WordPress

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A place for nonprofit WordPress developers and content managers of all skill levels.
The WordPress group is an engaged network of WordPress developers and content managers, for all skill levels, by WordPress users for WordPress users, to encourage the usage of and advocate for WordPress.

Our goal: to support nonprofit organizations using (or interested in using) WordPress. Additionally, this is a safe and friendly place for beginning WordPress developers and users to ask questions and connect to like-minded people.

Short link: http://community.nten.org/wordpress

Subject: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

1.  Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 19, 2016 03:04

Hi all,
There is a subject I would like us to discuss in the forum.
It seems building a website is still a burden for small NGOs. Either because of the needed technical work, or because of the decisions needed to be taken due to the many available options.
I am personally aware of the work of Jason and Mark, who both teach and make an effort to make this process simpler (Mark with his book and MRW plugin, and Jason teaching how to disable certain features on the dashboard).
I’m asking myself if it is worthwhile to try to make the process even simpler by building an all in one WordPress platform for NGOs. The ideal is to make it almost as simple as using social media. Such a platform will probably be build as a WordPress multi site, and will include selected necessary plugins. Of course such websites will have much less design options and will be less unique, but it still might be a good solution for many small NGOs.
Checking what already exists online, I think what wordpress.com offers to NGOs covers this need only partly.
Would love to hear your opinions on this matter.
Very best wishes,
Ben Carp

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Ben Carp
Embrace NGO
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2.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 19, 2016 04:49
Edited by Jason King Dec 19, 2016 04:53
Good question, and surely there is a good case for building ready-made WordPress solutions for non-profits. But it couldn't be a single solution because different types of organisations have different needs. Yes WordPress.com can be a solution for many small non-profits. There are also many themes marketed generically to non-profits, which tend to be heavy on custom post types and angled towards donations.
But personally I'm more interested in the niches. And the role of umbrella organizations in supporting affiliates with technology (Mark tells me in the US you're more likely to call them networks and affiliates).
 
To give three examples:
  • 40+ local Law Centres have to commission their own website. Their umbrella is unable to support them on anything tech related. Although they have near identical needs, each one has to go through the process individually, and the outcome is wasted time and money, and varied results.
  • I've built three websites for local Healthwatch. They're charities that enables the public to rate and review local health services (therefore, they share unusual functionality). There are 140+ local branches in the UK. The umbrella organisation initially provided a free Drupal template but the local branches are outgrowing it. If they want something better, each one has to go through a lengthy and costly planning and commissioning process.
  • Local branches of Shopmobility are based in shopping centres, and hire out powered wheelchairs to shoppers. Each one has the same need, which is to show what equipment is available and enable it to be booked. But every website has ended up different. 
I could list off the top of my head a couple of dozen more umbrellas that do not help their local member organisations with websites (or come to that, other tech issues).
 
Here's what I think is a solution. Would be interested to know what others here think, whether they're developers or users.
  • For networks to be made aware of the problem and possible solutions
  • Agencies with sector knowledge and experience, that can convince them of the value of this approach.
  • WordPress Multi Site enables local member organisations to sign up and get their own website.
  • A separate theme and functionality (plugins) for each project.
  • WP Customiser allows local members to personalise their theme.
  • Advantages of scale, such as aggregating local news/info from local sites into the umbrella's main site.
  • Funding is a issue. High cost of building a single Multi Site website vs. even higher and wasteful cost of commissioning many individual sites.
  • How would training and support work across a network?
  • Timing is crucial. Ideally these discussions would happen during the formation of new networks, or in the early days. Leave it too late, everyone's started to invest in individual solutions.

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Jason King
Freelance WordPress development and Google Ad Grant management
Carcassonne, France

www.kingjason.co.uk

Twitter: @jasoncsking



3.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 19, 2016 10:06
The idea of using WordPress multi-site for this purpose concerns me a little.  We had a local developer do that and when his life circumstances changed, a few dozen nonprofits were left unable to do little more than edit content.  (No admin accounts were issued, only editors, so couldn't edit widget content or add/delete from menus either.)

There was a period of time when I got numerous calls from NPOs asking for help moving away from this person's services without losing their whole website.  

Another reason I'm not keen on the idea of multi-site is that, like WP.com, only a super-admin will be able to install themes and plugins.  I'm a fan of putting control in the hands of the NPOs and providing lots of training and hand-holding.

