WordPress for Non-Profits: A Comprehensive Guide

Non-profits help to serve the common good. And though their emphasis is on public service, they still must be run like businesses in a lot of ways. So yes, that means a good website is a necessity.

Whether you need to raise donations, spread awareness, or perform some other vital community outreach, a good website can make all the difference for most non-profits. WordPress, of course, is an ideal platform to use. From the $0 price tag to the robust community around it, WordPress lends itself well to non-profit use.

Beyond that, there are numerous tools available that make setting up a non-profit site easier. From themes to plugins, you have plenty of options to get started. And better yet, there are several non-profits currently rocking WordPress that you can learn a lot from as you build your site.

So now, without further adieu, let’s dive into the wonderful world of WordPress as it pertains to non-profits.

What is a Non-Profit?

To put it simply, a non-profit is generally considered a charitable organization, and in the eyes of the IRS in the U.S., is tax-exempt. In order to quality for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit status, the organization must “benefit the broad public interest” and serve one of the following purposes identified by the IRS and listed by Independent Sector: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

These non-profits help to serve the community and provide services, research, or information to the public that is beneficial in some way.

Why WordPress?

The reasons WordPress is so well-suited to non-profits mirror the reasons it’s a great CMS and web design platform in general:

  • It’s free. The core files that make up WordPress are 100% free. You can download them, get them on your site’s server, and have a site live in just a few minutes if you want. Lack of a price tag is ideal for non-profits with limited budgets.
  • It’s open-source. The volunteers that help update, amend, and all-around tinker with WordPress help to create the CMS we all know and love. Its open-source status is what makes this possible.
  • It’s easy to learn. Sure, you can delve into WordPress code and restructure a site from the ground up. But you don’t have to. And the admin interface is relatively easy to learn, making it a prime CMS candidate for busy non-profits.
  • It’s customizable. I already mentioned you can dive into the code to customize WordPress if you want, but even for those with limited development experience, WordPress is customizable thanks to themes and plugins. These free and paid resources make it a snap to add a custom look and custom features to your site, which means you can get to raising money for a good cause or building a community much faster.
  • Support is available. The WordPress community is all about support. From the WordPress Codex to the Support Forums to countless blogs and other resources out there, you’re certain to find the answers to your most pressing development questions quickly.
  • Social media comes integrated. A major part of working with a non-profit is getting the word out. Grassroots movements require getting in touch with as many people as possible, quickly, and since many non-profits have a grassroots element, social media is an essential component in putting together a good site. WordPress has this covered both in core and through numerous awesome plugins.

Non-Profits Currently Using WordPress

Before we start talking about the resources available to non-profits for building WordPress sites, let’s first spend some time looking at successful examples of non-profits built with WordPress already.

Global Voices is a largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts and translators.
Global Voices is a largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts and translators.

Global Voices is a volunteer-based news site that encourages citizen media reporting from all over the world, the idea being to give a platform to underrepresented voices and to fight censorship.

The site itself is fairly simple but is designed to house a ton of content. And can you imagine a better platform for managing thousands of articles than WordPress?

Charity: Water's mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.
Charity: Water’s mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.

The objective of Charity: Water is to bring safe drinking water to every person in the world. No doubt about it, a part of accomplishing that is having a website that offers the features and tools you need to speak to your intended audience.

The site features a prominent call-to-action, eye-catching graphics, and fullscreen images and videos that emphasize the importance of the charity’s work—all thanks to easy-to-use WordPress features.

The Downtown St John's site uses a custom WordPress theme.
The Downtown St John’s site uses a custom WordPress theme.

Downtown St. John’s is a volunteer organization dedicated to beautifying and preserving the downtown area of historical St. John’s.

The site includes an abundance of features for area visitors with interesting dropdown effects, and a hovering side navigation for displaying featured info.

It also provides plenty of ways for visitors to connect with the broader community. It appears to have been built on a custom theme.

The DC Diaper Bank website features prominent CTAs encouraging visitors to donate.
The DC Diaper Bank website features prominent CTAs encouraging visitors to donate.

DC Diaper Bank is a wonderful charitable organization that provides diapers to families in need in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. The website helps to serve this aim by providing prominent donation CTAs, engaging photos presented in slideshows and sliders of volunteers at work, adorable service buttons, and easy-to-understand ways to get involved.

