Building a nonprofit website can feel daunting. But picking the right approach from the outset will save you a lot of time when researching and reaching out to potential partners.

Use this short video to discover the three most common approaches nonprofits are using to build new websites these days. And figure out which approach is right for you based on your nonprofit’s needs and budget.

Video Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

When it comes to building a nonprofit website, there are three approaches that nonprofits take most of the time.  I’m David Hartstein. I’m one of the co-founders here at Wired Impact.

In this video, we’re going to cover what those three approaches are quickly so that you can get a sense of how they compare and ultimately get a lay of the land for how nonprofits go about building a new website.

And then eventually start to determine which approach or two approaches are going to be the best fit for your nonprofit website project. So let’s dive in.

Three Approaches to Building a Nonprofit Website

DIY Website Builder

The first approach is a DIY or “Do It Yourself” website builder. Think something like Squarespace or Wix here. Now these tools are not built specifically for nonprofits, but they are pretty common for organizations who are just getting started and don’t need something that’s totally tailored for nonprofits.

Custom Nonprofit Website 

Now, the second approach here is a custom website. This is building a new nonprofit website from scratch and is an approach that most organizations are familiar with.

This could mean working with an agency or a freelancer, but with this approach, generally you’re starting with a blank canvas and can build a new website from the ground up. 

Nonprofit Website Platform

And the final approach here is a nonprofit website platform. Now, this is a newer approach overall. Think of it as website software built specifically for nonprofits.

Generally this is a subscription service. So you’re going to pay monthly, but it’s going to include a bunch of the ongoing costs that typically you would pay for individually if you built a custom website.

So we’re going to get into all of that more in a minute.

But full disclosure, we used to be more of an agency building custom websites for nonprofits here at Wired Impact. And over the last several years, we’ve transitioned to being a nonprofit website platform. So we’ve seen nonprofit website design in practice from lots of different angles.

And I can confidently say none of these three approaches are right for every nonprofit out there. It’s really going to come down to your needs and your budget to ultimately dictate which of these is going to be the best fit for building your nonprofit website.

So we’re going to quickly run through just how to compare these three different approaches and ultimately help you determine which one or two is going to be the best place to start for your nonprofit website project.

Features built just for nonprofits

So first up here, features built just for nonprofits. This will likely include things like an online donation system, a volunteer system, or an event system to help showcase the events your nonprofit’s hosting.

Both custom websites and nonprofit website platforms will offer this because they’re tailored to nonprofits.  A lot of DIY website builders will offer workarounds or ways to make their tools work for especially some newer nonprofits.

But nonprofits just aren’t the audience they’re designing for. Which is not to say it’s not the right fit for your project. It’s just helpful to keep that in mind from the outset.

Integrations with popular nonprofit tools

Now, next up, integrations with popular nonprofit tools.  Here we’re talking about connecting your new website to the other tools that you’re already using at your organization. So some common integrations could be things like a donor management system or a fundraising platform.

With a DIY website builder, you may get integrations with some of the tools that you’re using, so it’s definitely worth looking into. Again, they’re just not designing for non profits, so these integrations will be a little bit more hit or miss.

With a custom website, you can build any integration you want, it just may get expensive. In our custom days, when we were building custom websites for nonprofits, this was one of the pieces where organizations were often surprised by how much it could cost to connect some of their tools. Especially if they were a little bit more complicated to integrate with one another.

Now with a nonprofit website platform, since we’re designing these tools to only work for nonprofits, to solely be designed for nonprofits,  nonprofit third party tools are going to be the ones that just make the most sense to integrate with.

So I would still definitely ask each potential partner just what integrations are possible, what integration will look like between your website and those various third party tools.

But for example, here at Wired Impact, we have integrations built out with 1000+ third-party tools that are commonly used by nonprofits. But since we’re only designing for nonprofits, that makes sense for us to invest that kind of time in building connections with those types of tools.

So this is a great point of discussion to bring up with potential website partners that you’re talking to. They’re going to be able to help you figure out what integration is possible and hopefully save you a bunch of time by connecting your new website with the tools that you’re already using at your nonprofit.

Unlimited feature and design flexibility

Next up here is unlimited feature and design flexibility. In our experience, this is typically what would push a nonprofit to decide that building a custom website makes the most sense.

So with a custom website, you have a blank canvas. You can build whatever you want. 

The trade off is the cost is typically a good deal higher and the timeline is typically a lot longer to build something custom because you’re building from scratch. So it’s just all about weighing those things and making sure that those trade offs are going to be worth it.

Now, typically, a nonprofit will go this route if either they have strict brand guidelines that they have to adhere to and they need to prioritize that level of design flexibility. Or maybe they have some sort of really specific nuanced feature that is really unique to their organization.

Now, in either case, they’re probably going to ultimately decide to build a custom website. Investing that kind of time and money is probably worth it in that situation. It probably makes sense.

And at that point, they’ve probably outgrown a DIY website builder anyway.

