So you need a new website. Whether you’re building your organization’s first website or replacing an outdated design, there’s a ton to consider. What will it look like? How will it work? What will the experience be like for visitors? Who will help us build it?
But before you get too far along in the process, you’ll need to decide on an approach. Do you need a custom nonprofit website or does a template-based approach to web design make the most sense for your organization?
Custom nonprofit websites can be wonderful and are absolutely the right fit for some organizations. At Wired Impact, we spent years building large custom sites for nonprofits before creating our nonprofit website platform, which uses a template-based approach to website design.
Custom Nonprofit Websites Vs. Template-Based Sites
With a custom nonprofit website, you’ll have more control over every piece of the process and build a site from the ground up with a look, feel and experience completely customized to your audience and team.
But is a custom website, which can take upwards of six months and cost well over $50,000 to build, necessary for your organization? Typically custom websites are best when the features and functionality required for success are particularly unique or complicated.
In a template-based approach to website design, you’ll begin with a pre-built site that can be customized to work for your organization. You’ll have less control when it comes to features, functionality and certain design elements, but, if the shoe fits, it’s a great option for many nonprofits.
Features and Functionality
Before you can decide on the website approach that will work best for your nonprofit’s needs, you’ll need to pinpoint your must-have features and functionality, i.e. what your website will be able to do.
- First and foremost, your audience should be able to easily accomplish their personal goals on your website. Example: apply for a program or sign up for emails
- Secondarily, your website should enable your nonprofit to achieve the organizational and marketing goals that you’ve set. Example: accept online donations
If you’re not quite sure which features make that possible just yet, this post on determining the nonprofit features you’ll need can walk you through the process, including a list of common website features for nonprofits and questions to help pare down your list to the essentials.
4 Hints That You Have Custom Needs
Now that you’ve determined your goals and the features that will help you reach them, we can assess whether those features and how they work or look will require a fully custom website.
The features you need are not common.
In looking at nonprofit website builders or other DIY or templated approaches, can you find your feature on the list? If the feature(s) that you need is not common on other websites, especially other nonprofit sites, this is a good indication that you’ll need to build it from scratch.
For example, if your organization needs a locator tool to connect people with resources based on their zip code or current location, you likely won’t find it in an out-of-the-box website builder.
Your feature needs to work in a complicated way.
Don’t use a feature as a traditional nonprofit would? This applies to teams that need a website feature to work in a very particular and complicated way without room for compromise or workarounds within the process. Complicated integration set-ups may also fall into this bucket.
For example, offering a program application is not an uncommon feature for a nonprofit website, but if you need that application to run background checks and be HIPAA compliant, those needs add complexity.
You have specific design or branding guidelines.
Some organizations have very specific design wishes and would never be happy with a template, no matter how much you’re able to customize it. Other organizations, like affiliate chapters of national organizations, may need to follow very specific branding guidelines.
If you’ve checked out web design templates to no avail, a custom approach may be your best bet for building a site that matches up with your vision.
You keep running into issues with templates.
If you’ve researched the templated options out there, but keep running into the same issues, a custom nonprofit website is likely in your future. Maybe it’s design options or the features don’t work the way you’d need them to work — whatever the case may be, if you’ve done your due diligence but hit hurdles at every turn, it’s time to go custom.
However, if your nonprofit does not have custom needs, a templated approach has the potential to bring you the best of both worlds: powerful nonprofit features and a beautiful site to customize and make your own.
Benefits of Template-Based Web Design
With a template-based web design, you’re not building everything from scratch and are instead customizing a pre-built website template to work for your organization. Depending on the platform you go with, nonprofit features and ongoing software updates can be included in your plan. Template-based websites typically cost less, launch faster and can be created (and maintained) without knowing how to code.
There are varying levels of website builders for nonprofits, ranging from complete do-it-yourself (DIY) options like SquareSpace or Wix to options like Wired Impact, which offers a nonprofit focus and more help along the way.
If you have an in-house designer or a freelance designer that you’re comfortable working with long-term, a DIY build could be the best option to take full advantage of their expertise. But many nonprofits will appreciate the nonprofit focus that comes with a more hands-on templated approach. If you’re deciding between template-based approaches, these frequently asked questions can help clarify the best direction for you.
Add in support for nonprofits
After talking with hundreds of organizations stuck between DIY and custom website needs, we landed on a templated approach that’s in the middle.
- Choose from a range of nonprofit-specific features and integrations
- Break up costs over time with monthly website plans
- Launch faster with a pre-built template that you can customize to fit your needs
- Access ongoing support after launch
No matter what approach is best for your upcoming website project, make sure that it keeps your organization’s goals and your supporters’ goals top of mind to build the nonprofit website of your dreams. And if you’d like to see if a template-based website is the right fit, watch a demo to learn how we compare.
What approach did your organization take to building your new site? Did you need a custom nonprofit website or did a template-based approach end up being the best fit? I’d love to hear about your decision-making process in the comments section below.