The website helps to serve this aim by providing prominent donation CTAs, engaging photos presented in slideshows and sliders of volunteers at work, adorable service buttons, and easy-to-understand ways to get involved.

The site also makes use of popular plugins like WordPress SEO, Gravity Forms, and W3 Total Cache.

Fauna & Flora International also uses a custom WordPress theme.
Fauna & Flora International also uses a custom WordPress theme.

FFI is a wildlife conservation organization that focuses on biodiversity and is currently working on 140 different projects in 40 different countries.

As you can imagine, with that kind of project load, the site needs to meet a lot of needs. The site is a wellspring of educational materials, project details, celebrity endorsements, and information for potential patrons.

WordPress was the obvious site solution here. It uses a custom theme and according to What WP Theme is That, uses the Add Local Avatar plugin.

The Jane Goodall Institute website runs on the JOYN theme, which you can download from ThemeForest.
The Jane Goodall Institute website runs on the JOYN theme, which you can download from ThemeForest.

The Jane Goodall Institute is a non-profit dedicated to protecting great apes and continuing the work of its founder, Dr. Jane Goodall.

The website offers plenty of photos of volunteers at work, including Dr. Goodall, and sports banner-style CTAs, widgetized program summaries, quote sections, drop-down menus, and parallax effects.

The site runs on the JOYN theme, a premium theme which you can download from ThemeForest, and uses the W3 Total Cache and Better Analytics plugins.

The Amala Foundation website uses several plugins to add functionality like lightboxes, shortcodes and calendars.
The Amala Foundation website uses several plugins to add functionality like lightboxes, shortcodes and calendars.

The Amala Foundation is an Austin-based organization that helps to foster cross-cultural connections between local youth. The site features a prominent header slider, embedded videos, program breakdowns, and easy ways to get involved with the cause.

While it’s not clear what theme this site uses it does use quite a few popular plugins like Timely All in One Event Calendar, Easy Foundation Shortcodes, and Lightbox Plus.

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance uses several plugins, including WooCommerce.
The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance uses several plugins, including WooCommerce.

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance serves women who’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer as well as anyone who is a part of their support system by providing educational materials, a helpful community, and actionable ways to get involved with the cause.

The site includes clear CTAs, hosts an integrated fundraising store, a news roundup, and more. It also runs a custom theme and uses quite a few plugins including The Newsletter Plugin, WooCommerce, and Search in Place.

Themes for Non-Profits

While many of the sites described above use custom themes, there are pre-made themes you can download for free or purchase that include layouts, features, and tools that make them perfectly suited for non-profits. Here’s a sampling of some of the best:

  • NonProfit Theme


    The aptly named NonProfit theme by Organic Themes is a great choice for charities and non-profits because it provides the right sort of look and features for those with a giving spirit. It features a lightweight responsive design and comes with retina-optimization, multiple page templates, featured videos, and shortcodes.

    It also includes support for WooCommerce and Gravity Forms so you can easily establish ways people can get in touch with the cause or buy merchandise that helps to fund it. This theme also comes with a donation link option for raising money quickly and easily. Other features include a portfolio template, Google Fonts, social media buttons, customization options (including the header, background, menus, and colors), slideshows, pagination, and more.

    NonProfit costs $69/year.

    Interested in NonProfit Theme?

  • Philanthropy


    The Philanthropy theme by ThemeFuse is another designed specifically with non-profits in mind. It’s responsive and easy to customize and setup. You have control over the colors, headers, and backgrounds, and you can configure multiple sliders for displaying your most important information. It also prioritizes backend modules so you can easily obtain the look you want without delving into code.

    This theme also comes with demo content so you can one-click install it and customize from there, saving you literally hours of time on the site build.

    Philanthropy is available now for $55.

    Interested in Philanthropy?

  • Rise


    Another theme you should consider is called Rise, which prioritizes asking for donations front and center. The theme itself is highly professional looking and minimal, so it keeps with current design trends and doesn’t overwhelm visitors with too much information.

    This theme is retina-ready, responsive, and supports lovely typography that’s certain to make your charity or non-profit stand out. It comes with several post types including Projects, Causes, Events, and Blog and supports unlimited colors, shortcodes, social media, SEO, and more. Rise also comes with Google Fonts, Awesome Font Icons, animations, jQuery effects and scripts, a filterable portfolio, and parallax effects as well as Visual Page Builder, Revolution Slider, HTML5 website files, and full documentation.

