordPress and Squarespace.

Squarespace

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Squarespace does its best to make the process of building a website as easy as possible. It’s an all-in-one, software-as-a-service web application and works exclusively through a web browser. It’s closed-source software, and every aspect of a sitebuilding from design to hosting is done through Squarespace.com. This means that there isn’t much flexibility or portability for websites built on Squarespace, which may be problematic for some nonprofits. However, with things like hosting, SEO, and responsive design built into every SS site automatically, it makes the entire process nearly foolproof. Also, instead of building a website completely from scratch, Squarespace has a bunch of templates on which users can build their sites, with fleshed-out examples of each to provide a little inspiration.

WordPress

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WordPress is free and open source software, and allows for websites to be much more customized than ones built on Squarespace. It features over 40,000 plugins that developers can use to add special features to a site, such as sidebars, search boxes, or social media integration. Some of these plugins are free, while others are “premium plugins,” which come with a fee. Building a WordPress site is a much more involved process, and things like SEO and responsive design don’t come prepackaged like they do with Squarespace. But with nearly 60% of the market share, WordPress is the most popular CMS worldwide, and there’s no shortage of developers who can build a WordPress site that perfectly suits your nonprofit’s needs.

 

WHAT’S THE RIGHT CMS FOR YOUR NONPROFIT?

Short-term Considerations

Most Squarespace sites don’t require custom code, and a lot of the work in building them comes from design and image sourcing. If your current site is light on content (less than 15 pages or so) and your organization doesn’t rely on it for audience engagement, Squarespace might be the right choice for your nonprofit’s website. On the other hand, if your website is content-heavy or needs to have special features like a member login section, it would probably be easier to go with WordPress. Because of these added complexities, though, a well-designed WordPress site is going to require a significantly bigger investment than a site built on Squarespace.

Long-term Considerations

Hosting a website is another important consideration. Squarespace sites are all hosted remotely on Squarespace’s servers. This is another way that Squarespace tires to make things easy, but depending on what plan you sign up for the costs can add up significantly. WordPress, on the other hand, can be hosted on private servers, a WordPress optimized hosting system like Flywheel, or dedicated server cloud based hosting such as Digital Ocean. Again, WordPress comes out on top when it comes to flexibility.

Radish Lab comes across a lot of organizations with big plans for a shiny new website but lack the necessary funding to make it happen. When we find organizations in this situation, we sometimes suggest they start small and invest in a lite Squarespace site, as it’s more important to have a site that does a good job of representing your organization, even if it’s smaller and has less content than you’d like. That way, they’re able to establish and maintain an internet presence while they gather funding for a larger site build.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

It helps to think of WordPress as a huge pickup truck and Squarespace as something more like a Toyota Prius. A big truck might look cool and have tons of options, but are you really going to need it if you don’t haul a ton of stuff around every day? On the other hand, a Prius is efficient and will get you where you want to go, but if you ever need to move a sofa you’re shit out of luck.

Likewise, WordPress is a monster of a program, and has almost endless possibilities for customization. Squarespace is geared more towards the average citizen of the internet and is focused on simplicity and design, which makes it slightly more restricted than WordPress in terms of what features you can build into your site.
Choosing a CMS is an important decision, and it’s impossible for one blog post to cover every aspect of it. Stay tuned for the next installment of Nonprofit Web Design, where we’ll take an in-depth look at Squarespace.

Comments

  • I’m looking forward to this series of posts continuing! I was sorry that this post didn’t include NationBuilder as an option if your nonprofit wants to engage people via the site. I admit I’m partisan, since I work for NationBuilder. I did start using the platform as a nonprofit customer, and I found it a better solution than WordPress + BuddyPress for tracking / expanding engagement with a community.

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