15 Sep Your Non Profit Website Platform Options: Who to Choose, Who to Avoid
For both non profit organizations and for profit businesses, being found is the key to keeping the doors open and the lights on. Whether your non profit needs to be found by donors or those who need your services, the key to being found can lie with your website.
Before you build your non profit website or redesign your current site, know your options for the platform and design. Start by asking yourself these questions: Are you just wanting to create a site where people can find your contact information and mission statement or are you wanting a space where you can engage your donors? Are you planning to post a blog or news updates? Will you need a space where donors can register for events? Are you planning to interact and network with your donors? Do you want to know who visits your site, when they visit, and how long they stay?
You’ll also need to consider what resources you have. Does anyone on your staff have any coding skills? Are you willing to hire someone who does? Who will manage your site once it’s set up? Do you want people to donate online? Have you considered what you can budget? Once you’ve answered these questions you should have a pretty good idea of what you want and what you can afford. Now you can compare some popular platform options and decide which ones meet your needs best.
Template websites are website platforms like Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly that let you put your content into pre-made professionally designed templates. These types of websites are very easy to set up because all you have to do is plug in your content and very cheap because you can create a fully functioning website without paying anything. These sites also allow you to integrate your website with major non profit management sites like Bloomerang and Blackbaud by embedding a donation form as a widget on your site.
Unfortunately, these websites are also a lot like McDonald’s, they’re cheap and easy but not always good for you. They’re not very customizable because you can’t make a lot of changes to the premade templates. When it comes to SEO, these websites are difficult to find in a Google search because you’re getting a free subdomain from a site with hundreds of subdomains.
To be taken seriously as a website, you’ll need your own domain name and hosting setup. With these websites even if you create a page, you don’t own it, so you can’t move it if you decide to switch to a new host or platform. Wix does offer a free upgrade that allows you to use your own domain, but Wix ads are still displayed on your site and you have to go through a lot of red tape to prove you’re a non profit.
Platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce are used by people who want to sell their products online. They’re easy to use and very customizable, but not very good for SEO. They offer some basic help, but they often don’t have very good blogging software. It is possible to build an online store and sell merchandise to raise funds for your organization. In fact, that’s what many successful non profit websites like the International Princess Project have done.
Many of these e-commerce sites allow you to set up a store on a new site or integrate the store with an existing site, but unless you’re planning to operate your website as an online store, we wouldn’t recommend these sites by themselves. According to recent findings, constituents want to see more compelling content about the programs, goals, and successes of a non profit organization. For non profit websites, the blog is the engine that runs the machine, and it’s difficult to add this content to these e-commerce sites.
Proprietary software sites
Some website development companies create sites using their own software/platform. They’re called propriety because the developers reserve all freedoms and rights and do not allow users to go in and change the code which can affect the customizability of a site. These sites are often very diverse because they specialize in certain industries. This means that they can give insight into keywords and content. However, if you use one of these sites, you won’t be able to move your site to a new host if you decide you don’t like yours. You’ll have to start over.
Open Source Platforms
Open source platforms are platforms who leave their codes open for anyone to see or change. These types of platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are very popular. WordPress is popular with bloggers and great for SEO, Joomla is better for social networking, and Drupal is just a great all in one platform.
You can create your website for free, but you’ll have to pay someone else to host it. You may also have to pay for extra themes and plugins if you don’t like the ones they offer for free. These platforms allow you to embed donation forms with tools from non profit management sites that can help you collect donations and keep track of donors, but you have to have the knowledge of how to embed these tools or be really good at learning from tutorials. Because the code is open to anyone, you can do almost anything with these sites, but if you want to take full advantage of the customization options, you’ll need some basic coding skills.
If you’re still not sure which type of platform to choose, try talking to other non profits you know whose websites impress you. Which platforms have worked for them? Have they seen an increase in donations due to their website? Can they tell you how much traffic they are getting?
You could also try checking out your competitors. You don’t want your site to be an exact copy of theirs, but you can look at what elements you like and don’t like about their sites. Checking out different articles and reviews to see what other people think of these platforms. Once you know what you want, it’s much easier to build your site.
Need some help developing your non profit website? Request a free consultation to discuss how we can help.