    Rise is priced at $49.

    Interested in Rise?

  • Charitas


    The Charitas theme by WP Look is another great option that works well for charities, non-profits, and even churches. This theme is responsive and has been optimized for speed so slow load times won’t ever get in the way of raising money for a good cause. It’s also highly customizable and includes advanced theme options, supports unlimited color schemes, and includes a child theme so updates and making changes couldn’t be simpler.

    This theme also comes with PayPal integrated so you can easily collect donations, features a progress bar so you and visitors can see at a glance how much has been raised for a specific cause, custom social share buttons, 7 custom post types, 18 widgetized areas, and it’s translation-ready. Charitias also comes with fantastic support and promises to be easy to setup.

    Standard pricing for Charitas is a one-time fee of $99 that includes one year of updates and support.

    Interested in Charitas?

  • Kedavra


    Kedavra is another theme that’s ideal for charitable organizations but it can be used to support a standard business, too. This theme is modern and professional and offers the ability to feature a portfolio and make numerous customizations thanks to the Live Customizer. This theme is responsive and uses SiteOrigin Page Builder, so you can drag-and-drop the layout to suit your needs.

    Other features include unlimited color options, SEO optimization, over 600 Google Fonts, Font Awesome Icon ready, custom logo, the ability to show/hide the page title or footer, 3 different header types, 3 header styles, multiple widget areas, and multiple post types including Standard, Team, Portfolio, Testimonial, and Service. Kedavra also comes with several page templates including two styles of Contact, Gallery, Blog Masonry, Blog Sidebar, Full-width Portfolio, Portfolio Grid, and Portfolio Masonry. It includes demo data as well, and you can one-click install from 9 different demo layouts.

    Kedavra costs $49.

    Interested in Kedavra?

  • Awaken


    Awaken is another very clean theme that’s ideal for charities and non-profits thanks to its inclusion of donation collection features. It comes with 10 different home pages, unlimited colors, over 650 Google Fonts, Revolution Slider and a drag-and-drop page builder to make for easier site customization and layout creation.

    This theme is WPML ready so you can reach the largest audience possible and it comes with PayPal management so you can sell products and collect donations with ease. It also has Events management support that you can use to include the start and end dates, venue, map, and contact information for fundraisers. Plus, it has a Cause management feature that allows you to create different causes that can be easily created and customized from within the dashboard. Other features of Awaken include Sermons management and user registration.

    Awaken is currently priced at $44.

    Interested in Awaken?

  • World of Charity


    The World of Charity theme offers a minimalist design that’s well-suited for any type of charity website. It allows you to present the most pertinent information about your non-profit and provide visitors with ways to get involved without overwhelming them with too much information. The site is responsive, retina-ready, and includes all sorts of design touches that allow for the creative display of graphics and info.

    For instance, it comes packaged with accordion, Isotope, and Carousel sliders as well as embedded audio or video. The theme is built on the Cherry Framework and allows for total customization.

    A single site license for World of Charity is $75.

    Interested in World of Charity?

  • Open Heart


    Still another non-profit theme option is Open Heart. This theme is easy to customize and is pretty much ready to go out of the box for building a charity site. It uses Page Builder for creating your desired layout and sports just the right feature set to make spreading awareness and raising money a snap.

    This theme comes with over 600 Google Fonts, over 300 Font Awesome Icons, custom logo, custom favicon, custom backgrounds, custom CSS, and is responsive so it’ll look great on any device. It also comes with Layerslider, XML demo content, and full dedicated support.

    Open Heart is currently available for $49.

    Interested in Open Heart?

  • Act


    The last theme I’ll discuss here (because there are way too many great non-profit themes out there to include them all) is Act. This theme is a multipurpose theme designed for non-profits and charities. It’s built on HTML5 and CSS3 and is fully responsive and retina-ready.

    This theme comes with all the right features to set your non-profit apart from the pack. In fact, it comes with WooCommerce integration, Crowdfunding System, dedicated shop pages, a donation section, and more. It also allows for full customization thanks to unlimited colors, Google Fonts, blog shortcodes, one-click demo data installation, and an advanced theme options panel. It also comes with Revolution Slider and Contact Form 7 for your convenience.

    Act is priced at $44.

    Interested in Act?

