Choosing the Best CMS for Your Association or Institute

In our experience, three main content management systems (CMS) options are suitable for associations and institutes (and pretty much anybody else). Two are the biggest names in the CMS world: WordPress and Drupal. The third option is not really a CMS, it’s a “none of the above” option:  a framework. But which should you use and why?

“Use WordPress”

Surprisingly,  even Drupal users offer this suggestion in the Drupal forums, along with some thought-provoking discussion. Here’s how one commenter put it:

“If wordpress does what you need it to do [then] great, use wordpress”

CMS usage/

CMS usage/

The message is spot-on. We advise our clients to start by considering WordPress. WordPress is used by over 50% of the top 10,000 websites. It’s also the most migrated-to CMS by people who have decided their previous CMS isn’t meeting their needs. Does your website have such special design and functional requirements that the top CMS in the world (by far) is not capable of delivering what you need?

Probably not, so for most clients we recommend WordPress.

WordPress has an added benefit of allowing your association or institute near-infinite growth potential. No budget? You can start a free website at now, and “take it with you” when you graduate to a hosted website hosted on your own server.

Use Drupal

The requirements of your association or institute website may be special.

Some large institutes we have worked with have had complex requirements, such as very structured editorial workflows or the need to display diverse information in different ways on different parts of the site. This is the reason that Drupal is often the right answer for them.

To decide whether they need to invest the extra effort and expense involved in setting up a Drupal site, we work with our clients to identify the specific features they want for their websites. If these are beyond the capabilities of WordPress, then we ask:

  • Does Drupal provide these? (or can we easily build them?)

  • Do you have the expertise to implement these in-house using the advanced Drupal features?

  • Do you have the budget to build, and maintain, a complex Drupal website?

A Drupal website can easily exceed $100,000 to create and more than that to maintain. Major Drupal upgrades can be as complex as the initial build-out.

Pushing the Limits

Every CMS has the potential to do pretty much anything you need it to do. In WordPress as in Drupal, you can do a lot through the administrator interface and with add-ons (such as plugins and modules).  In the end it’s not so much that the chosen system limits what you can do, it’s more about the abilities of the people who are using/administering it.

The Drupal administrative interface is a complex beast. It allows the administrator to go deeper with advanced tools such as Views; however these advanced tools are complicated and require a basic knowledge of database administration and programming. You can get the same results, probably more efficiently, by hand-coding a module, but that also requires similar knowledge.  Drupal has some capabilities that WordPress does not have, but you have to be a tech wiz or engage the services of someone who is one, to be able to realize the benefits.

On the other hand, the WordPress administrative interface is a lot simpler, and focuses more on content creation than on a large amount of flexibility on how to display content. Most users, with a brief introduction, can be up and running with it in little time. WordPress chooses to leave the complexities behind the scene to the developers: You can still create complex displays and constructs, but it has to be done by hand-coding a plug-in.

In short, how much you benefit from your CMS depends on having people who understand how to get the most out of it. That is where engaging the services of a company like ours makes sense for many associations and institutes.

Beyond CMS: Application Frameworks

Of course, you may find out that neither Drupal, WordPress nor any other CMS fit your requirements. This is seldom the case with websites, no matter how complex. More often than not, when WordPress or Drupal don’t fit, your association is looking for  a web application. The best tool to generate that is likely going to be an application framework. You may have heard of  Ruby on Rails. Others exist, each with strengths and weaknesses. An initial requirements-gathering project is necessary to make an informed decision.

Thinking of switching to (or from) WordPress or Drupal? Looking for some help to maximize the potential of an existing WordPress or Drupal installation? Drop us a line or leave a comment.

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