The Complete Charity WordPress Guide

Creating A Charity WordPress Site: Your Complete Guide

Creating a website for your charity or nonprofit can be a daunting task, but with WordPress it’s a remarkably straightforward and affordable process. Whether you’re building a website for the first time, or are a seasoned pro, there are always ways of making the website creation process easier: that’s what this guide can help you with.

This is your complete charity and nonprofit WordPress guide. We’ll cover everything you need to know, from why you should choose WordPress, to choosing charity WordPress theme, to adding extra functionality with plugins, to building out your content.

You’ll want to follow this guide systematically; the first part leads on to the second, and so on. If you’re looking for something in particular – such as a charity WordPress theme – then you can skip forwards, but you’ll be missing out 🙂

Let’s get right to it! Time to get started on your charity WordPress website guide.

Creating a charity or nonprofit website with WordPress

So, first off, ask yourself:

  • Why do we need a website for our charity or non-profit?

There are lots of possible answers, but the worst one is “because everyone needs a website”. The biggest – and easiest – mistake anyone can make is to blindly decide to build a web presence just because it seems like “the done thing”.

In the same way that you wouldn’t write a novel unless you had something to write about, or set up a shop without something to sell, your website needs a purpose. This is because:

  • A website’s purpose informs its function, and its function informs its design.

The best nonprofit websites are entirely designed around their purpose, so it’s crucial to sit down, think it through and get this right. Grab a pen and spend a bit of time doing this now!

Here are some suggestions for your charity or nonprofit; you might want to:

  • Raise awareness of the issues your organisation tackles.
  • Attract volunteers to work with your organisation.
  • Encourage donors to give money to your organisation.
  • Act as internal forum for members of your team.

…or anything else which fits the strategic goals of your organisation.

A website is a means to your ends, rather than an end in itself. Furthermore, the purpose of your site must inform all of your decisions about the website: how the homepage looks, what functionality the site offers, which images you choose to display, and so on.

It’s incredibly important to get this part right; do so, and the time and money spent putting together your nonprofit website will be incredibly worthwhile.

Why WordPress is the ideal platform for Charity and Non-Profit Websites

WordPress is the world’s leading Content Management System, or “CMS” for short, powering over a quarter of all websites. The software itself is free and open source (which means it’s run by a team of volunteers), and its popularity means there’s a huge quantity of resources behind it (like purpose-built themes for charities, and this tutorial!).

An up-to-date WordPress site is also secure, with regular updates available to add new features and ensure that continues to be the case.

WordPress is world-leading software for creating charity websites.
WordPress is world-leading software for creating charity websites.

Perhaps most importantly it’s endlessly and effortlessly customizable. You could pick five WordPress sites at random and probably never know that, deep down, they all utilised the same “back-end”. Specialised “themes” and “plugins” give you a professional look, extra functionality, and allow you to tailor your site to be truly unique and fully fulfil its purpose.

Before we go any further, a quick clarification: WordPress comes in two confusingly-named flavours, “self-hosted WordPress” and “hosted WordPress”, also known as WordPress.org and WordPress.com respectively. In this guide we’re talking about self-hosted WordPress; WordPress.com does not offer the same level of customizability and control as found with its self-hosted counterpart.

Plus, it’s worth signposting that there are a lot of competitors to WordPress in the charity, non-profit and NGO space, including Squarespace and Wix. None of these, however, offer the same level confluence between functionality, customizability, support, and price.

Are you sold? Always bear in mind what I stated at the beginning: everything about your site’s design needs to come from its purpose. For the overwhelming majority of cases, WordPress can help your site achieve that purpose cheaper, faster, easier, and more effectively, than any other platform. So with that in mind…

Establishing a space for your non-profit on the web

Before we can get to designing a site and producing content (the fun part!) there are a few technical hurdles to leap over. This is a simple two-step process, so there’s no need to be daunted by it. You’ll need to set up a domain name, and hosting. We’ll walk you through everything below.

Every website on the internet needs a host. This is the server which stores all your site’s data, and to which users connect in order to access your site.

In order for a web browser to find that server, your website also needs a domain (such as anarieldesign.com) You can think of this as a signpost that tells the computer how to find the server it’s looking for.

Registering a domain and hosting a server are technically separate, but most hosting services allow you to register your domain through them (we’ll recommend you one in a moment).

If you’re starting from scratch I can’t stress how important it is that you think very carefully about what domain name you choose. Most domains aren’t expensive (roughly $10/year), but you’ll want to make the right choice first time as they’re a pain to change later on.

