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From Zero to Admin: Setting up Your Nonprofit Website on WordPress

From Zero to Admin: Setting up Your Nonprofit Website on WordPress

Your side passion is ready to move from the garage to nonprofit status. But what about setting up a WordPress site?

What has to actually happen before you can start your WordPress site? You’ve already made the best decision: choosing WordPress as your Content Management System (CMS). Now that that’s done, here are the steps in overview and detail to make it happen.

What are the steps to set up your nonprofit website?

  1. Purchase your domain name
  2. Choose a Website Host
  3. Decide if you need a SSL Certificate
  4. Install WordPress from cPanel (if applicable)
  5. Create a Username / Login

Congrats: You’re in the WordPress Admin Dashboard.

Purchase a domain name.

Before you even think of starting your organization, it’s good to see if you can get the same usernames as your company name. Meaning, if your organization is “Lunch For Skid Row,” first check to see if “lunchforskidrow (dot) org” is available. Not only that, can you get that username on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? This is important in your branding strategy.

When choosing your domain name ensure that business / organization name isn’t trademarked or already registered as a fictitious business name. Of note also is that your domain name should be easy to say, remember, and roll off the tongue. You don’t want it too long. You should also avoid using hyphens in the name (lunch-for-skid-row(dot)org).

“Avoid hyphens. Hyphens detract from credibility and can act as a spam indicator. Avoid domain names longer than 15 characters. Short domain names are easier to remember, easier to share, and have a smaller chance of resulting in typos.” Moz

So the first step: you need to think of your domain name. What is it going to be called? Is your ideal name available? What are some of your alternates? What about top level domain (TLD)? And which will you choose (.com, .org etc.)?

A top level domain the part at the end of your website link (domain name) after the period.

Wikipedia defines a top level domain or TLD as:

“A top-level domain (TLD) is one of the domains at the highest level in the hierarchical Domain Name System of the Internet. The top-level domain names are installed in the root zone of the name space. For all domains in lower levels, it is the last part of the domain name, that is, the last label of a fully qualified domain name. For example, in the domain name, the top-level domain is com. Responsibility for management of most top-level domains is delegated to specific organizations by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which operates the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), and is in charge of maintaining the DNS root zone.” Wikipedia

(More about DNS later.)

You can see a list of top level domains here.

What TLD is best?

  • .com is still the best choice for companies.
  • .org is still best for choice nonprofit organizations.

Strategy: Find a domain name that closely aligns with your nonprofit.

Tactics: Buy a domain name.

Recommendation: Several people I trust have recommended purchasing your domain name from a separate company as your website hosting.

“By registering your domains separately from your hosting, you’re ensuring a much easier transition if you ever want to take your money elsewhere.” Andrea Whitmer

I have purchased my domain names from both NameSecure and NameCheap. But there are many reputable companies out there.

DNS or Domain Name System

You’re not going to be able to avoid the term DNS or its configurations if you are doing this work yourself. So, what is a DNS and what does a DNS do?

DNS means Domain Name System and it translates your website name into an IP address so the Internet can find you.

“Most prominently, it translates more readily memorized domain names to the numerical IP addresses needed for the purpose of locating and identifying computer services and devices with the underlying network protocols.” Wikipedia

I love this analogy because we all relate to SIM cards and cell phones.

“Basically, you put your website’s files on your host’s servers, then tell your domain to point to those files when someone puts in your URL. It’s kind of like putting a SIM card in a cell phone – the SIM card tells that phone, “Hey, you work with this particular phone number now.” Just like you can switch out a phone’s SIM card and make the phone work with a different phone number, your domain can be set to work with a different web hosting service.” Andrea Whitmer

Once you purchase a domain name, you’ll need the IP address numbers from those servers. Those numbers will be given to your website host. Keep a record of those numbers in a safe place and make note of the company you purchased your domain name from.

If you do not renew your domain name on time (there is no grace period), your site will go down.

In a Secure Location Keep:

Domain Name: yourdomainname (dot) com
Purchased from:
Account Email: Email you signed up the account with
Password: Password you gave to said company
Account Expires: Date

In fact, I’d suggest sharing this with other trusted people on your board. If your credit card on file changes numbers for any reason, your account may not be auto renewed. And, to be totally honest, people change jobs frequently. So, this is important information for other people to know.

