Developing a new website: how to get your CMS right

Developing a new website can be more complex than expected. Here Bertie Bosrédon shares his tips to getting the all-important content management system right.


developing a new websiteWith the increasing emphasis on digital fundraising for the delivery of services  and information, many nonprofits are looking to update their (often) outdated, clumsy and sometimes creaking websites. However, this is not always a straightforward task.

A successful digital presence is much more than a website. It comprises: a payment gateway, email broadcasting tool, campaigning platform, social media channel, key strategies and tactical plans (marketing, fundraising etc), digital culture (skills and competencies), internal processes (production workflows etc), insight and analytics, data capture, data flow and so on.

Some organisations think they can compensate for a dysfunctional website with a good social media presence or an intense email marketing program. They are wrong. A robust website remains the foundation of your digital presence and all of the above elements are connected.

The first step to developing a new website is in finding the right content management system (CMS). There are different routes you can take:

1 Appoint a web agency

If you really, really like a web agency, maybe you can trust them to choose a CMS for you. They’re likely to select your CMS based on their skills and experience. However, what makes a good agency is the people. They will certainly move on. If you don’t get on well with the new team, if it grows or if you no longer feel like an important client, tough! You’re stuck with the CMS they have chosen. If they gave you an open source CMS, you may be in a better position but this is still a risky option.

2 Choose Drupal

Over the past few years, Drupal has become the CMS of choice for many charities (and businesses). The White House has been using it for years (it is so good the new president has not planned to replace it). It’s open source. But is it that good? It has happy customers and unhappy customers. Being a popular CMS isn’t enough. Drupal requires a specialist agency, robust hosting, a fair amount of customisation, and a solid maintenance program to ensure the latest secure version is in place.

3 Analyse the needs of your nonprofit to find a tool that is right for you (highly recommended!)

There are a few key steps you should follow:

Review the documentation Start by listing all the digital tools you are using: CMS, CRM (customer relationship management system), email system, payment provider, third party fundraising tools, campaigning tools, hosting servers etc. Who has access, the contract and the documentation? What are the costs? Are you planning to replace any of these systems in the next three years?

Check your statistics What kind of traffic do you get? What are the most visited pages (sessions plus time on page) and the least visited? Has your mobile traffic taken over your desktop traffic yet?

Benchmark Look at your competitors, charities operating in a similar sector or ones you admire. What do you like about their sites? What do you dislike? How is your search engine position compared to theirs? And your social media presence? Try to key user journeys on their sites. Try to donate. And while you are doing so, try key user journeys on your own site and try to donate. I bet you haven’t done any mystery shopping on your own website since it was launched.

Requirements Conduct a series of interviews with key internal stakeholders across the organisation. How do they use the website and other digital tools? What improvements would they like? Are there any functionalities they would love to have? How hands-on could they be? Ask your website visitors what they want.

Integration Some charities decide on a CMS without considering their CRM. It’s like building a loft extension without a staircase. You should have identified all the tools during your audit. Which systems need to talk to your CMS (CRM, finance, human resources, research, volunteers)? What level of integration do you need (one way, synchronisation, export/import)? What data do you need to transfer? How are you planning to use the information you’ve gathered across your systems?

Some CMS have plugins to link up third-party tools. Some third-party tools have an application programming interface (API) you can use: a set of tools to connect two systems. Are there opportunities to replace other systems that are not compatible
with anything?

Ease of use This really depends on the size of the digital team and how likely it is to expand. Many organisations are starting to equip staff with digital skills such as content production. If that’s where you’re going, make sure the CMS doesn’t require three days of training and hours of help from your team.

Budget Open source doesn’t mean free. It means no on-going licence fee and the possibility of amending the source code. This ‘possibility’ is a necessity in 99% of cases (a percentage based on experience rather than robust research). You will need additional budget to train staff and keep the CMS up-to-date, as well as your plugins and bespoke code. In rare instances, open source may not be the most cost effective solution for you.  

Bertie is presenting the masterclass and speaking at the upcoming Digi.Raise 2017 conference, which is being held in Melbourne from 21 to 22 June. To book, go to


Bertie Bosrédon

Bertie has over 20 years’ experience in digital communications (and an indelible French accent) and has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years. He has worked with over 60 charities, helping them to develop their digital presence, connect with their audience, start a community and increase income.