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Part 3 of 3: Website Builders, CMS, and HTML

In our previous post, we discussed which pages should be on your nonprofit’s new website. Once you’ve outlined your pages and mapped out a content plan, your next (and probably most exciting) step is building your website.

Depending on your preferences, there are multiple options for creating your website. One option is through online website builders. These can either be self-hosted or hosted on the website builder’s server. This option tends to be the most commonly used and user-friendly choice for first time website makers. A second, more customizable option is to dabble in basic HTML code and design your own self-hosted website. Before I describe these and other options in greater detail, note that there is no difinitive correct or incorrect choice; rather focus on pairing the tool with your nonprofit's specific needs, budgets, and goals.


Weebly and Wix

Weebly and Wix are both cloud-based website builders with front-end editors that allow you to design websites using their user-friendly drag-and-drop tools. Both have a variety of template choices, feature free options, and are considered beginner friendly. With their design tools, you can make an effective, robust website quickly and relatively easily, with no coding experience necessary.  Both Weebly and Wix will host your site on their server, eliminating the need to purchase an additional hosting package or domain from a separate domain registrar.


Each site features a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) type of editor, by which you are permitted to edit the parts of the site visible to users, including text and images. Editing the site in this manner is known as “front-end” editing since you are tweaking the way the “front” of the website is experienced by your audience. “Back-end” editing is something we’ll discuss further in the WordPress and Joomla section, as the term relates to the system controls of the website, and not to the front-end content.


One thing to note is the lack of mobile formatting on every template. Additionally, many of the templates are difficult to change once you’ve selected your basic outline. You can replace images, text, and icons, but you can’t always move them around or add and remove sections. When you are looking for a template, it is best to find one whose design matches your content as closely as possible.  Since these are free platforms, there are ads and banners, which can be removed if you upgrade your account to a payed version. Another issue to consider is your url. Your website address or url will be a Weebly or Wix url, and not a unique .org/.com/.ngo. However, if you register a domain name from a domain name registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap, you can forward the url from that domain name to your Weebly or Wix site, allowing visitors to type in your unique url and be forwarded to your Weebly or Wix website. This may also be amended when upgrading from a free plan.


Both of these platforms provide powerful tools and design options to give you a robust, effective website. If you’ve decided on giving one of these two platforms a try, this article comparing the two platforms will dive deeper into the similarities and differences of each platform.



Bottom line: If you need a simple website, and have a small budget, and little to no experience, one of these solutions may be an option for you, as they’ll deliver a professional, modern, and clean website at a low cost.


If you’ve already purchased a domain name, and an email address, and you prefer to have a bit more control over your design, you may explore a modest hosting account with your registrar.


Registrar Website Builders

Certain registrars, like GoDaddy offer website builders that are easy-to-use, and include templates to help guide your design.


The GoDaddy Website Builder is integrated into the GoDaddy hosting platform. Some hosting and domain registrars offer a similar service, as it’s an attractive option for customers. Register domain hosting, email hosting, and website hosting in one integrated package, GoDaddy offers a fully featured, responsive, website builder with templates designed with the novice web designer in mind. A drag-and-drop interface allows for even more creative control, with no ads, and a basic HTML editing option. Even if you find the tools to be similar to what Weebly and Wix offer, the GoDaddy website builder is worth exploring because it is are well supported and well documented.


Here is an example of a website I designed in the GoDaddy website builder for my client: Using this builder, myself and my client could each log in and edit the website, as well as back up and save the site as we made changes.




Bottom line: If you choose to pay for a domain name and email package for your organization, you should consider upgrading your service with that registrar to include a budget-friendly hosting package, assuming the registrar offers a simple website builder. The overall cost of the hosting feature bundled with the domain name registration and the email package is well worth the money. Plus, registering your domain, email, and website with a single domain name url adds a level of professionalism, and gives you the flexibility to upgrade the hosting features later on while retaining a cohesive url throughout your web presence.


If you decide the website builder is not suiting your need any longer, you can explore one of many other self-hosted website options, including content management systems like WordPress and Joomla, or custom HTML websites.



Content Management Systems (CMS)



WordPress is a free open-source content management system (CMS), widely regarded as being one of the most user-friendly, customizable website builders. It boasts hundreds of beautiful, free templates, and allows you the flexibility to customize your site using 3rd party applications called plug-ins. It’s used for small websites, or global websites alike, and allows you to self-host or use the WordPress built-in server.


While many of the customized 3rd party plug-ins are free, some are not.  I’ve found however, many to be reasonably priced and well supported. A substantial advantage to using a powerful tool like WordPress is built-in search-engine friendly optimization, and clean permalink settings. With WordPress, you can use the design-only features, or you can opt to use basic HTML code to personalize your preferences even further. 


WordPress gives you the tools to edit the “front end” of the site, tweaking text, images, and layout, and gives you modest control over “back end” functions, such as the installation of additional plug-ins and tools, and some display options.


