If you've spent any time at all researching how to get a charity website up and running, you've probably heard at least a few people mention WordPress. It's one of the oldest and best known Content Management Systems, with a huge developer community and a comprehensive ecosystem of plugins and themes. While it's certainly not the only solution, I think it's often the best choice for small charity websites.
Before I go on, it's worth pointing out the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is a hosting service that uses a modified version of WordPress. The options for customisation are limited and you cannot make any changes to the code. WordPress.org on the other hand is the home of the open source WordPress software itself, which you are free to download, modify, and host wherever you want. I'm talking about the software available from WordPress.org in this article.
So, why do I think WordPress is the best CMS for small charity websites?
WordPress is everywhere
The first thing that WordPress has in its favour is sheer ubiquity. WordPress is the world's most popular Content Management System, estimated to power more than 35% of the web. For comparison, Drupal, another popular charity CMS, powers around 2% of websites. WordPress is lovingly maintained by passionate volunteers, hundreds of thousands of whom get together at monthly meetups. It's used used by big brands as well as charities like Unicef UK, so you'll certainly be in good company.
Free and open source
This is an obvious benefit for small charities on tight budgets. Apart from some plugins (see below) WordPress itself is completely free, and it always will be. It's licensed under the Open Source GPL (General Public License) which means that you are free to use and modify it in any way you want, for as long as you want. Instead of being owned and controlled by one particular company with a desire to make a profit, WordPress is maintained by a worldwide community of independent designers and developers.
Flexible to meet your needs
WordPress started off as a blogging tool but has grown and evolved into a fully fledged CMS. It can be used to run everything from simple marketing websites and donation forms to online shops and community groups. Beyond the core features of WordPress itself, there are over 54,000 plugins available to add new features such as event management, ecommerce, mailing lists, community forums, and much more. Some of these have a one-off or recurring payment, but many are free. This flexible ecosystem of plugins means that a WordPress website can grow and adapt to serve the changing needs of your charity.
Easy to use
Despite its power and flexibility, most of WordPress is as easy to use as a word processor. You can create, edit, and delete content on your website with just a few clicks. Of course, depending on your requirements and the plugins that are installed, you might need to learn how to use a few extra features. We provide our clients with step-by-step video tutorials for the most common tasks, and we're always here to answer questions if you get stuck.
Easy to host
Because WordPress is so popular, lots of web hosting providers offer managed WordPress hosting with features that are designed to keep your website fast, secure, and up-to-date without you having to do anything. If you decide to move your website in the future, you'll have plenty of other providers to choose from. What's more, many hosting providers offer free WordPress hosting to UK registered charities, although you will still need to pay for your domain name (typically around £12/year for a .org.uk domain). We can recommend a trusted supplier as part of a charity website design project.
Reliable and secure
WordPress has a dedicated security team made up of approximately 25 experts including lead developers and security researchers. The team consults with well known security researchers and hosting companies to ensure that the software is protected against the latest threats. WordPress is under constant development, with bug fixes and security patches included in regular core updates. Many web hosting providers will test and install these updates for you automatically.
While the WordPress core itself is secure and well maintained, it is worth pointing out the risk introduced by third-party plugins. Some of those 54,000 plugins are built to a higher standard and updated more frequently than others, so it's important to research both the plugin and its developer before installing.
Optimised for search engines
WordPress is optimised for search engines right out of the box, taking care of 80-90% of the technical aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) without you having to do anything. There are several third-party SEO plugins (some free, some paid) that offer extra tools and guidance for optimising your content. If you decide to hire an agency or freelancer to help with SEO and online marketing, they'll almost certainly be used to working with WordPress.
Scalable and future-proof
While your charity might be small today, it makes sense to invest in a platform that can grow with you and adapt to your changing needs. You might want to add new features, change the look and feel, move to a new hosting provider, or work with a different agency for design and development. All of that is possible with WordPress.
From a technical perspective, WordPress has more than a decade of development history. The code behind it is written to follow the latest web standards, which means that it is compatible with today's browsers as well as future generations. Thankfully, WordPress has a strong commitment to backwards compatibility which means that older things will continue to work when the core software is updated. This makes it easier to keep your website up-to-date with the latest bug fixes and security patches without having to make lots of changes.