Skip to main content

Top tips for selecting a CMS

9 July 2013

Ask a room full of charity digital leads to raise their hands if they’re happy with their content management system, and most arms will remain firmly clenched by their sides.

With the increasing emphasis on the digital delivery of information, fundraising and services within charities, many are looking to update their outdated, clumsy and sometimes creaking content management systems. It’s not always a straightforward task however, as we found at a recent CharityComms/Cogapp Heads of Digital networking evening spent discussing content strategy and CMS selection.

Here are my three top tips for choosing a CMS.

Option 1: Appoint a web agency

If you really, really like a web agency, maybe you can trust them to choose a CMS for you. They’re likely to select your CMS based on their skills and experience.

However, what makes a good agency is the people. They will certainly move on. If you don’t get on well with the new team, if they grow, if they move to an expensive office, if you no longer feel like an important client, tough! You’re stuck with their CMS. If they gave you an open source CMS, you may be in a better position but this is still a risky option.

Option 2: Choose Drupal

Over the past few years, Drupal has become the CMS of choice for many charities (and commercial organisations). It’s open source. Anyone can download it. Even the White House is using it. But is it that good? It has happy customers and unhappy customers. Being a popular CMS isn’t enough. Drupal requires a specialist agency, a robust hosting, and a fair amount of customisation. It’s not for everyone.

Option 3 (recommended!): Analyse the needs of your organisation


Start by listing all the digital tools you are using: CMS, CRM (customer relationship management system), email system, payment provider, third party fundraising tools, campaigning tools, hosting servers etc.


Conduct a series of interviews with key internal stakeholders across the organisation. How do they use the website and other digital tools? What improvements would they like? Any new functionalities they would love to have? How hands on could they be?


Without giving any names (there are too many), some charities decide on a CMS without considering their CRM. It’s a bit like building a loft extension without a staircase. You should have identified all the tools during your audit. Which systems need to talk to your CMS? CRM, finance, HR, media… What level of integration do you need (one way, synchronisation, export/import…)? What data do you need to transfer? How are you planning to use the information you’ve gathered across your systems?

Some CMS have plugins to link up third party tools. Some third party tools have an application programming interface (API) you can use: a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a web-based software application or web tool. Are there opportunities to replace other systems which are not compatible with anything?

Ease of use

This really depends on the size of the digital team and how likely it is to expand. Many organisations are starting to equip staff with digital skills (eg content production). If that’s where you’re going, make sure the CMS doesn’t require three days of training and hours of help from your team.


Open source doesn’t mean free. It means no on-going licence fee and the possibility of amending the source code. This “possibility” is a necessity in 99% of cases (a percentage based on experience rather than robust research). You will need additional budget to train staff and keep the CMS up-to-date, as well as your plugins and bespoke code. In rare instances, open source may not be the most cost effective solution for you.

Bertie Bosrédon

independent digital consultant, freelance

Bertie helps NGOs with their digital projects including digital transformation and awakening programmes, online fundraising and services, governance, tech signposting, and recently blockchain and AI pilots. Before working freelance, he worked in-house for 11 years; at British Heart Foundation where he setup the Online Team and at Breast Cancer Care where he established the Digital and Services department. Bertie also helped launch CharityComms Digital Benchmark.