A Content Management System (CMS) is the platform upon which your website is built. 10 years ago it was more common to design your web pages on your computer (using a program like Dreamweaver) and upload them to your website.
This meant that you could only update your website from one computer, and it made it harder to add in a lot of the interactive functions. These days most websites are built using a CMS – which usually let you edit your website from any computer with an internet connection and it’d much easier to add in new elements like picture galleries, and comments threads. You have a login (easy to set up lots) and they can have different priveleges. Dashboard – easily add and edit posts, have modules that add addiotnal fatures to the ‘core’ installation. Content, by and large, is kept separate from the styling. The theme handles that. Lots to choose from. You don’t need to know HTML – you can just type in like you’re using WOrd. The theme handles all that. It’s a bit more complicated to change. Easier it is to use – trade off with flexibility. If you want to just type in the words then that’s easy, but if you want the text to be a bit bigger, or the caption under one photo to be different fom the rest – then it can be a bit more restrictive.
Custom built CMSs can cost thousands of pounds but you almost certainly don’t want to go down that route. Here I’ll focus on the most popular options. These are ‘Open Source’ systems – which mean that they’re free and that they are maintained and improved by a community of users and developers – so you’re not tied in to any one company who can effectively hold you to ransom once you start using their bespoke CMS system.
WordPress – This is the world’s most popular CMS and over 30 million?? websites are built using it. It was traditionally a blogging platform but you can customise it to look pretty much however you want. It’s quite user friendly and once it is set up it’s pretty easy for colleagues to add content from wherever they are.
Drupal – This is a popular option among nonprofit organisations – including some of the bigger ones like Amnesty, Oxfam and Comic Relief. In my experience it is more powerful than WordPress, but it’s also less intuitive and user-friendly. It’s good if you want to have some users of your site to have membership style privileges – for instance if they need their own username and password so they can log in to access certain parts of the site or content that ‘anonymous’ users can’t see. It also plays nicest with CiviCRM as they go hand-in-hand. Applying security and module updates is nowhere near as easy as it is with WordPress, and that’s a big issue to consider if you’re planning on maintaining the site yourself rather than paying someone to keep it in good condition.
Joomla – is also very popular, I can’t think of any charity sites that use it off the top of my head though. Personally I haven’t used it so I’m not very qualified to talk about it. This site tends to focus on Drupal and WordPress because I have built sites from scratch using them and have spent hours/years learning how to do get them to do the things that I share with you throughout the site. By all means check it out – it has modules for CiviCRM, Paypal etc.
Future-proofing your decision.
It’s worth noting that moving your website from one CMS to another can be a huge pain – especially when it has a lot of content in it. So some future-planning here can really save you a lot of hassle further down the line. It’s for this reason that I’d recommend avoiding the really basic options like Wix and 1and1sites. They’re fine for instance if you want to send people off to JustGiving to donate to you – but that has its limitations, and if you want to start collecting your own donations (via paypal for example) then you’ll find it a lot harder to keep track of all your donors without a CRM or database to store their information in.
There are some other options for building a simple site – like Wix or 1and1sites. Personally I wouldn’t recommend these for anything other than a really simple 2-3 page site that you know you won’t ever need to expand or develop on. See more in my blog post about the best free website building tools.
Recommendation – For most small charities I’d say your first port of call should be WordPress. It is the most user-friendly, it has the widest choice of ready-made ‘themes’ available, it’s dead easy to find a designer/developer online and almost as easy to find one in your neighbourhood. Finally – there’s loads of free help online as a quick google search usually points you to a forum post or tutorial where someone’s solving the problem you’ve come up against.