In this internet-dominated world, every organisation that wants to reach a wide audience needs a strong website. Your website must be the hub of your outreach, gathering visitors from a huge range of sources and moving them towards the action you want them to take. Without it, you’ll be forced to handle leads individually, slowing you down and draining your resources.
When you run a charitable organisation, you face enough challenges as it is, contending with limited funding and an altruistic drive in place of a value proposition. That’s why it’s even more important that you provide a strong website.
Many charities, however, settle for very basic websites, or simply forgo creating websites altogether — all out of a belief that either manually setting up a website or hiring a web developer would prove too expensive and complicated.
But technology continues to make life easier, and through WordPress, the world’s leading free content management system (CMS), you can quickly and simply create a respectable website for your charity without spending much money.
In this piece, we’re going to cover the whole process of building a charity WordPress site, reviewing the possible goals of a charity website, the advantages of using WordPress, how you can create and host your site, what you should focus on, and what kind of presentation you should aim for. Let’s get started.
The goals of a charity website
Before you think too much about building your website, you need to have a strong understanding of what you’re ultimately seeking to accomplish. A website that isn’t designed to serve a purpose is unlikely to be particularly useful, so every page you provide will need to be built and structured very carefully.
Image credit: Pxhere
Here are some things your charity website could do:
● Support discussion about your organisation. If your charity works with a large network of employees, volunteers, and regional organisations, then it might be very valuable to have a place for everyone to assemble and discuss progress.
● Collect one-time or recurring donations. Through setting up a website to accept payments or the creation of direct debits, you can make it much easier for visitors to donate to you — the smoother the process, the more likely people will be to act.
● Sell branded products with donated proceeds. Supporters of charities will often welcome opportunities to show that support however they can, plus selling a product gives a tangible reward that requesting a donation does not.
● Inspire prospective hires or volunteers. Finding and bringing in dedicated staff members and volunteers is the heart of every charity, because the money isn’t there to attract people motivated solely by profit. A website that truly inspires will effectively serve to bolster your ranks over time.
● Publicise the purpose of your charity. Every charity has a unique mission, consisting of the issue it exists to address, the area it operates in, the methods it uses, and the circumstances that gave rise to it. The more attention you can bring to your cause, the more awareness will be spread throughout the online world.
You may want to pursue just one of these goals, or go for all of them — but whatever your intentions, you need to get them figured out at this early stage so you can cater your website development process accordingly.
All of the top content management systems on the market have their notable strengths — for instance, one system might be particularly fast, while another could have outstanding SEO functionality out of the box. What makes WordPress the sensible choice is that it’s extremely strong in almost every important area, which is what ultimately matters the most.
Image credit: WordPress
Let’s run through some of its many advantages:
● It’s totally free and open source. You’ll obviously want as much of your organisation’s funding to go towards helping people as opposed to developing and maintaining a website. With WordPress, all you need is basic hosting — the platform is 100% free.
● There are so many plugins available. Because WordPress is so incredibly popular, there’s a massive range of plugins available for it, both free and paid. Whether you want to add a social media feed or tweak your donation options, there’ll be a plugin to help.
● It’s massively configurable. Being an open platform with access to a vast set of themes and frameworks, WordPress is incredibly versatile — you can even convert your WordPress site to an charity store through WooCommerce.
● WordPress development is cheap. In the event that you do need a site change that you can’t handle in-house, you won’t find it hard to get hold of an affordable developer.
● It’s adequately secure. Because it’s open source and relies heavily on plugins, WordPress will never achieve industry-leading levels of security, but if you keep everything updated properly, it is on par with the security of other top platforms.
It certainly isn’t the case that other platforms are wholly unfit for purpose, of course, and you could use a totally different CMS to great effect — platforms such as Wix or Squarespace are entirely viable. However, there’s nothing they offer that can make them more appealing for a typical charity than WordPress, so there’s no real reason to go with them.
Your web domain will be the address of your website — the URL that needs to be entered or clicked to reach it — and though you might think it isn’t all that important, it actually is worth spending some time getting it right. What do I mean by getting it right? Well, in ideal circumstances, your domain will be all of the following:
● As short as possible. The longer your domain is, the less convenient it will be to type (or tell people about). It may not be tremendously common for people to manually enter URLs, but it can happen, and you want it to be simple.
● Easy to remember. A domain name that consists of recognisable words and minimal symbols is vastly preferable to a confusing string of letters and numbers. For instance, “examplecharity” is easy to remember, while “ex-cha_official” is definitely not.
● Indicative of your business. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t always done! Taking the example we just used, having “example.com” as the domain name wouldn’t be great because it wouldn’t be recognisable as a charity to someone unfamiliar with the organisation. Using “examplecharity.org” would be much better, including “charity” and an extension (.org) exclusively reserved for non-profits.
