WordPress for Non-Profits: The Complete Guide

WordPress is perfect for nonprofits. I know, I used to work for one – we didn’t use WordPress. I wish we had.

wordpress logoIn the past web design may have been the domain of people with a design degree but nowadays it’s easy for anyone to get online. A tight budget and limited funds do not mean that you need to be stuck with a limited website. We all know that, right? We’re living in the age of Web 2.0 and Open Source software! Anyone can get online and get a website up and running for virtually nothing, and WordPress is ideal for that!

Here are some of the things that many non-profits need out of their website:

  • Easy to update
  • Easy to maintain
  • Easy to customize
  • Quick learning curve
  • Cheap
  • Good support network

Sound like an Open Source platform we’re all familiar with?

Cool, so here’s the complete guide for why WordPress is the right solution for your non-profit site.

First up here’s a slideshow by Jason King about why nonprofits should use WordPress:

Feel like you’ve learned something already? Good!

So here’s 10 more reasons for non-profits to use WordPress:

1.       WordPress is free

I guess this is a pretty obvious one to start with but it’s so pertinent for nonprofits that it really is one of the most important reasons. A nonprofit employee has a board to convince about every little thing they do and if something is free then they’re usually much happier for you do just get on with it. Go to your board with WordPress and you’ll be able to convince them easily that:

  1. You can build/revamp your website;
  2. It won’t cost that much.

While it’s true that many of the free things in life – free toys in cereal boxes, free gifts with your stationary order – are kind of rubbish, WordPress is one of those things that is free and fantastic at the same time. Being free doesn’t make it any less powerful or desirable than its commercial counterparts, and many experts now recommend WordPress for nonprofits ahead of other Open Source platforms such as Drupal and Joomla. With very little tweaking WordPress can be developed into a powerful Content Management System.

Okay, so you are still going to have to pay for your hosting and domain registration but these costs are pretty small. There are hosting companies that offer reduced rates (and sometimes free!) web hosting for nonprofits. It’s a good idea to shop around to see what you can find.

Tip: Use a volunteer – even if a nonprofit has no member of staff who feels confident setting up a WordPress site, there may be a member or supporter who has the time and the knowledge to do it. Students are particularly good to extract time from, I find :)

2.       Plugins, Plugins, Plugins

screenshot of pluginsPlugins are where it’s at. It’s Plugins that make WordPress so flexible.  While an all-in-one CMS might seem like an attractive option for out-of-the-box ease, you may find that it’s laden with features that you don’t need or use, or that it doesn’t have quite the features that you want. Every nonprofit website will need similar SEO & CMS tools but they will all have different goals and specific needs. The huge number of Plugins means that WordPress can be customized to the exact specifications of any nonprofit.

Time for a list within a list? Yes! I know it’s what you want.

Here are five great Plugins for nonprofits:

  • Event Registration – Fundraising events, lectures, parties, classes, whatever event you’re organizing, the Event Registration Plugin can save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on event management tools. It was designed specifically with nonprofits in mind. Registration can be done directly through your website, information can be exported to excel and secure payments can be made via Authorize.net, GooglePay or PayPal.
  • screenshot of wordpress paypal donation buttonWordPress Paypal donation button – if you’re a charity then you may rely upon donations to keep going. From experience, I know that you need to make donating as easy as possible. Any sign of difficulty can put potential donors off. Having a button on your website makes it super-easy.
  • Domain mapping – with the integration of multisite with WordPress 3.0 it couldn’t be easier for nonprofits within an umbrella to have centralized web management while maintaining their own identity. A plugin like domain mapping will let each smaller organization have its own domain. This can save on hosting fees, maintenance and means that all you need is one techie to serve all the different organizations.
  • mailchimp monkeyMailchimp Plugin – Having a solid mailing list is the backbone of any nonprofit. It’s important to be able to quickly email news and campaigns to members and supporters. In order to get that mailing list you need to make it easy for people to sign up. The Mailchimp plugin allows users to sign up for your mailing list directly in your website.
  • WordPress Multilingual CMS – Many nonprofits operate internationally or with a wide audience speaking a number of different languages. WPML can transform any site into a multilingual site. It’s free but has options for premium membership and paid professional translation.

3.       WordPress is Open Source

GPL License LogoOpen Source means increased flexibility for designers working with WordPress. It means your designer is able to access and make changes to the code, adapting it to a specific nonprofit’s needs. It also means you don’t have to pay to license it – see 1 :). Okay, so if you’re just setting the site up and intending to let it run without worrying about the code then you may think that WordPress’s open source-ness doesn’t have a massive effect on you.