WordPress is terrific if your nonprofit sells merchandise, has events, or features a steady blog or RSS feed. You can download merchandise store plug-ins that allow you a shopping cart feature, checkout process, and card payments connecting with PayPal and other payment channels. You can also download an events plug-in, or link your WordPress website to your WordPress blog for greater discoverability.

Here is an example of a WordPress nonprofit template:




Bottom line: A WordPress content management system as offered by allows you to have a beautiful, customizable, and flexible website for your organization. If you already have domain and website hosting, you can also host your own WordPress site on that account, which offers even more flexibility and creative control over your site. It’s not the easiest of the platforms to learn, but it’s well worth the time investment for the cost and features it offers.


If you find your website needs custom features not offered by the WordPress CMS or available from 3rd party WordPress developers, but you like the editing capabilities of WordPress, you may find it helpful to explore Joomla, another well-established CMS.




If you’re up for a more technical challenge, but still prefer not to code everything yourself, another content management system, Joomla, provides powerful expanded options that can allow your users to interact with your website in novel ways. Joomla is a self-hosted content management system, which means that you need your own hosting account like GoDaddy or another hosting provider. Once it’s set up in the “back end”, you can use “front-end” editing capabilities similar to those of WordPress.


In Joomla, a modular website-building approach is used so that all content, be it a blog post, an advertisement, or forms are designated as “modules” that can be applied to any pages in the site. Additionally, the active Joomla developer community provides free and paid “extensions” for Joomla sites that are easily installed, and allow your site to perform customized functions. For example, Kunena is a free Joomla extension that, once installed through Joomla’s back-end, provides your site with a forum, and JomSocial, a paid Joomla extension, allows your site to function as its own social network.  Joomla templates can be installed in the back-end, and can radically change the appearance of your site.


Joomla is relatively easy to install, but, as mentioned, requires self-hosting. With all of your desired templates and extensions installed, it’s not as easy to use as some of the previously mentioned combined editing/hosting services.  Many hosting providers allow you to install Joomla with one click and have it up and running, but you’ll still have to learn the ins-and-outs of installing extensions on your site, and changing the way content modules are displayed.


One example of a self-hosted Joomla website that integrates additional third-party Joomla extensions is the website I designed for the nonprofit music charity EAMIR. The website uses a paid Joomla template as well as additional extensions developed by the Joomla community, including a crowd-sourcing component, a file submission and review portal for grant applications, and a forum. These customized extensions would have been difficult for beginners to develop, but, for a fee, and thanks to the modular design of Joomla, can be integrated with ease into the website.  




The bottom line: Joomla is a well-known, well-documented, self-hosted content management system that is free to use, but requires you have your own webhosting plan. If you needed user registrations, customized user interaction features like membership services, an active self-hosted blog, then Joomla is worth the effort despite its learning curve.


HTML Coding

Another option is to code your website yourself! This is not for the faint of heart, and has a steep learning curve. On the plus side, if you invest time into learning basic HTML coding, you can ultimately have more control over your design, make simple edits, and effectively, manage the website yourself. As with Joomla, and any other self-hosted website manager, you’ll need your own hosting service in order to go live with your custom website.


A good starting point is downloading an existing template from Themeforest. Here, you can narrow your search for nonprofit or charity templates, and purchase them for a small fee. Once you’ve installed your template, you can edit the pages using a website editor, like Adobe Dreamweaver. Depending on the types of edits you need to make, you can work inside of Dreamweaver’s design view which closely resembles word editor, limiting the amount of editing via coding. Adobe also promotes other products that assist in website creation without having to learn HTML programming, however, learning how to do basic coding will be a helpful skill to have. Fortunately, the internet is filled with resources to help you learn to code HTML from the comfort of your couch.


Here is an example of a website I designed using custom HTML: The




The bottom line:

This option of coding your own site can be more complicated in the beginning, but ultimately, grants you the absolute greatest degree of freedom with regard to your website design. The best use of your time, if you are unfamiliar with web design, but want to peruse this route would be to identify a website template that matches most of the content and layout needs of your organization, and pay for extended support from either the template developer or a 3rd party web development specialist to assist you with the logistics of changing menu items on each page, moving sections, adjusting colors, sizes, and narrative of the template. You will have to weigh the pros and cons of investing your time into learning these new skills. If you have a few hours a week to invest, and you have the patience and funds to effectively pay for lessons in website development, this approach can be valuable to your organization. In short, it's flexible, 100% customizable, and useful, but time consuming with a HUGE learning curve.


As you can see, there are many free or low-cost options for building your website. Before you decide on a builder, revisit your website's goals and purpose (from our first post of the series), and narrow down the purpose of your website, as well as a few key features. It's easy, especially with the hundreds and hundreds of beautiful templates, to get distracted from your mission, but don't be fooled; your website should be simple, clean, easy to navigate, and above all, effective at accomplishing your goal. 




I hope you find this post useful!


All my love,