Image credit: GoDaddy
Try searching for appropriate domain names using GoDaddy’s .org domain search. Once you find something that meets the above criteria (and isn’t overly expensive), buy it — assuming your charity is fairly stable, be sure to get the domain for several years at a minimum so you won’t need to worry about the registration status in the near future.
With your domain name secured, you’ll need to arrange some hosting for your WordPress site. Since your web host will be responsible for making your website accessible to visitors, it’s very important to choose it carefully — having poor hosting can lead to your website going down at frustrating times, producing a lot of errors, and/or being problematically slow.
There are plenty of good hosts out there, thankfully, and which one you should pick will depend on your specific needs, e.g. how many visitors you’ll need to serve, what kind of media you’ll be providing, and how integral the website will be to your overall donation efforts. Some are even free for charitable use. Here are some hosts you should consider:
○ This WordPress-compatible hosting company not only offers free lifetime use to charities and 24/7 support but is also fully powered by renewable energies, making Kualo a superb choice to help you get established online.
○ Another hosting company that supports renewable energy, Eco Hosting offers carbon neutral web hosting with no charge for charities, though it does require you to include a banner linking back to their site.
○ This provider doesn’t offer free hosting, but it does have affordable packages catered for non-profits, and SiteGround hosting is among the highest-rated in the world for WordPress sites. If you can afford it, it may be worth it.
Image credit: Kualo
Every one of these site hosts has an in-built system for creating a WordPress site, so whichever one you choose, you can follow a simple process to get a site off the ground extremely quickly. Once your basic site has been created, you can start adjusting it to suit your goals, starting with the design.
Something that makes WordPress so accessible is its enormous range of themes, and there are countless charity-focused themes out there to choose from. Using a WordPress theme is often as simple as selecting one you like, installing it with one click, and activating it with another — if you find a paid theme you like, you’ll obviously need to purchase it first.
By starting out with a great WordPress theme, you’ll be able to save a lot of time and effort, and you’ll still be able to give your website a unique style by making some alterations. You can change fonts, colours, layouts, images, icons — pretty much anything you can find the time and inclination to experiment with.
You can browse charity themes directly from the WordPress site, or peruse a much broader collection of non-profit themes from ThemeForest. Don’t pay too much attention to the often-dummied content. What you’re looking for more than anything is the general layout elements — do you like the panel shapes? What about the animations? Since those things are the hardest to change, they matter the most when you’re narrowing down your options.
Image credit: WordPress
Once you’ve found a theme that works for you, install it, and start going through the settings (and the support documentation) to make whatever changes you need. Images are going to be important, so remember to use high-quality photos and logos, and put some time into your copy — you can either task someone in your charity will doing the writing, or get someone in to help out (there may be a copywriter willing to work for free or a reduced rate for a good cause).
With your website live and designed to your liking, it may already have everything you need, but it’s worth taking a look at the array of free or paid plugins for WordPress to see if there are any available functions that could significantly support your efforts. Plugins can address technical issues, help you write strong content, or add handy new features to your site.
Certain plugins are recommended for all WordPress sites, such as Yoast SEO (great for search engine visibility) or WP Super Cache (great for boosting speed) — and then there’s Woocommerce, which is a fantastic option if you have any interest in offering products.
Beyond those, though, there are some plugins specific to charities, such as the following:
○ There are numerous plugins on the market for enabling donation features, but none is as slick or fully-featured as Give. Completely free in its standard version, it is funded through paid add-ons that enable further features, so you can pay for only the features you’re going to use.
○ If you choose to turn your charity site into a charity store, you can continue taking donations through this plugin. When someone visits their cart, you can present a donation button beneath the products, getting the best of both worlds.
○ If you want to drive more donations but you don’t have any products to sell, you can offer content instead — but how do you monetise it? This plugin lets you create a paywall on your site to make selected content accessible only to those who have donated.
Image credit: Woocommerce Donations
There are many more great plugins out there, though, so it’s always worth spending some time doing some further investigation and taking recommendations. Bolstered by any useful plugins you can find, you should be able to polish off a more-than-serviceable WordPress charity site that looks great and works well without costing a fortune.
At this point, you should be in a solid position. You’ll have figured out your website’s purpose, registered a good domain, found appropriate hosting, picked a charity theme, and installed any useful plugins. But that doesn’t mean you’re totally done, because you should never stop trying to improve your website.
Over time, keep an eye on changing design standards and user preferences, and make changes accordingly. And be sure to listen to feedback from all your visitors, particularly your volunteers, staff, and donors — if they tell you something they don’t like about the site, you should make an effort to change it. The better your website gets, the more it will support you in raising money and awareness. Good luck!