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A non-profit's online presence is defined by its content. A content management system makes it possible for non-technical users to upload documents, video and data to a website, and do present those items to the website's visitors.

There are two different types of content management systems open source and proprietary. The key difference between the two is that a proprietary CMS is built on the vendor’s platform, and generally the proprietary CMS is customizable, but only by the vendor, or under the vendor's terms.

With open source, the source code is free and anyone can customize it. Some examples of open source are Drupal, Joomla or Wordpress. While the source code is available free, many organizations hire a third party developer to do the customization.

Proprietary Systems

Steve Burzynski of IMAVEX highlights a few of the advantages of using a proprietary CMS system like IMAVEX’s IWORKSITE. The first and most important advantage is support. Steve points out that IMAVEX’s “clients are never alone”. The IMAVEX team is always available to answer questions and provide extra training and technical support.

After meeting with a client to determine their requirements, Steve and his team design a CMS that can support newsletters, online event registration, surveys and other applications. During the design phase, the client tests each section and designers make revisions until the client is completely satisfied. By the time the site is done, the client is already very familiar with how the CMS works.

Along with development, IMAVEX offers a monthly subscription, which provides the client with data backups, unlimited support, unlimited content and access to any new features IMAVEX develops. In addition, IMAVEX offers more then just a content management system. They help migrate the content from the old site, increase search engine optimization and help the client build good content.

Open Source

Instead of proprietary systems, many non-profits turn to open source products like Joomla, Drupal and Wordpress. The main advantage to an open source CMS is lower cost. The actual source code is free. Jason Koala of Global Thinking believes there is no reason to pay for a content management system anymore, because so many good open source products are available.

Eric Leland of Five Paths agrees that using open source is a cost saving measure, but he cautions while the platform is free, often the cost of development and support can get out of hand. Open source provides flexibility, the code can be customized to fit any application, and each developer has a personal favorite. Five Paths primarily uses Drupal. Eric describes it as a feature rich platform that is a little more “techie” and it requires some patience to master.

Choosing an open source product may require working with a developer. Whether the developer is an in house person or an outside contract is up to the non-profit. Either way, the developer should work with the non-profit to determine its needs and what resources are available, like time, money and people. From there the developer should present the nonprofit with a content management system that best fits those needs.

Since, most content management systems are hosted off site, Eric suggests selecting a vendor that is stable, and recommends getting full backups of their content in case the vendor fails. He encourages non-profits to design a CMS that will allow for growth, since it is very expensive to switch platforms, but he thinks it is very important to avoid feature bloat.

Feature bloat occurs because there are so many amazing modules available through open source that it is hard to resist putting them into the site. This can make the site unwieldy. Only include items that are useful and easy to maintain.

Eric can’t stress enough that “content is king” no matter what CMS is used, if the non-profit can’t maintain the content, then the website has no value.


Drupal isn’t the only open source platform out there. Another choice is Joomla, it is a little easier to use then Drupal, and Wordpress is more than just a blog platform. It offers a great alternative to creating a content management system with Drupal or Joomla. According to Bill Schick of Mesh Agency, Wordpress is easy to use, and offers a wide variety of add-ons. Wordpress also allows for a fast turnaround but it is so customizable.

Wordpress also has fantastic spam protection. It prevents spam-bots from mining your site for email addresses. Also, Wordpress is continually rolling out updates for users and they offer clean code and search engine friendly URLs, which means the website ranks well in Google.

No matter how you build your content management system, remember that it is imperative to develop content plan for the long term. Without great relevant content, your site is not going to be effective.

Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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