NameMesh is a fantastic tool for finding available non-profit domain names.
NameMesh is a fantastic tool for finding available non-profit domain names.

There are two parts to a domain name: the name and the extension. In anarieldesign.com, for example, anarieldesign is the name, and .com is the extension. You’ll need to choose both of these. Choosing a name is relatively straightforwards: you can use a tool such as NameMesh to find available domains featuring your organisation’s name. Millions of names have already been registered, so you may need to get creative, adding words to the start or end of the name. The tool we’ve linked is incredibly useful for helping with this.

Once you’ve chosen a name, you need to pair it with an extension. .com is the most recognisable, but .org is specifically for nonprofits and charities. You can also opt for newer options such as .ngo, but extensions like this are a lot less recognisable and could confuse some visitors. If possible, purchase both the .com and .org, and redirect one to the other. We’ll cover how to purchase a name next.

Hosting is the other part of the puzzle. Every self-hosted WordPress website needs its own hosting. There are a lot of hosts to choose from and thousands of words have been written about making the choice, but if you’ll just take our word for it, that makes things easier. We recommend two options:

  • SiteGround: a cheap but excellent hosting company, who have a lot of great WordPress-specific addon features. We recommend choosing their GrowBig or GoGeek plans; these will suit you fine for up to 100,000 visitors every month.
  • WPEngine: if you need enterprise-level hosting or the speed, security and uptime of your website must be guaranteed at all times, then choose WPEngine. It’s at least five times the price of SiteGround, but will be worth it for mission-critical sites.

If you choose SiteGround, you can buy your domain name as part of your hosting. Otherwise, we’d recommend buying your name with NameCheap.

We recommend SiteGround for charity WordPress hosting.
We recommend SiteGround for charity WordPress hosting.

Both SiteGround and WPEngine have easy WordPress setup “wizards”, so if you need hosting, choose one of those two providers, follow the prompts, and you’ll be setup in no time. We can now move on to the next part: choosing the perfect design for your site.

Choosing your perfect charity WordPress theme

We’ve already touched on one of WordPress’ great strengths: its community, and the great resources this community creates. One of those resources is an incredible array of WordPress themes.

WordPress themes are pre-built designs which can be installed on any WordPress site. They typically offer a very convenient (and affordable) way of getting a professional design for your site – without having to pay professional prices.

For a charity of nonprofit, this is perfect! You can get a fully-featured pre-built charity WordPress theme which looks professional, includes a ton of useful functionality (like taking donations), but costs you a maximum of $100. A pretty good deal.

Maisha is our flagship Charity WordPress theme.
Maisha is our flagship Charity WordPress theme.

Full disclosure: at Anariel Design, we make WordPress themes (and rather good ones too, if you ask us). We’re naturally going to recommend our charity WordPress themes, as both we and our customers think they’re excellent, with beautiful designs, ease-of-use, and all the functionality you need. You don’t have to agree with us, though, and can still use this guide without choosing an Anariel Designed WordPress theme 🙂

So, how do you actually choose a good WordPress theme for your charity, nonprofit or cause?

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: keep in mind your site’s purpose. Continually ask yourself questions about what your site needs and whether a given theme fulfils that purpose,

Some themes have substantial areas for recent content, so ask yourself whether you’re going to be writing a lot of posts for your site, or if it’s going to remain mostly static.

Some themes give over a lot of space for featured images; do you have someone in-house who’s going to be taking a lot of high-quality photos that are important to your non-profit’s mission? Or, will you be using more generic “stock” images?

Zeko is our popular non profit WordPress theme.
Zeko is our popular non profit WordPress theme.

Does a theme have space for that great logo you designed, or is it a more minimalist, text-based template? Does it have plenty of room for social media integration? Are you able to get all the features you need, like donations, or a messageboard where visitors can discuss and debate your work?

You should also make technical considerations: how fast is the theme? Will search engines like how it’s built? Does the theme have good accessibility? What about support, updates, and documentation for those times when you need a little bit of extra help?

The list goes on, but you get the point: keep in mind your site’s purpose, also make technical considerations, and then test this against the themes you’re considering.

Not every theme is created equally. Some are more flexible than others. Some will come pre-built, only requiring you to add your own content; others allow for a lot more customization.

