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How to Choose the Right CMS for Your Organization

We won’t lie. Managing a website takes a lot of work, and it seems to get more and more complex the larger your organization becomes. With dynamic sites that have thousands of pages, you’ve got to have a great Content Management System (CMS) solution to help wrangle your content and present it in a user-friendly way.

Undoubtedly, many marketers in mission-driven organizations cringe when you mention their CMS, and they likely have a list of pain-points and band-aid fixes that are a mile long. If this describes you, then your CMS is obviously not the right fit for your organization. The good news is, with the right CMS, managing and building content on your site can be easy like Sunday morning.

So how do you go about choosing the right CMS for your nonprofit organization?

Before Anything Else

First and foremost, you need to be able to answer this one important question:

What do you really need your website to DO?

Your answers should tie back to your organization goals.

After identifying what it is you want your website to do, you can start to get into the specifics of your CMS needs. What functionality or features are between point A and point B? Sit with your team and dive deeper with the following questions:

  • Can our users find what they’re looking for?
  • Is our content up-to-date and relevant?
  • Is our current CMS simple enough for non-technical staff to use?
  • How important are security and accessibility?
  • Does our CMS have an active community of developers that can offer support?
  • Can it be integrated with our CRM, AMS, or other third-party platforms?
  • Is our website actually helping further our goals in any way? If not, what needs to work better?

Once you take a good, honest look at your current website you can better evaluate what it should be capable of.

Features of a Good CMS

They all do pretty much the same thing, right?

Yes and No.

Although every CMS is built to organize content and manage websites, they don’t necessarily offer the same features or built-in functionalities. If you really want a CMS to work for your organization, you need to start by knowing the capabilities and features that will work best for you.

Think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Some platforms will be too big and complex, while some will be too small and limited. You have to dive into the features and functions to pick the one that fits just right.

While there are limitless tools and features that your organization could consider, here are five core features you should always look for when choosing a CMS platform:

1. Easy-to-Use Content Editor

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Content is the reason the internet exists, so naturally an easy-to-use content editor is key.

There’s just no way around it. You need a CMS that’s easy for your team to update and maintain on a day-to-day basis. While some of your staff may be tech-savvy, many staff members will be uncomfortable navigating the back end of a complex content editor. We recommend choosing a system that’s intuitive and easy to use, and getting training that is specific to you and your needs.

2. Flexibility & Scalability

Chances are at some point in the future your organization will need or want to add additional features to your website. This is normally where those pesky half-baked patches come into play. If you want to avoid that headache, simply look for a CMS that is scalable and flexible enough to handle expansions. The best CMS works for you now and years from now.

3. User Permission Groups

If you’re part of a larger organization, you likely have multiple people using your CMS and making changes to the content. With user permission functionality, you can better manage users and give the right people access while also restricting certain features to managers or publishers.

4. Third-Party Integrations

The best CMS option is often the one that integrates with your existing third-party systems. Whether it’s integrating with your MAP, AMS, CRM, online retail, or donation platform, creating a seamless user-experience from one technology to another is key to many organizational goals.

5. Ongoing Support

Sometimes, you just don’t know how to do something—which is when you turn to an expert for help.

We always recommend going with a popular CMS (Craft, Drupal, WordPress, etc.) because they tend to have larger support networks. We find that an open-source CMS is the way to go if you need some outside help. This is an even more important consideration if your staff isn’t tech-savvy. It’s also important to have someone you trust who is great at communicating with your team so you can have timely, reliable help.

Now, to choose.

You’ve got a list of CMS platforms to choose from and all of them seem to meet the criteria above. So, you should just go with the most popular one, right?

WRONG. It’s not a popularity contest.

This is a tool you’ll likely spend more time with than you spend in meetings (and that’s a long time). You have to work with this CMS on a daily basis, so you need to dive into the pros and cons of each.

Come up with a list of must-have features that answer those questions above. Beware that this shouldn’t read like an exhaustive wish list. Every feature listed should have a reason for being and should tie into those goals your team wants to fulfill. Once everyone agrees on those features and how they support your goals, evaluate which CMS has the power and capacity to include all of your must-haves.

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There are plenty of CMS matrices on the web, so we won’t bore you with one here. But when you have a narrowed list, dive into what is important to your organization and make that a priority in your decision making.

It’s important to note that, whether you decide on WordPress, Drupal, Craft, or a proprietary CMS, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

No CMS off-the-rack is going to be perfect, but with the help of a development partner, you can customize and tailor it to your wants and needs. Whether you’re working with an agency, an in-house developer, or a contractor, keep an open mind.

The Bottom Line

Your organization is trying to reach different audiences and fulfill their needs very differently than you were five years ago. The web is constantly evolving and five years from now, it’s likely we’ll be saying the same thing.

That’s why it’s more important to make good, strategic choices that will prove themselves for years to come. Sure, it’s an investment, but reaching those overarching goals is a lot easier with a CMS that gives you the tools to implement a strong digital presence. Good luck!

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