Article Photo How to Choose a CMS for Your Nonprofit Your guide to stakeholder and cost considerations, platform types, and features Wes Holing - December 13, 2017 The content management system (CMS) is the core of your website. Your copy and images rest on this system, so there's a lot to consider. Here's everything you should look into before deciding on the right CMS for your nonprofit.What to ConsiderStakeholdersSmall organizations may need to get consensus on a new CMS from just a few people, but if you're a midsize or large nonprofit, you'll need to get lots of stakeholders on board. These may include an IT department, a communications team, fundraisers, policy analysts, and executives. Identify just one or two people from each team that has an interest in your site. Too many stakeholders can keep a project trapped in political limbo.If you already have a site, ask questions like these.What are the most pleasant and most frustrating parts of the current site (both as a back-end and a front-end user)?What have you heard from other people who have visited the site?If you could add three features to the site, what would they be?If you are starting your first site, ask questions like these.What do you want the site to do?Who is the audience for the site?How many resources are we able to devote to maintaining it once it's live?Prioritize your stakeholders' requirements as you collect them, too. The most popular request may not be the most necessary, and you'll want to devote your time and energy to what matters most.Type of PlatformYou have two big options when choosing the type of CMS: hosted and SaaS.HostedA hosted CMS is one you download and install on a server, one that is either on-premises or off-premises. Hosted CMSes include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!. These systems allow greater flexibility and control but may also require more technical skill to install, set up, and maintain. They can be open-source or proprietary and typically don't require a subscription.SaaSSaaS stands for "software as a service," which means that the system is integrated with the server that hosts the system and content, all of which are maintained by a third party. Examples of SaaS CMSes include Squarespace, Wix, and HubSpot. These systems simplify the process of launching a site by managing the installation, updates, and maintenance for you. They typically require a subscription fee.Open-Source Versus ProprietaryThe question of whether to use an open-source or proprietary CMS is an eternal debate in the software development community. Hosted CMS options can be open-source or proprietary.Open-source is usually free and is developed by a community. It includes limited support and may require more tech skills to implement.Proprietary usually requires a paid license and is developed by a single company. It often includes dedicated support and may mean less troubleshooting and setup.CostThis is third on the list, but of course, it may be the most important consideration. Open-source CMSes may be tempting because of the lack of a price tag, but it's worth also considering the time and money cost of setup, hosting, and potential maintenance later. If you have dedicated tech staff, a hosted, open-source CMS will be a cheaper solution than if you don't.FeaturesThere is no shortage of advanced features in the top CMSes, but nonprofits don't have the same needs as for-profit companies, government agencies, or anyone else who wants a website. This is where the requirements you gathered will really come in handy, and hopefully they'll align with these features.The Top 10 CMS Features to Look For Ease of Installation and UseIf your staff members are limited, or their skills are applicable to a specific technology, picking a CMS that requires less maintenance or has a gentler learning curve will save you time and money in the long run. A SaaS solution may solve this altogether.SecurityYou'll need to keep your data and your constituents' data secure. Some things to look for here are whether the CMS has built-in features like two-factor authentication and how often the system and its components are updated. An active open-source community or the company that maintains the system should make sure it stays ahead of threats as they occur.IntegrationsChances are your site doesn't exist in a vacuum. It may be set up to accept donations, measure how users interact with the site, or display social media content. If so, it needs to interact with other systems. Take stock of your technology stack, which is the ecosystem of the systems your organization uses, to make sure your top CMS choice is compatible.ResponsivenessYour organization may be very responsive to the needs of your constituents, but your site needs to be responsive to the devices they use. Each year, a greater number of users are visiting websites on their phones and tablets instead of laptops and desktops. A site that's difficult to use on a mobile device is much less likely to result in a donation or a volunteer than one that streamlines mobile use.TemplatesHosted CMSes, both open-source and proprietary, and SaaS solutions tend to offer premade site designs and page templates for you to use. Of course, some of the better-looking or feature-rich templates may cost more money, but it will likely be faster to modify an existing template than to create your own from scratch. Modern templates are likely to be mobile-responsive, too, which saves a lot of time in testing for multiple devices.SEOGetting your site optimized to be found on search engines is as much about the quality of the content that's visible as it is about the configuration behind the scenes that's invisible. Better CMSes will have built-in features or additional components that take the guesswork out of optimizing your pages and their content.VersioningIf multiple users are changing content on your site, you'll want to be able to revert back in case of a mistake. This is called versioning, which means that each time the page is changed, the CMS stores a new version. Version 13 of a page is all wrong? Revert back to version 12.Multilingual SupportFor organizations that work in communities that are multilingual, this is crucial. If you're only speaking to an audience in one language, you're not serving the whole community. Most major CMSes make it easy to create pages in multiple languages and display them based on the user's preference. You can even tailor the text in menus, buttons, and so on to those languages, too.Asset ManagementYour pages aren't just text; chances are you'll also need to include images, PDFs, and other assets on your site. After your site has been live for a while, it's important to be able to find older assets quickly and easily. Make sure the CMS you look for has the ability to search what's been stored internally.Search CapabilitiesMany users don't bother with menus, carousels, or other modern page elements — they go straight for the search box. There are a lot of options here, in terms of how content is searched, what is returned, and how it's displayed.Most Popular CMSes for Nonprofits Two out of every five nonprofits run WordPress for their websites. And it's not just nonprofits; about 59 percent of all sites that use a CMS run WordPress. It's open-source, flexible, and free, and it offers more than 40,000 free plug-ins and 2,000 site styles. Drupal is the next most popular among nonprofits; about 9 percent of nonprofit websites use Drupal.Future NeedsOnce you've decided on a CMS and your site is live, your needs are done, right? Not exactly. Hosted systems will need to be upgraded, new features will be introduced, and something may go wrong at some point. Be sure to look for how the CMS has developed over time and see whether you're confident that it'll change to meet your needs over time.Of course, one size doesn't fit all, so you'll want to be thorough when you gather your requirements. Options like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla! are popular both with nonprofits and in general, and services like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix can streamline your ability to design, create, and operate a site.Additional Resources for Your Nonprofit Website 5 Steps to an Effective Content Strategy for Your Nonprofit Need a New Content Management System? Content management systems at TechSoup This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.