Choose the right technology for your charity's website

John Newton

How to choose between different content management systems.

If you are planning to rebuild your charity’s website, you are presented with a wide range of technology choices. This can seem bewildering but in point of fact I think you can make your choice by ansering a few simple questions and employing a couple of rules of thumb:

  • Is your site really simple? If you are a very small charity with no need for special functionality on your site and you have basically one team member to look after your presence online, you may want to choose a subscription model like Squarespace or Wix. You’ll probably be able to get a freelancer to help you if you don’t want to self-build. Your independent freelancer may have lower day rates than a small company and can probably build your site very economically. There are dangers with this route you should be aware of - for example, your freelancer may not be properly covered insurance, she/he might not be able to offer reliable support once your site is live or may have moved on by the time you need help with a new feature. That said, subscription sites help to spread the cost of your website and offer a low risk, low tech solution that may fit your needs perfectly.
  • Do you need some moderately advanced features like course booking, fundraising pages, CRM integration and so on? Is it critical that your site is fully supported and that you don’t experience downtime and can always get support? If so, you’re probably ready to find a small digital partner to build and manage your site. With a good partner, you’ll get a more formal development process, proper contracts and insurance, and ongoing support. Teams also carry a lot of knowledge and can help you more than a lone freelancer who needs to be a good generalist rather than a specialist. In terms of technology, I’d suggest just selecting Wordpress. It’s bigger than any other content management system, has more plugins than you’ll ever need and is open source so you aren’t tied to a single provider if you want to change digital partners. It’s incredibly reliable, is great for editors and wont let you down.
  • Do you need very advanced features? If you do - and you have the budget to match - you may want to consider a framework solution like Laravel or Drupal. Typically, these sites will be much more expensive to build and maintain but they give you full control over your development process. As with all things there are caveats. First, ongoing maintenance and devlopment of new features will always be expensive compared with light-weight systems like Wordpress. Second, moving digital partners is not easy with niche technologies. There are many Wordpress developers and companies and day rates are generally competitive. Drupal companies are rare (and getting rarer as Drupal is focussing on large scale projects) and Laravel is still a relatively new technology that has nothing like the traction of the more mature offerings. If you are unlucky, you could find yourself tied in to an unsatisfactory partner.

I’m not saying technology decisions aren’t important when you are thinking about which CMS to choose but most of the leading technologies will get the job done and your main challenge is to match the technology to your scale and needs. As technologies have matured and found niches, it’s undoubtedly true that Wordpress remains the default open source choice for most charities.