RED is committed to helping non-profit organizations reach the world through their presence on the web. To that end, we are posting this series of articles aimed at demystifying website creation for non-profits. If you have any questions as you read along, please write a comment, or get in touch with us directly.
Building and hosting your non-profit’s website
In earlier posts in this series, we discussed formulating your organization’s web strategy and goals, building an effective content strategy around those goals, and choosing a design that fits your content and appeals to your target audience.
Now we can get a bit more technical and talk about building and hosting your non-profit’s website. You’ve probably seen ads for hosted platforms such as Wix and Squarespace. These services make it easy to set up a site quickly with minimal technical or design skill. But you might have also heard of non-profit organizations using a self-hosted content management system (CMS) such as WordPress or Drupal.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for where to build and host your organization’s website. The decision should ultimately be based on your organization’s goals for your website, your budget, and the resources you have for maintaining your site. Below, we’ll review the major options and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Hosted platforms like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com (see note below about WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org) are appealing because they make it very easy to set up a website and are relatively inexpensive. However, what they offer in ease, they lack in flexibility.
- Easy to set up and launch a site
- No need to worry about hosting and maintenance
- A variety of design templates available
- Design templates offered may not be a good match for your content
- Functionality is limited to what the service supports and can’t be easily extended or customized
- Your site will only exist for as long as the platform exists, and it may be difficult to export your content
Self-hosted options like WordPress.org and Drupal are a good choice when you need a greater degree of customization and flexibility than hosted options can provide.
- Many options to extend the design and functionality (via themes and plugins)
- The extreme flexibility afforded by these options gives your site room to grow
- When hosting the site yourself, you don’t have to worry about a third party owning your content and data
- Requires extra steps to set up website security
- Requires regular maintenance to ensure that your software stays up to date
- Customization of design or functionality requires technical skill
Why RED chooses self-hosted WordPress for our non-profit site builds
RED works with many non-profit organizations, and we understand that different non-profits have different needs for a website. Self-hosted WordPress is our tool of choice for more complex non-profit sites since it allows for limitless customization, while still making it easy for non-technical people to update the content. We also like that it’s an open source project backed by a vibrant community. In fact, WordPress is the dominant CMS on the web, with 30% of all sites running on WordPress.
However, for organizations with limited budgets or who don’t need a complex site, we often recommend hosted options.
As a rule of thumb, a hosted solution might be the right choice if you’re just getting started, you have a limited budget and resources, and the main purpose of your site is to function as an informational resource or brochure. On the other hand, a self-hosted solution might be best if you have more of a budget and/or some technical savvy within your organization, and you intend for your site to serve a larger role in your organization (selling products, managing events, displaying social media feeds or photo albums, hosting forums, etc).
Some tips and tricks for non-profit websites on WordPress
- DreamHost offers discounted hosting for non-profits, and their shared hosting plan is free for 501(c)3 organizations. While this is a great deal, they do limit resources, including disk space and CPU.
- Website maintenance can be quite time-consuming. It may be to your organization’s advantage to focus on your true purpose, and hire someone to handle this aspect of your non-profit.
- If you can, it’s best to have a dedicated person or people on your team for managing your website strategy and content, no matter which solution you choose. This will strengthen your website’s power as a communication tool for your organization and save you time in the long run.
Do you have any questions we didn’t address in this series? Tips and tricks to share with other non-profit organizations like yours? Get in touch with us, or comment below!