Should your nonprofit switch its CMS?

Your nonprofit’s content management system was probably set up to meet your organization’s needs whenever your website was last built or updated. But changing something as critical as your CMS is scary. Should you abandon the “devil you know?” What if your new CMS is just as limiting, but in ways you can’t yet anticipate?  

I recently interviewed one of Advomatic’s technical strategists about the key differences between two popular content management systems (CMS), WordPress and Drupal (you can watch that video or read the transcript here). Our conversation explored how robust both tools are and highlighted the importance of having a clear sense of what functionality your nonprofit needs to support its website in the years to come. 

But when is it smart to make a change? These are the top reasons we regularly hear nonprofits considering switching the CMS they’re using. (Spoiler alert: they’re not all great reasons to make a change). 

You’re staring down the barrel of end-of-life

If your organization uses a content management system that will no longer be supported you’ll want to plan, ideally far in advance, to make a change. Advomatic’s Director of Technical Strategy wrote a must-read article about Drupal 7’s end-of-life (in November 2021)  which will give you a sense of the risks of staying in a system that’s no longer well-supported.

You need functionality your current CMS isn’t delivering

Larger, well-supported content management systems are often highly customizable and have a wealth of widgets and other elements you can add.  The question is, how hard will they be to adapt to get the functionality you want? 

One example we explored in our recorded conversation is the issue of permissions. Want different people in different departments to have different abilities to post or edit content on your website? A CMS like Drupal is designed to allow you to build complex permissions, whereas WordPress and many other commonly used CMS may not, or will require a lot more work to get there. 

Central to answering this question is your tech team’s level of expertise. Do they have the skills necessary to customize something that may not be as off-the-shelf? No matter what CMS you’re working with, the best place to start is to get a trusted tech team who understands both what you’re asking for, how hard it may be to deliver it in your current CMS, and what the effort to switch might be. 

You’re having trouble hiring folks who can work with your current CMS

Both WordPress and Drupal should be easy for content creators and managers in your nonprofit to work with, but many nonprofit communicators are often more familiar with WordPress because it was created for blogging and dexterously manages all sorts of media. That makes it harder to find folks with Drupal or other CMS experience when building your in-house digital team (unless you’re hiring developers). 

Instead of switching your CMS, consider training your new digital people in your existing CMS as a first step. Your tech partner may be able to do this one-on-one, and you might even find some great resources for technical professional development online or in your area. Spending a little time and money to train folks (particularly if your CMS is Drupal 8 or 9) will be a lot faster and less expensive than changing your CMS entirely. 

You’re frustrated

Many nonprofit staff people, particularly those with backgrounds in marketing and communications, find that they’ve inherited a CMS that’s got a challenging and unintuitive administrative experience (AX), especially for people who may not identify as “techies”.  This is particularly common with older sites built in Drupal. But fear not! This is definitely fixable– especially in Drupal and WordPress, both of which allow a lot of admin panel customization. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater we recommend working with an expert to simplify and improve yours- it will be a LOT less expensive than building a new site in a new system.  

Of course, if your frustrations stem from features and functionality you really need and just can’t seem to get right, making a switch may be the only real option. 

Whether you’re struggling with one or many of these variables, we recommend you make these decisions slowly, strategically, and with a real technical expert involved who can help you ask the right questions about the functionality you need and match that to the right system. Of course Advomatic can help; drop us a line if you’d like to talk.