Well, it does. It means that there are hundreds of developers working on WordPress all of the time making it better for you to use. What other piece of software has such an enormous, dedicated community of developers working away all for the love?  And who could benefit more than people who have little money and tight budgets?

4.       It can be used as a Content Management System

It’s still a misconception that WordPress is simply a blogging tool – it gets lumped in with other blogging platforms such as Blogger and Typepad. As anyone with a little bit of knowledge of the platform knows, it is so much more.

Some WordPress CMS features that you can use from the initial installation and that are useful for any nonprofit:

  • Intuitive, well laid out back end
  • Easily add and manage pages
  • Media gallery with content that is easily embeddable
  • Add multiple users with different privileges
  • Easy to use editor
  • Set static front page

Tip: If you are thinking about introducing WordPress to your nonprofit I suggest referring to it as a CMS rather than as a “blog.” Unfortunately there are various prejudices about blogs, especially amongst people who don’t use them. For a quiet life it’s better to just say CMS – which, of course, WordPress is.

A rubbish cartoon to illustrate my point:

rubbish wordpress cartoonGettit?

You can read more about customizing WordPress as a true CMS here.

5.       Easy to use

Many nonprofits have a small number of dedicated staff stretched to their absolute limit. There are others which are simply run by a team of volunteers. Whatever website platform is used it needs to be easy to use with a quick learning curve that can be picked up while juggling a number of different tasks.

When I worked on a nonprofit there was pretty much just me managing everything in the head office – accounts, web, fundraising, research management, administration, etc etc etc. The website ended up being built with Joomla! – I was able to edit and add pages but I never found it intuitive. I also didn’t have the time to learn anything about it. Since then I’ve self-taught myself the ins-and-outs of WordPress and found it to be much easier to grasp than Joomla. And if I can, anyone can!

WordPress is very easy to use. If you can use a word processor then you can use WordPress. Anyone will a little bit of training and encouragement can get it.

Tip: If you can’t afford to send your employees on a dedicated training course then allow them to set aside some time every week to hone their WordPress skills. You can find training videos and tutorials at the following sites:

image of text copied from wordAnother Tip: One thing every new WordPress user should know – never cut and paste directly from MS Word to WordPress. MS Word has an annoying habit of picking up all sorts of formatting code when you copy from it. (editing note: I start ranting here, just ignore if you want :) )I told my husband this and he didn’t believe me. Off he went, cutting and pasting from MS Word straight into his blog. Then he was like “There’s something wrong with my blooooggg. Will you fix it pleeeasseeee?” So stupidhead here has to spend an evening stripping all the formatting out of all of his blog posts and reformatting them. You think that was fun? Do you?!!?

Anyway….. you will not have a fun time tidying it up. And you’ll be seething with resentment for a long time afterwards. I always paste into notepad before pasting anything from Word. WordPress does have a “Paste from Word” tool which takes care of stripping all that formatting for you.

6.       Themes

While all those developers are beavering away at WordPress’ backend, there are thousands of designers working on themes to make your WordPress installation look beautiful. Whatever your requirements you’ll be able to find a theme to suit your organization – if cash is really tight you’ll be able to find a free theme which you can customize, with a bit more cash you can use a Premium theme, or if you’re feeling flush you could employ a designer to make a custom theme for you.

If you can’t afford a Premium or custom theme don’t stress! It’s often easy to customize a free theme to suit a small nonprofit. It’s also easy to change your theme so if something isn’t working out for you just switch to another one.

Here are some nonprofits doing their thing with WordPress:

Global Voices

global voices website screenshot

Teach for Us

Teach for us nonprofit website screenshotCure International

Cure website screenshot

7.       Support

The WordPress community is a pretty snuggley one. It’s a non-threatening environment in which complete novices have resources to be able to solve their own problems. The WordPress Codex is a more extensive support manual than is provided with most CMS. There are also support forums which users can post on to get advice. Not to mention the huge amount of blogs about WordPress out there. Type any problem you have into Google and you can bet that someone else will not only have had that problem but have blogged about it.

screenshot of support search on google

8.       Monetize

Advertising is often a dirty word. Many people don’t want to put adverts on their site and they’re lucky to be in the position if they don’t have to. But if you are a nonprofit trying to generate income from your website then something like Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising can help you out. It’s simple to do, there are plugins that will take care of it for you, and you can create income without investing money. A service like Google Adsense will only place targeted adverts on your website, based upon categories that you have determined beforehand. This is important as any nonprofit will have an ethics policy and adverts will have to meet any standards that have been drawn up. There are a number of different advertising plugins that can help you to insert your adverts into your website.

screenshot of advertising search in plugin directory

You may find that your website visitors are more than happy to click on your advertising links – it’s a way for them to help you out without having to dig into their own pockets. If you work for a nonprofit where your supporters have no money that can be important!

