Selecting the right Content Management System (CMS) for your nonprofit website is crucial in building and managing a successful online presence. With an overwhelming number of CMS options available, it’s essential to consider various factors to ensure your chosen platform aligns with your organization’s unique needs and goals. This article will discuss several key points to help you make an informed decision, covering topics such as open-source vs. closed-source platforms, software costs, licensing methods, and more. By understanding these aspects and considering your organization’s specific requirements, you can confidently choose a CMS that will empower your nonprofit to thrive in the digital landscape.

General Considerations in CMS Selection

Given the mature CMS market, most tools are equipped to address client needs. Nevertheless, choosing isn’t simply about popularity. 

Key areas we emphasize when selecting a CMS include:

  • Technical Preferences: Deliberations such as choosing between .NET or PHP, open-source or licensed, and hosting externally versus hosting on-premises significantly influence which CMS is the best fit. Compatibility with your organization’s technical inclinations is crucial for smooth operation.
  • Features vs. Needs: Assess the functionalities various CMS platforms provide and match them against your organization’s unique demands. Doing this ensures your selected CMS offers tools that align with your online objectives.
  • Business Considerations: Elements like budget, licensing type, training needs, and change management are also essential considerations in CMS selection. These ensure alignment with your nonprofit’s financial and operational aspects, maximizing ROI.
  • Product Maturity: Evaluate the CMS’s reputation, support availability, and roadmap projection. Established platforms with clear future visions are often preferable.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these points.

Understanding Technology Preferences: .NET vs. Open Source/PHP

When considering a CMS, two primary categories to explore are. NET-based solutions (including open-source options like Umbraco) and PHP systems (both open-source and enterprise-class options like Ibexa).

  • .NET-Based Solutions: These platforms often have robust support, scalability, and security. Many do not have open-source code, but some, like Umbraco, do. They’re commonly associated with enterprise solutions and can provide an array of advanced features, such as personalization. However, they might come with higher costs and require specialized skills for maintenance and development.
  • PHP Solutions: Due to their vast community support, these platforms, such as Drupal and WordPress, can be cost-effective and offer flexibility. They are usually characterized by many plugins and extensions, allowing for extensive customization. They might particularly appeal to organizations with limited budgets or those that value community-driven innovation. Many PHP platforms are open-source, but enterprise-class options like Ibexa exist, which are closed-source and provide robust capabilities for larger organizations.

Digital Maturity:

Your needs might differ depending on your organization’s digital maturity. For those looking primarily at Content Management, open-source CMS options like Drupal and WordPress might be a starting point. However, suppose your needs encompass more complex functionalities like integration options, experience platforms, Cloud/SaaS delivery, DAM integration, etc. You should look at “DXP” platforms, starting with options like Sitefinity and Ibexa.

Software Costs

Budgets are always an essential factor. Several open-source CMS platforms can be implemented with minimal licensing fees, making them attractive for nonprofit organizations on a tight budget. On the other hand, .NET solutions may have commercial licensing but often come with added functionalities and support. Always consider both the cost and the value to strike the right balance.

Licensing Methods

The licensing model of a CMS plays a pivotal role in long-term costs. There are typically two primary licensing structures for a commercial CMS that have licensing fees:

  • Perpetual Licenses: A one-time purchase allowing the use of the software indefinitely.
  • Annual Subscriptions: Regular subscription fees, usually yearly, to continue using the software.

Both methods have their pros and cons.

Perpetual licenses may have higher upfront costs but can be cost-effective in the long run.

On the other hand, subscription models can offer flexibility and consistent updates but might become more expensive over time.

Factor in the initial costs and the long-term financial commitments of your chosen licensing method.

Multi-site Support

Many nonprofits manage more than one website or domain, making multi-site support essential. While the general capability for multi-site management exists across most CMS platforms, their extent of support can vary.

Some platforms excel in multi-site support, providing intricate features for simultaneously managing several sites. Others might offer a more basic setup suitable for more straightforward requirements. When selecting a CMS, ascertain if it can handle your organization’s needs, especially if you foresee the management of multiple domains, subdomains, or other complex multi-site demands.

Personalization & Experience Management

Modern CMS platforms often encompass personalization features, providing users with tailored experiences. However, successfully implementing these features requires significant effort. Even seasoned organizations often defer full personalization, as they typically need extensive content, data refinement, and ongoing attention from your staff.

When assessing a CMS’s personalization capabilities, consider the resources necessary for its fruitful implementation. These features might include content restructuring, user profiling, segmenting, and establishing a data-driven personalization strategy.

Differences in personalization capabilities across CMS platforms can be vast. Evaluate these in light of your organization’s goals, readiness, and available resources.

Total Cost of Ownership.

While the initial software cost is an evident factor, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a CMS is broader and encompasses several elements. Consider the following:

  • Training Costs: How much would training your staff to use the new system effectively cost?
  • Maintenance Costs: Over time, every system requires maintenance. How will this impact your budget?
  • Customization Costs: If you need unique features, there may be additional costs to customize the CMS.
  • Licensing Costs: As discussed, whether you opt for perpetual licenses or annual subscriptions can influence long-term expenses.

Understanding the TCO helps ensure your chosen CMS fits your immediate budget and remains cost-effective in the long run.

Let Experts Guide You

The decision-making process for website redesign projects can be complex and sometimes overwhelming. One critical question is whether to select the CMS or the implementation partner first. Since not all vendors implement all solutions, choosing one CMS may eliminate some vendors, whereas selecting a preferred partner may limit your CMS vendor options. So, which should you choose first?

At Allegiance Group + Pursuant, we believe that clients should prioritize selecting the best implementation partner first. The rationale is that web redesign projects primarily focus on content, user experience (UX), and user engagement. These factors are critical to a project’s success, and having the right content and UX strategy, coupled with a design partner who can effectively improve member engagement, is paramount.

Technology should support the engagement and UX strategies, making choosing an implementation partner more critical than the CMS itself. An exemplary CMS implementation alone won’t ensure success – the right combination of partner and technology drives positive outcomes.

That being said, if you prefer a specific CMS, evaluate and select partners from those with expertise in implementing that particular platform. This approach allows you to leverage the benefits of your preferred CMS while also ensuring that you collaborate with a partner who understands the nuances and potential of the system.

Choosing a suitable CMS will significantly influence your nonprofit’s online reach and ability to engage with your constituents.


Navigating the myriad of CMS options can be daunting. But by focusing on your nonprofit’s specific needs, budget constraints, and technical inclinations. The objective of a website is not merely to have an online presence but to create an evolving digital platform that resonates with your audience and bolsters your mission. When in doubt, seek guidance from industry experts familiar with the nonprofit sector. They can provide invaluable insights to streamline your decision-making process.

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