I don’t pay for hosting (Instead, I pay $12 per year to redirect my domain name). If I have technical difficulties or, God forbid, the site gets hacked, really smart web professionals work on fixing it immediately–sometimes before I realize there is a problem. Those same people work year around to make sure the security of my site is such that downtime is very, very rare.
I pay these people nothing for their work.
While I have quite a lot of say over the format of my site, it is virtually impossible for me to break it because the “look & feel” elements that I want to control are totally separate from the part of the site’s installation that makes it go.
My site’s back-ups are done automatically by someone who isn’t me, and when WordPress sends out an update my site gets the upgrade while I sleep.
If I ever decide to move my website somewhere else, I can export everything at a moment’s notice.
How is this possible? My site is hosted at WordPress.com.
If you are one of my nonprofit readers, this “confession” likely means almost nothing, but trust me– readers from the internet marketing corners of the web are deeply embarrassed on my behalf. In those circles, everyone knows real website professionals have self-hosted sites.
This strong bias influenced me to stay quiet on the subject for a long time, but because I’ve had such a good experience on WordPress.com, I don’t want to do that anymore–especially since such set-up may be exactly what many small nonprofit organizations are looking for.
WordPress for Nonprofits
First, the non-controversial part of my advice: If your nonprofit organization has (or needs) a simple, mostly static website that looks modern, is easy for staff and volunteers to update, and do not require the site to also manage your database or process payments, A site built on WordPress is likely your best option.*
There are two different types of WordPress sites: Those hosted at WordPress.com and self-hosted sites that run on the software available at WordPress.org. The WordPress team wrote a great post about the general differences between .org and .com so check that out before you continue.
The Downsides of WordPress.com
I’ve pretty much covered all the things I love about WordPress.com, but before you create your own site, there are some potential downsides to consider.
Not (completely) Free
A basic wordpress.com account is free, but if you plan to host your nonprofit’s website there you will need to buy some upgrades. You will absolutely need to use your own domain name ($12.00 per year) and will likely want to turn off ads ($29.00 per year). If you need any thing else, you could end up spending as much in upgrades as you would for hosting. What you won’t have to spend money on is someone to fix the site if it breaks (because it won’t).
No Fancy Code
Some websites, generate pieces of code for you to put on your website to display dynamic content. (Boxes displaying content from an organization’s Facebook Page, for example.) While such boxes are cool, they can also pose a security threat, so WordPress.com doesn’t allow them. If your organization’s communication plan depends on an ability to integrate your website with content generated on other websites (and you have the tech support to do it) you may be better off with WordPress.org.
In addition to the base software, self-hosted WordPress users have the option of adding plugins to their site to extend its functionality. Wordpress.com has integrated many of the most popular (and most secure) plugins into the platform offered to it’s users, but if your site is hosted on WordPress.com you won’t be able to download any custom plugins to use on your site.
In my experience, by the time I need a plug-in bad enough to start considering moving my site to a self-hosted platform, WordPress.com makes it available–but your mileage may vary.
This limit is not likely to be a big problem for nonprofits–but is still worth mentioning. Your organization will not be allowed to run Google AdWords on a website hosted at WordPress.com and there are some limits on other forms of advertising and selling. Soliciting donations and selling your own products should be fine, but if your organization wants to raise money through your site, be sure to check out the advertising policy first.
NO GOOGLE ANALYTICS
This is the downside that causes me the most strife.** If your organization needs detailed, geographically based information about who visits your site, WordPress.com may not work for you. The dashboard does include a pretty good stats feature–but it’s definitely doesn’t count as real analytics.
If flexibility is more important to your organization than ease of use, and you have either dedicated IT staff to maintain the site, or the financial resources to hire someone to keep your site safe and take care of the technical details, a self-hosted site may be a good option.
If however, you don’t have those resources, and the downsides listed above aren’t deal breakers for you consider joining me on WordPress.com. You will not be sorry.
Did I miss something? Do you have questions? If so, let’s continue the conversation in the comments!
*Not sure what you need? Andy Giesler at Blazingmoon.org has a great series covering all your nonprofit website options.
**I would pay for a Google Analytics upgrade in a heart beat–in case anyone at Automattic happens to read this. . . .