The platform you decide to build your organization’s website on is key to the success of your investment. By not carefully considering your needs and the existing options, you may end up making a decision that leads to wasted costs, technical challenges, and general frustration.
In this article, we’ve outlined the different platform types currently available, along with some of the different factors to consider when making your decision.
Understanding Platform Types
Today, there are several great options when it comes to choosing how to build your website. Each option presents a unique set of tradeoffs that your organization will need to weigh carefully before proceeding. Below, we’ve divided the possible platform options into three very rough categories; templated, open-source, and integrated.
Templated website platforms such as Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly are a great resource for anyone looking to quickly and easily get a website launched. These platforms provide their customers with a diverse set of templates to choose from along with an extremely user-friendly onboarding process for inputting imagery and content into each pre-defined design.
The open-source website platforms provide more of a blank slate for users. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all provide their customers with the tools for crafting their own websites from scratch and are typically preferred by those organizations who seek to have control over the design and configuration of their digital experience.
Many nonprofit CRM solutions offer website builders as part of their product suites. Neon CRM for example offers a website builder product that integrates natively with the rest of their tools to allow nonprofits to keep all of their technology under one roof. HubSpot offers a similar website builder tool that works seamlessly with the rest of its ecosystem. These typically follow a templated design and have limited functionality and customization abilities.
How to choose the right website platform
In order to help you evaluate which platform is best for your organization—templated, open-source or integrated—we’ve outlined key factors to consider, including:
- Initial costs
- Learning curve
- Ongoing costs
Templated platforms make it easy to pick a pre-existing design and start immediately, allowing users to launch their own websites without needing to hire any professionals. Meaning, the initial cost for a templated website platform is usually quite low.
Given that open-source platforms provide users with a blank slate for getting started, these kinds of platforms typically involve higher initial costs. For organizations without any web design experience, a professional website designer might be necessary to launch the project.
Website builders that come as part of a larger CRM package typically require an initial setup fee plus higher monthly fees as part of your total CRM software package.
Templated platforms are specifically designed for web design novices, or those who need a low learning curve. With pre-built templates and blocks, the web design process is simplified exponentially.
Open-source platforms typically involve a steeper learning curve. Because users can customize everything about their website, becoming familiar with each platform’s different administration features can take more time.
Website builders that come as part of a larger CRM package typically have limited flexibility and therefore makes the learning curve less steep than the open-source option, however, the templated platforms still provide a better user experience for administrators seeking to build the site themselves.
Most templated platforms offer monthly subscription plans to host and update the underlying software running your website. These monthly costs vary depending on the different features you integrate with your website, however, they are typically quite reasonable.
Open-source platforms do not charge for usage of their tools, however, they also typically do not host and maintain them. For this, you’ll need to pay a freelancer, an agency, or a hosting company to maintain your website on a month-to-month basis.
Website builders that come as part of a larger CRM package also typically have a monthly fee and it is typically more expensive than the templated platform but less expensive than the open-source option.
Templated platforms protect their product and only allow select tools to be integrated with their system. This leads to a smaller library of options for anyone looking to add features to their website.
When it comes to features, open-source platforms typically offer a much greater variety. Given that these platforms are in fact open-source, any developer can contribute to the library of tools and plugins that integrate with the platform.
Website builders that come as part of a larger CRM package typically have the fewest features, seeing as the only contributors to the software are the developers dedicated to the larger CRM product and are therefore unable to focus as heavily on building a more robust website platform.
Templated builders have less scalability by design. These platforms are built specifically for customers with more limited needs who want simpler experiences and are not designed to meet the needs of more complex organizations.
When it comes to scalability, open-source platforms offer much more room to grow for organizations that choose to build on them. Due to their larger community of contributors, open-source platforms are constantly evolving. As new technologies are developed and new opportunities are identified, developers from around the world are able to build solutions specifically for these open-source platforms.
Integrated solutions that are built into larger CRM products typically do not have much scalability beyond their pre-defined set of features. They do make it easy for organizations to keep track of constituent data as they grow, however, if for example your organization wants to start selling products online, you’ll likely need to move to a new website platform.
Templated platforms are designed to limit flexibility. By putting up more strict guardrails on what can and cannot be done on their platform, they reduce the number of choices that their customers need to make in regard to their website. This is a big win for simplicity and speed, however, it inevitably sacrifices the flexibility of the platform.
Open-source solutions are definitely the winner when it comes to flexibility. Building on these platforms provides an almost infinite ability to customize and tailor your website experience.
Integrated solutions that are built into larger CRM products are very limited in terms of their flexibility, given that they are designed with the sole purpose of integrating with the CRM’s larger suite of tools.
Templated platforms typically have a harder time integrating with other nonprofit technology tools because any integration needs to be developed and supported by their in-house team. This makes launching new integrations slower, therefore templated platforms typically offer integrations with a smaller range of nonprofit tools.
Given that open-source platforms allow any user to build integrations for various systems (granted that APIs are available), the open-source option typically provides a wide range of integrations for many different nonprofit technologies. The challenge can be in selecting the best tool for integrating your systems among numerous options.
Integrated solutions that are built into larger CRM products are, by their very nature, highly integrated. They are designed to work directly with the other tools available in the larger suite of products offered by the CRM and require virtually no custom integrations to make work. The only challenge is if you want to integrate your CRM website solution with a product that is not offered in your CRM’s suite of products. You will likely be unable to make this integration work.
The chart below outlines the value curve that is offered by each of the different website platform options. The curve that works best for your organization will largely depend on the tradeoffs you are willing to make in order to attain the factors that matter most to you.
There is no “best” platform, and one size does not fit all when it comes to the needs of nonprofits. Ultimately, what platform works best for you largely depends on what you want to spend, what kind of control you want to have, and how much room you want to have for the growth of your organization’s website.