What’s the Word? WordPress for NonProfits
WordPress – it’s far and away the most popular content management system (CMS) around. It’s the platform of choice for organizations all over the world, and nonprofits are no exception. It works with a host of tools and templates, and its flexibility and ease of use make it an attractive option for anyone looking to build or redesign their website. No matter what you need your site to accomplish, WordPress can handle it with ease.
For the final installment of our Nonprofit CMS trilogy, we’ll be going over some of the basics about WordPress, why it’s so flexible, and whether it’s the right platform for your nonprofit’s new website!
A Tale of Two WordPresses
The wonderful world of WordPress has two arms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Both provide all the tools you need to build a WordPress website, but the main difference between the two is who’s responsible for hosting it. If you decide to build your site through WordPress.com, your site will be hosted by Automattic, a for-profit company owned by one of the creators of the WordPress software. Automattic’s most basic hosting package is free, but it has pretty limited capabilities and isn’t meant for anything much more complicated than blogging. By upgrading to one of the paid options, you unlock more features and services, but you still won’t have complete control over the site’s design and functionality, as it will have limited access to third party plugins.
If opt to build your site through WordPress.org, the responsibility for hosting it is all yours. You can set it up to be hosted on your own private servers, or through a cloud-based hosting service like Flywheel. It might be more work and a bigger financial investment, but going with the self-hosted option will give you to fully utilize any and every feature you want that WordPress has to offer.
At Radish, we build all of our WordPress sites through WordPress.org because we need to create custom solutions for each of our clients’ specific needs. That doesn’t mean, though, that a WordPress.com site wouldn’t work for your organization. For example, if your nonprofit is brand new and you just need a way for people to find your address online, a WordPress.com site could be a fast, affordable option for your first site, and it still uses the powerful, intutive, and free and open source WordPress software.
A Quick Note about “Free and/or Open Source” Software
Free and open source software are computer programs that are licensed in such a way to allow users to view, change, and distribute the source code however they please. Some people like to say “free software,” some people like “open source.” Both pretty much mean the same thing, but keep in mind that in this case “free” doesn’t mean the same thing as “free tacos” (although most free and open source software can be installed at absolutely no cost, WordPress included). Instead, it means “free” as in “freedom.”
Free and open source software like WordPress makes its source code available to anyone who wants it and giving them the freedom to change it however they like. Because of this, and because of the collaborative, streamlined nature of open source software development, free and open source software is almost always lighter, faster, and safer to use than proprietary software, because it lacks any bloatware or harmful malware.
The fact that WordPress is free and open source is one of the major reasons it’s so widely implemented and so easily customizable. The other reason is its extensive library of plugins.
A Shameless Plug for Plugins
Last time, we talked about Squarespace and how it’s a great tool for building light, straightforward websites that don’t require any fancy bells or whistles. WordPress, on the other hand, is the best CMS around for highly-customized websites that need lots of special features, such as a resource directory or password authentication. These high-level functionalities are made possible through the platform’s expansive library of plugins.
As of this writing, there are 46,218 plugins listed on WordPress.org, and everything from SEO, to sidebars, to email management can be built into your website through them. Many of these plugins are free, but a good chunk of them (called “premium” plugins) can only be used after paying a fee to download them. If you’re like us, your gut reaction will be “why would I ever want to pay for something when there’s a free alternative?” One reason is that premium plugins will usually have a full-time support team behind them that can help you troubleshoot any problems and work with you to make sure their plugin plays nicely with all the other ones you have on your page.
This system generally works great, but it isn’t always perfect. For one thing, if a new version of WordPress is released (they’re currently on version 4.6), some plugins might not be compatible with the new version and your website could lose some of its functionality until they’ve been updated. Also, with such a large library of plugins available, it can be difficult to weed out the bad ones from the good. There is an active rating and review system, but if you’ve ever used Yelp you’ll know you can’t always trust an online review. Generally, with a bit of research and an experienced developer on your team, you can find the right plugin to suit your needs.
WordPress also has an extensive library of themes around which you can build your website. Like Squarespace, these WordPress themes determine the overall appearance of the site, including its layout, fonts, and page templates. Just like the plugin library, many of these are free-to-download, but there are also premium themes that offer special features and come with a fee.
Is WordPress Right for Your Nonprofit?
There are a number of important things to consider before deciding on WordPress as your website’s CMS. First and foremost, you have to decide what kind of functionality you want your site to have. If the site is just there to be your nonprofit’s digital billboard, with an “About Us” section, a little blog, or maybe a few photos of your team in action, you would probably be safe with a simpler platform, like Squarespace. On the other hand, if the services your organization provides come primarily through your website (like if you have a data repository or run an online community) something bigger and more customizable like WordPress could be the right choice for you.
The initial investment for a WordPress site is often higher than that of a Squarespace site. Investing in a highly customized site means your developer has to spend more time building it, so if you need your website on a super short timeline, a more basic platform might be in order. All that time spent tinkering on the site means more costs will add up as well. We also usually suggest WordPress as a CMS for larger organizations, as they generally have the right resources that allow them to manage something more complex like a WordPress site.
Let’s be clear, though. When we say WordPress is complex, we mean that more from the development side of things. When it comes to adding and editing content, it’s really a piece of cake. Long ago are the days when updating a website required every little change to be hand-coded in HTML, and with WordPress, it’s as easy as editing a document in Microsoft Word. With just a little training, everyone in your organization will be able to edit your site’s content like a pro.
The trend you should be noticing by now is WordPress’s flexibility – one of our favorite things about the platform is how easily a site built on it can be changed and updated. More so than organizations in other industries, nonprofits are in a constant state of flux. If you expect your organization (and, in turn, your website) to grow quickly in the next few years, the platform is flexible enough that you’ll be able to scale it up along with your nonprofit with relative ease. Even if your old site is built on a different CMS, it’s easy enough to import all your old content into WordPress without too much hassle.
If you’re interested in WordPress and whether it could work for your nonprofit, check out WordPress.org to see what they have to offer, and if you haven’t already, you should also check out our side-by-side comparison between Squarespace and WordPress, as well as our deeper look at Squarespace.