Plugins for Non-Profits

Even when you find a great theme that suits your non-profit’s objectives, you’ll still likely need to round out the user experience with some feature specific WordPress plugins. Many of the plugins listed here can serve many different kinds of sites, but I think after a quick gander you’ll agree they’re must-haves for the non-profit sector:

  • W3 Total Cache


    A fast site is everything when you’re creating an online platform for your non-profit. Slow load times have been shown time and time again to increase bounce rate and to reduce conversions. This is unacceptable if you’re trying to raise money for a good cause. That’s why W3 Total Cache is a must-have plugin. It’ll help to speed up your site by increasing service performance and reducing site download times. Simple, straightforward, and a definite need to install.

    Interested in W3 Total Cache?

  • Jetpack


    Here’s another plugin on just about every “must-have” list but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here. Jetpack integrates your site into WordPress.com features and allows you to better manage your site’s analytics, performance, and security. Just a sampling of its modules include Related Posts, Publicize, Sharing, image performance enhancement, Analytics, Custom CSS, Contact Forms, Notifications, Galleries, and more.

    Interested in Jetpack?

  • Akismet


    If you plan on having comments enabled, you need Akismet, end of story. This plugin checks each and every comment you receive for spam and flags those that appear suspicious. It runs automatically and you can easily review comments it has marked as spam just in case you feel there’s been an error. You can also discard spam outright to prevent bulk spam comments from slowing down your site.

    Interested in Akismet?

  • Wordfence Security


    Another plugin you need for your non-profit site is a security solution and the one that I personally like is Wordfence. Once installed, this plugin checks to see if your site has been infected by anything unsavory. Then it secures your site from future attacks and speeds up its operation, too. It can block attackers in real-time, as well as networks; report threats; ramp up login security; conduct security scans; establish a firewall; and continue monitoring for optimum site performance. This plugin is also available in a premium version.

    Interested in Wordfence Security?

  • Advanced Custom Fields


    Another plugin you ought to consider is Advanced Custom Fields. This plugin allows you to add more data to your site with minimal fuss. You can create new input fields like textarea, WYSIWYG, images, files, links, checkbox, radio buttons, and more and then assign them to multiple edit pages. It uses native custom post types to operate, making it lightning quick and super effective.

    Interested in Advanced Custom Fields?

  • Gravity Forms


    One premium plugin you might want to shell out cash for is Gravity Forms. This plugin makes is ultra simple to design, build, and implement forms into your WordPress site without the hassle of coding anything manually. It comes with a form editor that you can use to pick fields, configure options, and then embed the end result.

    The feature list is massive but a few of the most noteworthy include multi-page forms, easy-to-configure form settings (covering things like title, description, and confirmation message), entry limits, advanced fields, form schedules, pricing fields, post fields, and so much more.

    There are several plans available for Gravity Forms. A personal license is $39/year, a Business license is $99/year, and the Developer license is $199/year.

    Interested in Gravity Forms?

  • The Events Calendar


    Non-profits often setup events with the intent of raising awareness and funds for worthwhile causes. To manage such events on your website, The Events Calendar is a good plugin to use. You can easily create calendars on the fly that look professional but are simple to put together and update. The underlying code here is well structured and well supported. It’s highly customizable and in use on several popular sites already. Some prominent features include saved venues and organizations, a calendar month view with tooltips, list and day views, Google Maps integration, and more.

    The plugin is free but a premium version is also available that adds on recurring events, more view options, widgets, custom attributes, location search, and more.

    Interested in The Events Calendar?

  • PayPal Donations


    The last plugin we’ll cover here has to do with donations. Raising money is often a major component of non-profit sites so installing the PayPal Donations plugin is a good idea. It works by adding a shortcode and sidebar widget to you site for easy integration. Just add your PayPal ID to the settings menu and you’ll be all set to collect donations from your site’s visitors.

    Interested in PayPal Donations?

Wrapping Up

Building a website for a non-profit is similar to creating a site for any other business. However, there is a specific look you’ll need to capture and certain features you’ll need to offer if you’re going to be successful in your campaign.

From the benefits WordPress itself offers to plugins and themes that’ll help you get the job done, I hope this guide has been helpful to you as you pursue building your own charity or non-profit website.

Do you have a non-profit site? What tools were essential in its construction? Do you have a favorite WordPress-based charity site that hasn’t been included in the examples above? Please share your ideas and thoughts below.