Choose a Website Host:

Where to buy? What to buy?

So many questions:

Strategy: Purchase hosting compatible with your organization’s needs.

Tactics: Decide how hands-on you want to be with your site’s servers. Most people, especially new, probably don’t want to be too involved. If it’s in your budget, we recommend managed hosting. See below for more recommendations.


Many reputable people recommend PagelyWPEngine, or Kinsta. We love Media Temple. Bluehost is great, too. I use SiteGround. All of those companies provide WordPress-specific hosting and are advocates and supporters of the WordPress Community.

Which one is the best? Here’s the famous answer I get: “it depends.”

Figure out what your budget is and your hosting expectations. Do you want the ability to have a staging site? How about SSL? Do you want WordPress Core to be updated automatically? Should backups be provided by the host or will you use a plugin? These are all things to consider when combing through the options.

You can pay anywhere from $7 to $35 to $150 a month. That’s why it depends.

Do you need SSL?

SSL stands for “secure socket layer” and it provides encryption for data going to your website. Purchasing a SSL Certificate both encrypts your data and shows the user in their website browser that your site is secure.

Google has been hinting that SSL / https will become ranking signals, but for nonprofit organizations that collect user information, it’s our best practices recommendation to use SSL / https.

Each host has different instructions on this. For example, SiteGround has a two click install and their instructions are here.

If your goal is to eventually collect donations on your site, SSL will be required by most payment gateways. Matt Cromwell breaks that down in our documentation: “How to use SSL and HTTPS for your WordPress Website.“ So I’ll refer you there for more thorough instructions.

Some hosts offer free SSL certificates and will even install it on your site for you — at no charge. More often than not, these are provided by a relatively new organization called Let’s Encrypt. They offer SSL certificates for free. This will work fine for most purposes.

However, Let’s Encrypt does not offer what’s called an “Extended Verification” SSL certificate. You’ll notice these types of SSL certificates at bank websites like Bank of America. You’ll see in the address bar the name of the company connected with the green lock. PayPal encourages the use of EV certificates but does not require them.

The green lock in the browser bar indicates an Extended Verification” SSL certificate.
The green lock in the browser bar indicates an Extended Verification” SSL certificate.

Bottom Line: You will want SSL. And if you’re starting from scratch, you may as well set this up now.

WordPress One Click Install:

Look to your host on how to install WordPress.

Managed hosting has the WordPress files pre-installed, like WPEngine. However, you still need to point your DNS to their servers. They have detailed instructions with a video here.

“With many shared and cloud hosting companies installing WordPress is a simple 1-click option. When initially setting up your hosting you’ll be prompted to select a website platform. Just click on the WordPress option and let the hosting company work its magic.” WPExplorer

Bluehost shows you how to navigate to the WordPress install within their cPanel in this video.

The procedure is similar with SiteGround.

Create a Username / Password

After the installation is complete, you will need to setup a username and password for the admin privileges. This is how you will log into your site from now on, so make your username unique but memorable.

As far as passwords go, you should use something secure. There are password managers and generator tools available a plenty including 1Password and LastPass.

To add another admin (with full permissions) or user role (subscriber, contributor, editor), simply go to users in the dashboard, click add user, and select Add New. iThemes has a great post with a video on all of the steps you should follow here.

You will now be able to login to your site by going to domainname / wp-admin.

No more cPanel for you! Yay!

Celebrate your Victory

Though WordPress is often touted as an easy install, I know that you stepped way out of your boundaries on this one. Look yourself in the mirror and pat yourself on the back. You did a good thing.

Now that you have your site’s domain name and you have access to the WordPress dashboard, your next steps involve choosing a theme, adding plugins for functionality, and creating your site’s content.

You’re well on your way!

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2 Responses

  1. I work with several non-profits and was excited to see you publish this. Thanks, GIVE for an article that breaks the process down easily! Also, I’ve found that many hosting companies provide discounts or even free hosting (DreamHost) to non-profit organizations, so it’s worth asking the question when setting up a website.

    1. That’s a good point, Jen, about asking your host. They don’t always say they give discounted hosting, either. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, too.

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