If you think you fall into this custom website bucket, I still recommend reaching out to a nonprofit website platform just to make sure that they don’t have the level of flexibility or the features that you need to get where you need to go. And that ultimately spending that time and money to build something custom is going to be your best bet.

Ongoing software updates included

Next up here, ongoing software updates included. Here we’re talking about the software powering your nonprofit’s website. Now typically, this will be included in the subscription fees for both DIY website builders and nonprofit website platforms.

If you go the custom website route,  it’ll likely be something that you pay for separately. Ongoing software updates, they’re a great way to increase the lifespan of your website. And they also help with performance and security.

It’s definitely worth asking potential website partners about just to make sure that you have a clear understanding of exactly what’s included. And also how much you’ll pay for it on an ongoing basis.

Hosting and security included

Now along those same lines is hosting and security included. Now when we talk about hosting, that’s the server where your website files live so visitors all over the world can access your site.

Good hosting is really important when it comes to the performance of your website. You want it to be available whenever visitors want to visit. And you want it to be fast for those visitors.

As far as security goes, this could take a few different forms. It likely includes ongoing updates, which we just talked about. Likely include some sort of security monitoring. And it could even include helping to fix a security breach if one happens.

Again, you’ll typically get these things with both DIY website builders and nonprofit website platforms.

With a custom website, you’ll just need to ask potential partners what this looks like. Most of the time, hosting and security will be separate line items that you’ll pay for. But it’s worth having that conversation just so you know exactly what is included and also how much it’ll cost either monthly or annually, depending on how it’s billed.

nonprofit website project prep kit graphic

Building a new nonprofit website? Start here.

Dedicated support while you build the site

Next is dedicated support while you build the site. Now, typically speaking, this is not something you’ll get with a DIY website builder. “Do It Yourself” is right there in the name.

With most custom websites, you’ll have someone guiding you through the building process.

With nonprofit website platforms, I would definitely ask potential partners what support while you’re building and launching your website looks like.

For us, here at Wired Impact, we include a dedicated project manager from signup all the way through launching your new website. But some may not. So it’s definitely worthwhile to ask what’s included just to make sure that you’re getting the right level of support given what you’re looking for in a partner when building out your nonprofit’s new website. 

Ongoing support from nonprofit specialists included

Next here is ongoing support from nonprofit specialists included. Sorry, I had to abbreviate “NP specialists” here for space. That’s nonprofit specialists.

Typically, this is the kind of ongoing support that you’re going to get included as part of a subscription with a nonprofit website platform.  It could play out in a wide variety of ways depending on how each partner approaches it, but usually you’re going to get support with the website and it’s going to be tailored to what they’ve seen work for other nonprofits. 

DIY website builders will typically include technical support. But since they aren’t specifically working with nonprofits, that support is typically going to be more about the tools themselves, as opposed to how to leverage those tools to move your mission forward.

And with a custom website, If this kind of ongoing support is offered, it’ll typically be part of a maintenance or a marketing package that you’ll pay for in addition to the website project itself.

So again, this is a good thing to ask potential partners about just to make sure you’re clear on what’s included and what those ongoing fees are going to look like to make sure that you’ve budgeted for them appropriately.

Low upfront fees

And the final item here is all about pricing. Low upfront fees. This is really all about the pricing structure for each approach to nonprofit website design.

So with a DIY website builder, typically this will be the least expensive approach overall. Typically speaking, you won’t have much in the way of upfront fees unless you’re hiring someone to help you build out the site, which some DIY builders will offer. 

With a custom website, in most cases, the majority of the website cost is going to be upfront and as you build. So this is typically far in a way the most expensive from an upfront cost standpoint. For reference, in our custom days, our sites started around $20,000 USD and scaled up to be $100,000 or more, just depending on the complexity of the site. These costs are going to be all over the place though, with a custom website, depending on things like the scope of the project, the quality of the partner, how they break down fees, upfront fees versus ongoing fees.

So just  there’s a lot of factors that go into custom websites. To nail down a price for a custom site, you’re probably going to have to go through the sales process – reach out to folks, have sales conversations, firm up the scope and ultimately get a proposal that has a price for the project.

With a nonprofit website platform, these are definitely going to vary as well. Most have some sort of modest upfront fee to just cover the work associated with building and launching your nonprofit’s new website. And then typically you’ll pay something monthly to get all of those things we just talked about on an ongoing basis. Again, these are going to vary widely though.

So I would be sure to just ask each partner how their pricing works to make sure again that you’re budgeting appropriately. Both upfront and for ongoing fees. A lot of nonprofit website platforms will display pricing on their website. So that can also be insightful and helpful in preparation for building a nonprofit website.

That’s it. That’s all I wanted to make sure we covered. I hope this helps you get a grasp of the three different approaches to nonprofit website design and just gives you a sense of which one or two will be the best fit for your project.

If you have any questions, just let us know. Depending on where you’re watching this, there should be a link or a form or some way to reach out to us. We are happy to get your questions answered and help you figure out which of these approaches is going to be the best fit for your nonprofit and help you bring your site to life.

So I hope this was helpful. Thanks for watching and talk to you soon.