Anyway, that's the only part I had feelings about.  If you decide to experiment in with the idea, I hope you'll share how it goes on the message board!

Cindy

Cindy Leonard, Consulting Team Leader
Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, 
339 Sixth Ave, Ste 750, Pgh, PA 15222
p 412-397-6007 | f 412-397-6016 | leonard@rmu.edu | www.bcnm-rmu.org





4.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 19, 2016 10:52
Edited by Jason King Dec 19, 2016 10:54

The idea of using WordPress multi-site for this purpose concerns me a little.  We had a local developer do that and when his life circumstances changed, a few dozen nonprofits were left unable to do little more than edit content.  (No admin accounts were issued, only editors, so couldn't edit widget content or add/delete from menus either.

Seen that happen a few times, it's infuriating and unprofessional when web devs don't give clients full access and ownership.

Multi Site is successfully used on some huge sites, WordPress.com being only the most obvious example. See also Edublogs. I'm not keen on using it to host a portfolio of unconnected websites (is that what your local developer did?). That's overkill. MS does need more support and maintenance, so there has to be some commonality of themes/purpose in order for there to be economy of scale.

The problem you described doesn't sound like a multi site problem per se, more like a failure to administrate and confer responsibilities properly. One of the advantages of working with a network organization is that it already has a remit to support its affiliates. Therefore they should have access/permissions to manage members' accounts, and responsibility for doing this. Leaving user management in the hands of a single web developer would be, as your example shows, a recipe for disaster (and the same is true of non-multi-site websites).

A balance would need to be struck between allowing individual members to customize their own site, and setting limits on what functionality they need to use, and ensuring they reflect the branding of the network. I'm in favour of placing limits, because it can simplify the experience of users, but you have to consult with them and be aware of their needs and priorities.

Other issues arise: for example, who guides future development? Do local members request new features? Maybe vote on them?

And there needs to be a process for when a member wants to self-host and move their site elsewhere - which is doable.

Has anyone on this board used Multi Site in this way? I'd love to hear from you.

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Jason King
Freelance WordPress development and Google Ad Grant management
Carcassonne, France

www.kingjason.co.uk

Twitter: @jasoncsking



5.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 19, 2016 10:56
Yes, yes, yes!  You articulate so many good points about this.  Multi-site is not the challenge.  Configuration, administration and policies are the challenges.

Thank you for weighing in - what a useful discussion this is!

Cindy

Cindy Leonard, Consulting Team Leader
Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, 
339 Sixth Ave, Ste 750, Pgh, PA 15222
p 412-397-6007 | f 412-397-6016 | leonard@rmu.edu | www.bcnm-rmu.org





6.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 20, 2016 10:11

I like Jason's idea of making this work for very niche applications. In the U.K. We have a mental health charity called "Mind" that has local branches, and I built a theme that adhered to the umbrella organisation's branding, and had a built-in service directory component.  It was one of the first custom things I made in WordPress, but it's used by a few local branches.  I can see how this would work as a multisite for a specific organisation in this way. (I also remember out national Food Bank organisation, the Trussell Trust, did this too for their local branches - there's a WordCamp talk about it: http://wordpress.tv/2016/06/07/kat-reeve-successfully-managing-a-multisite-system-or-how-we-helped-over-400-food-banks-online/)

But beyond that it's really quite tricky because some organisations really want and can be trusted with a high level of control; they appreciate that their website needs ongoing care, and they're willing to learn a little to make that happen. In these cases perhaps allowing admin accounts is good, and these organisations would struggle with the limitations of a multisite.

But in other cases, particularly with small charities, they don't have the resources to maintain a website. They just want to set something up with a contact form and a location map and be done with it.  I have one charity I work with that's always asking me to do password resets and create new users, even though they have admin access, and this same charity recently was unable to make a DNS change because they'd lost the login details for their domain registrar!

In the latter case, there may be scope for a simple multisite approach. But also, in that case, I'd probably recommend something like SquareSpace over WordPress because it's easier for the client to make use of.

In general I like the IDEA of a multisite website creator tool for small charities. But in practice, I don't think it would work. Though I also note that schemes like this have been done: Human Made did something like this for restaurants with Happy Tables (the product is different now) and one theme shop has created something similar for churches called FaithMade (see https://faithmade.com/) which is believe is WP multisite with a page builder plugin and some other off-the-shelf stuff combined with some custom code to pull it all together nicely.