9.   Integrate with Social Media

image of twitter birdA solid membership or supporter base may be what enables a nonprofit to continue running in straitened financial times such as we’re in right now. Thankfully we’re also living at a time when connecting with people couldn’t be easier. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter should be top of the list when it comes to nonprofits reaching out to their members. Why? Because, like WordPress, they’re free and easy to use. Also, everybody uses them. For info on why and how to use social media tools you can check out Non-Profit Tech 2.0 A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits which has useful resources on how a nonprofit can make the best use of social media.

For our purposes – why every nonprofit should use WordPress – it suffices to say that all of these social media platforms are easy to integrate with WordPress. Whether you want to grab code from Twitter or Facebook and dump it in the WordPress text widget, or whether you want to use a dedicated plugin, WordPress enables you to develop a cohesive outreach policy that encompasses all of your social media.

Share buttonTip: Use a Share button plugin at the bottom of every page and post to enable visitors to share your content with people on their social network.

10. Dynamic Content

Last, but not least, is dynamic content. Just like you should be using social media to develop a community around your nonprofit, your website should be a dynamic place that people keep coming back to. Back in the Dark Ages of Web 1.0, a website was pretty much a shop front, a place for one way communication from the organization to the website visitor. Web 2.0 lets people get involved, it’s a community meeting place where people can be kept updated and comment. While the content on your site should not change every day, you should be updating it with news and blog posts about what your nonprofit is up to. WordPress does this easily, and with a plugin like the Almighty All-in-One SEO Pack you can make sure that all of your posts are optimized for search engines.

Convinced yet? You should be. WordPress is such a powerful, exciting platform that I would be using it even if I were a millionaire. If you’re a nonprofit and you’re not using WordPress then you’re missing out on an exciting tool that could expand your organization and revitalize your website.

Time to learn more? Watch this video of a talk given by Amanda Blum at WordCamp. It should either convince you that you should be using WordPress or show you how to convince other people. Amanda, like me, dislikes Powerpoint – that’s a good starting point right there. Enjoy!

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Comments (26)

  1. Glad you found my slideshow useful, and thanks for including it here. You give some really good examples of themes and plugins and make a good argument for why nonprofits should use WordPress.

    The social media aspect hadn’t taken off to the same extent when I put that slideshow together, but now every nonprofit I work with is asking for Facebook and Twitter integration of some kind, and WordPress has plenty of plugins to enable that. Same goes for e-newsletters which is why MailChimp and Vertical response plugins for WordPress are so welcome.

    With the new ease of use of custom post types, WordPress is becoming a more able competitor to Drupal, able to be repurposed to the often very specific information needs that nonprofit websites have.

  2. I’m glad you liked the post! Thx for the slideshow too :) It was great to be able to include it.

    Alot of nonprofits finally seem to be realising that the world is changing. I think Twitter and Facebook are great for keeping up contact with members and donors. When I worked at a nonprofit a few years back I never really felt that the majority of members were that involved. Maintaining a good community helps so much when it comes to generating income through fundraising.

  3. Thanks so much for the post! I’m planning on beginning to donate my web design services to some local animal welfare non-profits, and I hope to build out all of the sites in WordPress – so you present some great points for me to use to convince them.

  4. Great post. Thank you.

    My main question for you though… WordPress vs Drupal… in particular, I’m trying to decide between BuddyPress and Drupal Commons.

    For me it’s more about “social charity events”, so not so much Content Management, but I am interested in integrating with donor management systems, and other back end systems where necessary. My gut feel is that Drupal has more integrations, and a bigger community with more momentum.

    What do you think?

    Thanks!

  5. David – No, Drupal doesn’t have a bigger community. However, Drupal Commons is definitely worth a look. I’m planning a comparison post between BuddyPress and Drupal Commons in the near future, so stay tuned :)

    Both WordPress and Drupal have various CRMs that integrate with them to help with donor management. You can check out some of the WordPress options here: http://wpmu.org/8-wordpress-crm-solutions-for-your-business-or-nonprofit/ If you do a google search I’m sure you can find info on CRMs for Drupal. Then you’ll be better armed for comparing. Hope that helps!

  6. You really make it seem really easy with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be actually one thing which I believe I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely large for me. I’m taking a look forward to your subsequent submit, I will attempt to get the cling of it!

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