We mentioned we make WordPress themes, including a handful of charity WordPress themes. We’ll tell you a little bit more about them so you can decide if one is right for you:

Maisha is our most popular charity WordPress theme, loved for its charity and non-profit features, professional design and customizability.

Maisha is our flagship charity WordPress theme.
Maisha is our flagship charity WordPress theme.

This could well be the theme for you: inspired by the Virunga documentary, a true story of people risking their lives to build a better future in the Congo, Maisha comes packed with all the features a non-profit or charity website needs.

Zeko is our non profit WordPress theme.
Zeko is our non profit WordPress theme.

Zeko is our non profit WordPress theme designed to make change happen. Featuring a beautiful, bold, and modern design alongside all the features you need, Zeko is perfect for your next website.

We were inspired to make Zeko to raise awareness of the treatment of animals, and we hope you’ll be similarly inspired to create your website using Zeko.

Pena is our NGO website template.
Pena is our NGO website template.

Pena is our beautiful NGO website template, featuring a “clean”, modern and responsive design, and all the space you need to communicate your message.

Inspired by the “Living On One Dollar” documentary and specifically for charities, Pena offers all the power and flexibility you need for your website.

When you buy a theme from us, you get access to all of our themes, so if you can’t decide between the three that’s fine by us 🙂

Once you’ve chosen your WordPress theme, you’ll need to install it on your site. You’ll find details of how to do this in our guide to installing WordPress themes, or you can even have us install the theme for you. We’re here to make things easy for you.

You obviously don’t have to choose a WordPress theme from us, but we do honestly think we make themes which offer the best compromise between professional design, the features a charity or nonprofit website needs, and support to help when you need it. We think we’ve got a range of themes that are the right choice for 95% of charities, nonprofit, and cause websites, so hope you’ll at least consider one of our themes.

With that, themes are done! We can now move on to adding extra functionality with plugins, and then get some content on your site. Let’s keep moving with this.

Adding functionality with plugins

Plugins are pre-built packages of WordPress code which can bolt-on functionality to your WordPress site. Similar to themes, there are plenty of these available, and the functionality on offer ranges from general “make your website faster” plugins to very specific niche plugins such as charity donations.

We work with a lot of charity, nonprofit, and cause websites, and know which plugins come up again and again. This section has done the hard work for you, and identifies some of the most common plugins used on charity WordPress sites.

A screenshot of a donation target from Zeko, our non profit WordPress theme.
A screenshot of a donation target from Zeko, our non profit WordPress theme.

Take donations with Give. This is one of the most important plugins, as it helps keep the lights on! Give makes it very easy to accept donations directly from your website, integrating with popular payment gateways such as PayPal, and – unlike many donation sites – is commission free.

The Give plugin is free, but with premium addons. You can install the plugin from the WordPress Dashboard; just head to Plugins → Add New, search for Give, and then install and activate. If you’re using one of Anariel Design’s charity WordPress themes, you’ll find your site’s design tightly integrates with Give. You can even add Kickstarter-style fundraising goals! It’s all pretty neat, and incredibly valuable for your charity or nonprofit’s WordPress site.

If you are using one of our themes, you’ll find all the details of how to set this up on our documentation page. Otherwise, you’ll find a basic introduction to Give here.

Selling charity products with WooCommerce. This is a screenshot from Pena, our NGO website template.
Selling charity products with WooCommerce. This is a screenshot from Pena, our NGO website template.

Sell products with WooCommerce. Along similar lines to Give, WooCommerce is an incredible (also free) WordPress plugin which can turn your site your into an online shop! This will let you sell merchandise, physical, or digital products, to visitors, and support your cause. Again similar to Give, WooCommerce is fundamentally free but requires addons to be purchased.

We’ve got you covered if you’re using one of our themes: we support WooCommerce out of the box for our charity WordPress themes. We have full details for getting started on our documentation page. Alternatively, you’ll find WooCommerce video tutorials here.

Add an events calendar to your site with the aptly named Events Calendar plugin. This makes it easy for visitors to see your upcoming events, with extra details like adding venues and organisers, inviting volunteers, and integration with Google Maps included. This is another where if you’ve got one of our themes, you’ll find integration with your site and your site’s design seamless.

There are also generic WordPress plugins you should take a look at:

WordPress plugins are your powerful secret weapon for adding functionality to your site. Plugins can slow down your site, so don’t add too many, but do take advantage of the incredible power, flexibility, and functionality they can add to your site.

You should now have your charity, nonprofit, or cause website nicely set up! Congratulations! It’s now time to turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: content.