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Ross Wintle



7.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 21, 2016 12:43

Hi Ross,

Enjoyed a couple of your WordCamp talks, recognise your face, but don't remember whether we ever chatted - remind me!

Mind is a great example of a network organisation, with 140 affiliates. I've worked with a couple, but never on websites. You say your theme ended up being used by a few branches, did you ever chat to the head office about it?

You make some good points. I'll check out Happy Tables and FaithMade.

Love the idea of a Makaton advent calendar by the way.

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Jason King
Freelance WordPress development and Google Ad Grant management
Carcassonne, France

www.kingjason.co.uk

Twitter: @jasoncsking



8.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 22, 2016 05:56

Hi Jason,

Likewise with your WordCamp talks. We have met and chatted briefly at both WordCamp Manchester and WordCamp London, but not in depth.

I think I was, at one point, trying to contact head office at Mind. But the local branch needed quite a lot of support and I didn't want to take on a mass of organisations all using the theme.  In any case, it's a bit dated now - it's not even responsive!  But I'd need someone to invest in making it mobile friendly before I could make better use of it.

Happy Tables doesn't really do websites any more, but have a look at FaithMade.

Hope to bump into you at London this year?

Ross

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Ross Wintle



9.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 20, 2016 10:12

Hi Ben, thanks for raising this great topic!

While I think you're 100% correct about our diagnosis of the problem, the same issues you identify when it comes to websites apply to broader areas of nonprofit function. Development, marketing, financial management, event management, etc. are all shared challenges across many small NGOs. And as other have mentioned, within each niche there may be different functional needs. However, across all small NGOs thare are limitations and challenges related to administration, policy, know-how and resources.

What we've found to be successful in our consulting practice is to steer NGOs away from Wordpress, and towards all-in-one CRMs like Nationbuilder and Neon that also offer built-in CMS that integrate with the back-end database. Though these systems are somewhat less flexible and configurable than a standalone Nationbuilder site, they are much easier to manage. There is typically some consistency in UI/UX across various administrative and back-end functions, and the most common use-cases are accounted for. In case something exceptional is needed, there is API access and custom integrations can be built to fill gaps. But these systems allow organizations to get their ABCs right, while still offering plenty of power and features. In some cases, like Nationbuilder, umbrella and multi-site implementations are also available.

As an independent consultant, I would welcome a packaged CRM with a built-in Wordpress framework made for small and midsize NGOs, so don't take any of this as discouragement. Rather, it's my perspective that zooming out to solve a broader problem will result in a more attractive product for these kinds of organizations.

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Isaac Shalev
http://www.sage70.com
Stamford CT
@Sage70
isaac@sage70.com



10.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 20, 2016 11:55

I've ended up using WordPress.com a bit more recently for these extra-small projects. That said, they always tend to be customized still. I also have some experience building a few sites for various networks. I'd love to chat about that more with others if we want to start a new thread for that!

Ross mentioned the great example of HappyTables (which doesn't even offer that service anymore but is a good example nonetheless). I think it's useful because it also highlights two key differences with nonprofits:

  • I'm not in the industry, but I'd be surprised if restaurant website weren't more similar to each other than nonprofits. With few exceptions, they all serve food, have a physical location, have Yelp pages, an honestly shouldn't have much more than those features on their sites.
  • A few of the features a restaurant site needs are tough to build well on your own: Menu pages, reservation forms, take-out.

-------------------------

I'd love to pivot this conversation to our nonprofit staff in the community.

  • Has any been part of a website network that provided your website or design?
  • Have you used a more "ready out of the box" nonprofit website tool?
  • What were the good and bad of those approaches for you as a nonprofit?
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Mark Root-Wiley

MRW Web Design / MRWweb.com / @MRWweb
Thoughtful WordPress Website for Nonprofits & Mission-Driven Organizations
Seattle, WA



11.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 23, 2016 10:16

I love the network approach with federal  - state - branch hierarchies, and I know that AAUW has embraced WordPress Multi-site for their support of their branches' website needs. It makes it easier for chapter leadership to keep their local members in the loop via their website and address local public policy issues. And branch leaders can help each other out when someone is stuck, addressing the training issue, past the initial training. 

