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The Building Blocks of WordPress

Of the three recent additions to this site, the WordPress 101 for Nonprofits page is probably the most exciting.

Why? It’s a great overview of the entire site for new users, but it also has the first Nonprofit WP infographic to help readers really grasp the component parts of WordPress.

The Building Blocks of WordPress: Five interlocking blocks from the top show the theme for design, plugins for features, media files stored on the server, the database with text content and settings, and WordPress "core" files powering the whole site.

Let’s quickly go through each piece of the WordPress tower from bottom-to-top to really understand it.

Know that like most things on this site, this graphic focuses on “self-hosted” WordPress and not WordPress.com. For those unfamiliar with the difference, here’s our explainer.

WordPress Core

The “core” files of WordPress are what make everything else work. You can download them for free on WordPress.org and install on your website host.

WordPress is often described as a solid foundation for a website, and this graphic takes that description literally! It’s a foundation because nothing works without it and also because it allows you build a million variations of different designs and website features based on your needs.

Database

The second part of a standard WordPress site installation is the database. While everyone who installs WordPress has the same “core” files, the information stored in the database is what makes the site yours. The database contains all the settings and information on your site. That means things like:

  • Your website’s timezone
  • Your username, email, password (securely encrypted!), and preferred administrative color scheme
  • The title, body field, excerpt, and publication date of your very first blog post
  • The title, caption, and alternative text for your images (Speaking of which…)

Media

Just like each person’s database contains information that’s unique to their site, WordPress supports uploading many common types of image, video, audio, and document files for use on your website. Every file you upload, ends up in the “Media Library where it’s stored for future use.

  • Need a logo on your website? Upload it to the Media Library.
  • Putting your Annual Report PDF on the website? It goes to the Media Library!
  • Love the awesome infographic in the post? It’s in the Media Library of NonprofitWP.org!

WordPress makes it easy to upload files, but make sure you keep them organized to get the most from them.

Plugins

The plugins “block” actually represents a layer of lots of little blocks. Plugins are what add features to your site any time you need it to do anything that WordPress “core” can’t do on its own.

  • What to add a donation form to your website? You might use the Give plugin.
  • Are your website’s search results not good enough? SearchWP is great for that.
  • Want to add custom documentation right in the WordPress admin? WP Help works great.

There are thousands of free WordPress plugins as well as lots of good paid ones. Just make sure you carefully vet each plugin before installing it and see if there’s a recommended plugin for your need before searching yourself.

Themes

The theme of your website is the very top block since it determines how the website looks. The words you enter into the database are just little bits of data, but the theme tells them where to go (along with images), the font and font size, and how they change when viewed on a phone as compared to a desktop computer.

Unlike plugins, a site only has one theme since a website only has one design. In many ways, the theme you choose is one of the most important decisions you make, so don’t miss the guide on how to choose a theme and the list of recommended themes.


When it comes to building a website with WordPress, you need to build the most solid tower for your nonprofit so it supports your mission and activities as you try to improve the world! WordPress is a great choice for many organizations because how you put the pieces together is up to you.

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