Tip of the Day: Websites on Open Source Platforms

Editor's note: All this month we're publishing tech tips for nonprofits. Keep a look out for a new tip each day and let us know what you think in the comments. -Dan 

Everyone wants their open source content management system to work flawlessly out of the box, but anyone who's built a site in one knows that’s not the case. Here are five tips for making an open-source web project manageable, affordable, and successful.

  1. Articulate a mission for your project. What are you trying to accomplish with the site you’re building? If you need to reach those goals with the absolute minimum number of bells and whistles, what will the finished product look like? Start there—write it down, and use it as a touchstone every time you make a decision.
  2. Build a site closely aligned with the CMS’s development community. With a CMS, you should be able to maintain your site with relative ease long after the people who helped build it are gone. To help ensure that the maintenance of your new site will be sustainable, stick close to core functionality whenever possible.
  3. Simplify—complexity costs money. Some complexity in a mid- to large-sized site is inevitable, and when it truly serves your site’s mission, it can be a good thing. Put your budget money toward complexity that’s necessary by eliminating it where it’s not.
  4. Make sure the design team understands what “design on a budget” means. Your designer and builder should have some familiarity with the CMS you’ve chosen, and there should be no wall between design and development.
  5. Expect things to go wrong—especially when you’re working with the cutting (or bleeding) edge of open source software. Be flexible, make compromises where needed, and keep your sense of humor. You’ll end up with a better site and probably learn a lot in the process.
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