As I have been working with AAUW on various level, I see the benefit of this approach all over the country. Last I hear was they support 800+ branches, with theme and plugins. Yes, they are restricting the plugin installed to keep the headaches of support tiny. But this approach allows that branches that have additional needs they want to address to go to a self-hosted solution and still use the AAUW Themes and ensure consistent branding on all levels

As for an all-in-one solution integration of Donor management, event management, email marketing, membership administration, I stay true to open-source and implement CiviCRM on top of WordPress, which give the nonprofits the best of both worlds, haha. But the major difference is they keep control of their data within their sphere. (a topic for a whole different discussion) 

CiviCRM is very powerful and has some fabulous features and works well with WordPress in pulling in donation forms, event registration, and self-admin membership solutions. It even does peer-to-peer fundraising as well as notification via SMS and other nice details. 

Wishing everyone a fabulous, blessed Holidays and a prosperous Happy New Year

Birgit 

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Birgit Pauli-Haack
Co-organizer Tech4Good SWFL
NTEN Nonprofit TechClub in Naples FL
text/call 239-595-3882
Skype: birgitpauli
Twitter: @bph



12.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Dec 29, 2016 06:50

Birgit, thanks for that great example of Multi site in action. Looking at a few AAUW branches, I see the same theme coming up for some but others have been able to go their own way and choose a different solution. I must chat to you about it next time we meet, would be interested to know what pitfalls or opportunities it brought.

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Jason King
Freelance WordPress development and Google Ad Grant management
Carcassonne, France

www.kingjason.co.uk

Twitter: @jasoncsking



13.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Jan 10, 2017 21:16

Hey Mark - I am not a web developer, but in previous jobs, I had managed content on websites on a couple platforms/vendors.  Although the organization was not a chapter of some umbrella organization were some sort of template might have made sense, the first one was hosted by a company that a partner organization used.  This made it cheaper I imagine, but the structure was really geared for a very different type of organization and so it had a lot of features we didn't need and then we had to come up with a bunch of work-arounds for the parts we used.  The way content was organized made no sense for us.  It was awful.  The next was custom built by a vendor and we had very limited control and had to submit tickets to make most updates other than news/announcements.  Then I managed a Drupal-based that although we hired a company to build it out for us, I could manage most of the content myself and even add new pages, add new things to the menu--after someone showed me how to do each of these things/wrote up steps.  The next one was WordPress - we had hired a company to set it up and customize the theme a little bit, but with extremely minimal training, I was able to edit a lot of basic things or add new pages, switch out pictures, etc.

I guess that's context for saying, as a nonprofit employee who is not a web developer... 

  • There might be some broad categories of organizations where something out of the box could work as long as it's modular enough that organizations can easily customize it with some training/capacity building for in house staff.  Similar to how a donor database has certain key structures that are going to be similar for fundraising organizations, the SaaS ones generally allow you to customize fields and reports, and it is way better than spending all your time trying to police Excel spreadsheets.  (If an organization wants or need a lot of customization, by all means hire a specialist or consultant.  But most organizations probably won't need that when it comes down it--a lot of that is just not having a clear vision of the site's objectives and instead trying to copy other websites the decision-makers or otherwise please whoever holds the purse strings.)  I'm not sure how different this is from what's currently available, but I have a feeling most of the previous discussion on this thread is beyond my grasp on the subject.
  • The more empowered I can be as a nonprofit employee, the better.  Often, the website budget can be in question (if even reasonably budgeted for), and getting purchase approval for extra support hours is a hassle.  And you didn't even know if that estimate of hours was going to be the final and then have to go through the approval process again.  If the funding comes from a grant, sometimes they require things like bids or other documentation.  I've never liked not being certain of how much it was going to cost (if it was hours and not a project) or of getting that approval--not that we would have not paid for work completed, but needing the final invoice before approval means it's not a guarantee.  Maybe that's just me - I like being able to turn to experts when I can, but I also like to know that I can be self-sufficient for the essentials to keep my organization moving forward when I don't have that luxury.
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Janice Chan
Technical Training Specialist, Development and Alumni Relations
Johns Hopkins Institutions
Baltimore, MD



14.  RE: Wordpress 'all in one' solutions for small NGOs

Posted Jan 11, 2017 06:44
Well said. As an agency founderror and website developer for two decades, you are correct that whatever platform is chosen it should be easier for non-tech staff to add to and maintain.