Nonprofits no longer need to struggle with sub-par technology in an era that thrives on efficient performance. Open source software has enabled access to high-end technology at budget prices.

Web technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past few years. The household names of Facebook and Google have contributed massively to creating friendly, frictionless experiences that users have become accustomed to.

This is a fantastic thing, and as somebody who grew up in the clunky early years of the web I can genuinely appreciate how much things have improved, but it does present a challenge for web developers that is often overlooked.

Users, and as such clients as well, now expect Facebook-level performance from their websites, with all the bells and whistles. Because we use these platforms on a daily basis, we have become accustomed to excellence, and nothing less will do. And for your average small development team, this can present a real problem.

The problem of excellence

Striving for high-quality work is something we should all do, but we must remain realistic at the same time. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible. Compare this with a small business or charity who have only a few thousand dollars to put into their website, and you can immediately see the cavernous gap between the web giants and the tinier fish that inhabit the web.

It can be tough to deliver excellence when time and budget is insufficient.

Bridging the gap

Thankfully, web developers have access to an array of paid, free and open source tools that help to deliver high-quality work at reasonable rates. By effectively standing on the shoulders of giants, developers can deliver work to clients who could not otherwise afford the time taken to do so. The advent of APIs has also enabled interoperability between services, helping to provide seamless interaction and improved user experience.

Open source tools have enabled small organisations to level-up their digital game.

What this means for charities

For non-profits and small development teams, open source software has revolutionized what is possible. By pulling together a set of disparate tools it is not too difficult to develop essentially custom software for the needs of any particular organisation. For charities, this typically includes donation handling and payment processing, as well as other relevant organisational requirements such as hiring volunteers or selling tickets to fundraising events. A wide range of skills are still required to do this well, but it is far more cost-effective and pragmatic than trying to fulfil these business requirements by writing code from scratch.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways open source tools are helping non-profits.

Donation handling

This is probably the number one requirement for non-profits to really flourish on the web. According to a recent study, 40% of charities in the UK don’t currently accept online donations. This represents a huge amount in lost revenue, and a problem that software providers such as GiveWP can solve. By enabling developers and site admins to create donation forms on their websites, take recurring donations, and let donors claim Gift Aid, charities have access to a solution practically right out of the box.

Memberships

As charities are increasingly required to become self-sufficient, memberships are a way to ensure a constant and predictable revenue stream. Charities often serve a niche cause which is in turn supported by a community of those affected by it. This makes non-profits perfectly positioned to sell memberships. Web-based software such as MembershipWorks has enabled charities of all sizes to integrate simple community-style functionality into their websites and charge members a recurring fee to have access to their community.

Digital marketing

It would be silly to ignore the wider web when talking about online fundraising, and social media is often the go-to place to grow cause awareness and reach out to potential supporters. Tools such as Lightful and Beacon have been developed to help non-profits understand their digital activities with more clarity. Though these tools do not sit under the label of open source software themselves, they can be integrated into such platforms to offer a birds-eye view to charities wanting to measure and improve the way they do digital. This information can be fed back into the website development plan and be used to optimise content for potential donors.

Winning with open source

Platforms such as Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress are the CMS powerhouses of the web. WordPress alone powers a staggering 33% of the web, growing year on year. With its ecosystem of affordable tools, each of these platforms enable non-profits and small businesses to seriously compete with rivals who may spend 10 times more on a custom website. Small compromises in functionality may be needed, and the trade-off between this and cost is often fundamental to the decision-making process. But with the right development team and the right set of tools, almost anything is now possible.

Matt Saunders

Owner and founder of Charity Box, a web design company building websites for UK charities. Matt is a designer-developer and loves helping small charities to make the most of digital.

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