Choosing a Content Management System to Run your Nonprofit Website

By Bob Lawson, Founder of Sustainable Digital

The vast majority of new websites are today built using a Content Management System (CMS). Unless you are creating something extremely complex or unique, a CMS helps your web developer work faster, and more importantly, it enables you to update your website yourself without technical skills.

 

WordPress, Squarespace, Drupal, Joomla, Wix, Weebly: These are just some of your CMS options. Let’s take a look more closely at these options. The more informed your decision is now, the longer your new website is likely to meet your needs.

 

Open Source solutions:

WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are Open Source software products that have been developed by volunteers. Anyone can use these CMSs for free.  

 

Joomla is falling out of popularity and Drupal is generally used for larger, enterprise-level websites. This leaves WordPress, which is a very good and popular option. In fact, almost 30 percent of the websites on the internet today are built with WordPress.

 

WordPress is free to use, as I say, but there are still costs. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50-70 a year for web hosting (assuming you want to use your own domain name). There are many free templates and plugins you can use, but the best-designed and most-reliable ones will add $75-150 to your budget in one-time costs.

 

The most compelling reason to use WordPress is its popularity. So many web developers use WordPress that it is always possible to find someone to build or update your site. Plus, the large user base ensures that the underlying software is continually updated and improved. And with so many templates and plugins out there, it is nearly impossible to think up something you want that someone hasn’t already built and made available for free or at a low cost.

 

Hosted Solutions:

You or your web developer can also build your site with tools such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly. These are not Open Source solutions. Each one has developed its own interface and each wants to profit from your use of its service. This is both good and bad. It’s bad, as it’s nice to support Open Source initiatives. But it is good in that these companies have gone an extra mile to polish their services.

 

Wix and Weebly have free options, but they require you to display an ad for their company. The cost for acceptable hosting starts at $96 for Weebly, $120 for Wix and $144 for Squarespace, all when paid annually. There are no additional costs for hosting, templates or plugins, as hosting and templates are included and there are no plugins.

 

You can’t do as much with these solutions as you can with WordPress. There are limitations. But these systems are able to give you everything you need for a simple to moderate website in a package that is simple to use. This doesn’t mean simple just for a web developer. It is simple for non-techies to make ongoing updates and additions to the site without the need for technical skills. This is a big advantage.

 

It’s not so hard to make updates in WordPress, but doing anything more than adding a blog post can place demands on your computer skills. Squarespace, Wix and Weebly give you more of a “What you see is what you get” interface, making it intuitive to make changes.

 

Of these three options, Squarespace is recognized as the most professional. It provides a moderate number of templates that are well documented, and you can also build a site nearly from the ground-up if none of the templates suit your purposes. And the ability to include custom coding and CSS will please your web developer.

 

Recommendations:

Sustainable Digital has primarily used WordPress over the years, but more and more of our clients ask for Squarespace. We resisted for a bit, but the ability for the client to easily maintain the site on her or his own is tremendously important and this is where Squarespace excels belong WordPress.

 

If, however, you need more advanced functionality, go with WordPress. You can normally find a plugin to do what you need. And if not, a web developer can always edit the underlying code to do exactly what you need.

 

Bob Lawson is the founder of Sustainable Digital, based in Putney, Vermont. His firm offers digital communication and technology services for nonprofits and international NGOs. More information can be found at: www.sustainabledigital.com.

 

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