Charity website content: what to post and how to post it

Okay, we’re finally there. We’ve got a fully-designed site, and full-functional site, just waiting for some great content. Just as with every other part of your site, you need to ensure that everything you post has a goal in mind. You need engaging content that tells the story of the work you do, shows the difference you make and strengthens your support base.

This is a golden point, so take a minute to reflect on it before proceeding.

You’ll want to start with some basics: pages for contact details, about, personnel, and so on. WordPress calls these types of pages Pages, and you can find them by clicking Pages from the WordPress Dashboard. You should find it relatively straightforward to flesh out and publish these pages.

Blog posts with Pena, our NGO website template.
Blog posts with Pena, our NGO website template.

With these basics covered, we can now turn our attention to blog posts, which were originally all WordPress could handle, and thus something it does incredibly well. Here are some reasons why you should be taking blogging seriously:

  • Continually generating new content keeps your site fresh, giving readers an excuse to keep returning.
  • Posts can be shared on your social media platforms, which not only then direct people to your website but also improve your base on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Posts can be repurposed for newsletters, keeping your supporters up-to-date.
  • Great content is great for search engines. It establishes your site’s authority in the eyes of search engines, so means you’ll rank well for search terms related to your organisation.

Maintaining the impetus to keep blogging can be difficult, and finding inspiration for new posts can be particularly challenging if you’ve never done it before. Here are a few ideas for great types of blog posts

  • “News” features such as completing grants, accomplishing projects.
  • News about the issues your nonprofit tackles.
  • Links to news stories about your nonprofit.
  • Event announcements and previews.
  • Reports “from the field”.
  • Profiles of staff and volunteers.
  • Data and infographics about your work and impact.
  • Regular (monthly/quarterly) updates about your work in general.

Maybe you’ve done a lot of work on our non-profit’s publicity materials before, or maybe this is your first venture (in which case, well done!), but either way you need to realise that writing for web is not like writing on other platforms. We read differently on the web than we do elsewhere, and you need to write accordingly. People want to read quickly with only as much detail as is necessary.

Too many creators go through all the preceding stages successfully – creating a beautiful, well-maintained site – only to fall down at the last and most important hurdle. After all, this is where people are going to be finding about what you do, and why they should support it!

If you follow a couple of golden rules, you’ll be producing golden content in no time at all:

  1. Write in concise paragraphs – 1-4 sentences max.
  2. Always be aware of your tone and match it to your intended audience – event announcements will not have the same style as complicated financial analyses!
  3. Use bold and italic sparingly to highlight important information.
  4. Use headings to help structure longer pages. You’ll find these in the “Styles” menu in the 2nd row of the editor. Use Heading 2 for your main section titles (e.g. “Writing for the Web”). Use Heading 3 for subsection titles. (e.g. “Avoid Headaches with Paste as Plain Text”). Headings also improve your SEO and allow people using screen readers to hear the structure of the page. Yay!

You’ll also want to add plenty of media to your content. Click the Add New button when writing a post or page, and WordPress will invite you to upload images. Follow the prompts, make sure to fill in the extra information (this is important for accessibility and search engines), then add to the post or page! Regular use of images is important to keep readers engaged in your writing (sadly, readers on the web have terrible attention spans).

How to add media to a charity website.

If you’re savvy on social media, WordPress even makes it easy to embed media from a range of sources such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, imgur, and so on. Embedding media is exceptionally simple: get the embeddable URL, paste it into its own line of the editor…and you’re done. WordPress handles the rest.

You’ll want to spend time working out what kind of content is most appropriate for your organisation’s website, linking everything back to the purpose and aim of your site for context. You may find it helpful to designate regular time for creating new content, and setting up key performance indicators to measure the value of the investment of time.

Let’s go! You can now create your charity website!

Alrighty, we’re done! You’re now ready and empowered with everything you need to know to set out and create a website for your charity, nonprofit, or cause! Nice work!

Here’s a handy recap of the most useful tools we’ve mentioned in this guide:

All that’s left to do now is get on with creating your site! One final reminder: we can take some of the load for you if you choose one of our themes, and the theme setup plan. Otherwise, it’s over to you. Thanks for reading, and good luck! 🙂

Published by

Alex Denning

Hello! I’m Alex Denning. I’m a digital marketer specialising in WordPress. I do marketing for people who don’t like marketing. If you want more, check out my blog or my weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals

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