WordPress is Perfect for Nonprofit Microsites!

Microsites are small websites (duh!) built for one really specific purpose. Since WordPress makes it so easy to build websites, it’s worth asking: When should you consider building a microsite for your nonprofit?

When To Build a Nonprofit Microsite

The most common types of microsites are for a specific event, a uniquely branded project or initiative, or a special section of a site with a very unique audience. By building a small, single-purpose website, it’s easier to present certain types of information or target a very specific visitor need.

No matter how small, making and maintaining any new website isn’t a decision to take lightly. So before you start, consider the following questions:

  • Does your current website branding conflict with the branding needs of new content? For example, do you put on a conference with its own logo or name?
  • Does the message you plan to communicate deserve unique presentation and total focus from the audience? For example, you might want to send visitors a link to only view your digital annual report.
  • Is the website audience notably unique from your main website? For example, maybe your primary website targets retirees but your organization is starting to offer services to millennials.

The oldie-but-goodie article “How to decide if your nonprofit needs a microsite” lists five similar criteria to consider. (I’ve added the answers that suggest you should consider a microsite.)

  1. “Will you be reusing content from your main website?” (Answer: No.)
  2. “Do you have enough content to warrant a microsite?” (Answer: Yes.)
  3. “How far does your campaign deviate from your organization’s standard identity?” (Answer: Significantly.)
  4. “What kind of community engagement are you planning?” (Answer: Lots of active engagement!)
  5. “Is your campaign’s target audience different from your primary audience?” (Answer: Yes.)

Microsites are a great solution, but only if you are 100% sure it fits your nonprofit’s needs and you’re ready to maintain it.

Don’t use a microsite if:

  • All the content already exists on another site
  • You don’t have a clearly defined audience and purpose for the site
  • You’re primarily doing it to get around a technical limitation (solve the problem instead!)
  • You struggle to support your existing site(s) already

Examples of Nonprofit Microsites

Nothing’s more valuable than a few good examples, so here are three great nonprofit microsites, each serving a different need for the organization that built them. Notice how the branding, messaging, and purpose differ from the “parent” site of the organization.

Nonprofit Technology Conference

Home page of 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference micrositeEach year the Nonprofit Technology Conference gets a new design and new content (venue, session schedule, etc.) for that year’s event. By avoiding the design and structure of the parent organization’s website, NTEN gets the flexibility to create a design that matches the conference theme and a menu to focus visitors on preparing to attend and be involved in the conference.

This site may seem big for a “microsite” but it checks all the boxes:

  • ☑ Unique Branding
  • ☑ Highly focused audience and clearly defined user needs
  • ☑ Content differs from main site

ACLU of Oregon 2017 Annual Report

Home page of ACLU Oregon 2017 Annual Report micrositeBeneath the flashy animations, the ACLU of Oregon assembled a single-page microsite focused entirely on their year’s work in a 2017 Annual Report. This site could be shared to social media or included on a post card in the mail to key supporters. With no easy way to jump to the main ACLU of Oregon site, visitors can only immerse themselves in the organization’s targeted message.

Above the Influence Campaign

Home page of Above the Influence campaign micrositeThe Above the Influence campaign is a project of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, but visiting both sites leaves no doubt which one targets a younger audience. By creating a separate site for this campaign, visitors can focus on the message meant to prevent drug use and not get thrown off by the descriptive-but-boring parent organization name.

Setting Up a WordPress Microsite

So if you’re convinced you need a microsite and are feeling inspired by the examples above, it’s time to get started! Building a microsite requires all the same decisions of building a normal site, so here’s a quick overview with links for further reading.

  1. Don’t skip the planning phase! You’ll be tempted to start building your site immediately, but be sure you’ve clearly defined your audience for the site, what the visitor needs to accomplish, and the content you’ll include on the site. Read Planning Your Nonprofit Website for help with this step.
  2. Next, you’ll need to install WordPress. Many hosting plans—including the recommended SiteGround—allow you to host multiple WordPress sites with one account. When you install WordPress, you’ll need to decide whether to use a subdomain (e.g. microsite.example.org) or a subfolder (e.g. example.org/microsite/). That’s mostly a branding decision, although in terms of search engine optimization, search engines treat subdomains as a separate site and subfolders as part of your main site.
  3. Once you set up WordPress, you’ll need to choose a WordPress theme to give the site its design. While big-budget organizations can make flashy sites with lots of bells and whistles, you’ll probably be best served by a bold and simple design with a couple bright colors, a large space for your logo, and prominent navigation. From the list of recommended themes, Shoreditch, TwentySeventeen, and Popper could be good choices.
  4. Next, add the plugins that will power the site’s features. Microsites should be light and nimble, so keep plugins to a minimum, but you’ll probably need a form, a donation feature, or something else that’s critical to the site’s purpose.
  5. Finally, fill out the site’s page or pages with some carefully crafted content. Be sure that you’ve written your content so that it’s punchy and follows best practices for writing on the web. To really take your site to the next level, be sure to include engaging images, videos, and social embeds.

Optimize Your Microsite for Action

Since microsites are usually promoted to a specific, well-defined audience, they offer an incredible opportunity for targeted engagement. Think hard about who will be coming to the site, how they know and interact with your nonprofit already, and what next step you want them to take. (The engagement pyramid is an amazing framework to think about this issue.)

For example, an annual report microsite probably targets your organization’s most committed followers. Once they’re done reviewing a year’s worth of accomplishments, there’s no better time to tactfully ask for a donation.

For an event site, the best engagement is likely just signing up to attend. (Wait until you send follow-up communications to ask for other engagements.)

And for a site targeting people unfamiliar your organization, think about the best way to nudge them toward staying in touch and learning more about your issue. That’s often via a newsletter or social media follow.

Don’t Forget the Maintenance!

If you’ve planned well, then you can build the site quickly and efficiently since you know your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. But once the site launches, you’re not done!

First, consider whether the site should stay online forever or if you’ll delete it after a certain period of time. Default toward keeping the site live, even if only as a historical record, but be sure it’s clear if you’ve stopped maintaining it.

Second, for the life of the site, it’s critical that you maintain its technical health. That means frequently updating any themes, plugins, and WordPress, along with keeping a usable backup of the site. If the microsite shares hosting with your primary site, it will be a security vulnerability to ALL sites if you don’t keep it updated!

If you only have a few plugins installed, seriously consider using a tool like Jetpack’s Manage Module to automatically update all plugins. Then you only have to manually do major WordPress updates!

Is a Microsite in Your Future?

Now that you know the ideal uses of microsites for nonprofits, you’re ready to make a smart decision about when and how to build one! In many situations, organizations can seriously benefit from them, even by raising more money!

If you read this and then build a microsite, please come back and share it in the comments!