How to Select WordPress Plugins for Nonprofit Websites

Assuming you’ve worked through this site in order, you’ve got WordPress running and looking beautiful. Now you’re ready to add some power to the site and let visitors do what you want them to. That’s where plugins come in.

Plugins are for adding features to your site. Those features are the things that make administering and using the site easier and more powerful. Example of common features added by plugins:

  • Additional widgets for your sidebar and footer (for social media icons, contact information, images)
  • Backing up your site
  • Connecting Google Analytics or other 3rd-party services
  • Managing events and calendars
  • Building forms (e.g. “Contact Us”, volunteer interest, etc.)
  • Accepting donations
  • Almost anything else you can imagine!

Needle in a Haystack

On WordPress.org alone, there are more than 40,000 free plugins available for you to download and install. Thousands of others are available across the internet for free or pay. Finding the right one for your site is where things get tricky.

Luckily, you know how to find a plugin even if you don’t realize it. Searching for a plugin for WordPress just like you’d search for a blender on Amazon. (Quite appropriately, there are nearly 40,000 blenders listed!)

Use your product research and comparison skills to figure out if a plugin meets your needs, works in a way compatible with your skills, and is well-constructed and will last.

Before You Start Searching, Ask Around

If you know anyone who uses WordPress, ask them if they know of a plugin that does what you need. If they have an answer, then you’re most of the way there. Just review the plugin (see below) and give it a shot. Pulling information from your network of trusted friends and colleagues is often the fastest way to a good enough solution.

I’ve done my best to help you get started with a long list of recommended plugins for nonprofits.

The WordPress.org Plugin Page

When you search for a plugin on WordPress.org, there’s lots of useful information on just a few screens to evaluate the plugin.

I’ve included a screenshot of and links to one of my plugins, Feature a Page Widget, so you can see a real example.

Annotated Screenshot of WordPress Plugin Page
Find the numbers associated with each section below.

Description (1 & 2)

This may seem obvious, but make sure you read the plugin’s Description and FAQ pages. If you need a specific feature or have other requirements of the plugin, it’s important to make sure the plugin even does what you need before you start looking at it further.

Active Installs (3)

This tells you if lots of people use this plugin. You want a critical mass of users so the author feels more compelled to maintain the plugin and provide support. Don’t write off a plugin with only a few hundred installs, but approach it slowly and consider using a more popular option if available, particularly for larger and more complicated plugins.

Ratings & Reviews (4)

WordPress allows people to rate plugins from 1-5 stars. A plugin with fewer than 3.5 stars in my experience may have some ongoing issues to be wary of. However, don’t just look at the stars, read the reviews. Some low-star rating are valid, but some are either unreasonable or off topic. (“I expect my blender to be silent when making a blended margarita. 2 stars.” “This blender makes great soup but won’t change the channel on my TV. 1 star.” “Doesn’t work. 3 stars.”)

Plugin Author (5)

If you’re new to WordPress, you probably aren’t familiar with any “big names” in the WordPress plugin world, but you can still learn something from the plugin author. If they have multiple plugins or there are lots of authors, that often bodes well for support and maintenance.

Last Updated (6)

WordPress is always evolving and plugins should be too. Take a look at the “Last Updated” date. It should at least be in the past year, and ideally the last few months. Smaller single purpose plugins (e.g. “Move the comments menu item to the Posts submenu”) won’t need as frequent of updates as a big plugin (e.g “manage events and RSVPs while displaying your upcoming events in one of five formats!”).

Support Forum (7 & 8)

Take a look at the support forum of the plugin. Is the author involved in responding to people? Are most posts marked as “[Resolved]”? You can’t expect support for free plugin, but many authors offer it to various extents, and it’s obviously a big advantage if you can access help.

Evaluating Paid Plugins

Most of the above ways to evaluate a plugin still hold, but it’s a little harder to compare paid plugins since they aren’t on WordPress.org where those bits of data are all so nicely organized for us. You’ll have a hard time finding “Active Installs” or “Last Updated” numbers for a paid plugin. Instead here are some things to focus on:

Documentation

Paid plugins owe it to you to clearly demonstrate how the plugin works before you’ve purchased it and help you use it once you’ve purchased it.

Does the plugin provide a guide? Videos? Review what’s available and whether you think you can use it.

Support & Updates

When you pay for a plugin, it feels like you’re buying code, but what’s really for sale is a promise of support and updates. Make sure support is available and then make good use of it if you do purchase the plugin.

Reviews

Paid plugins don’t always show ratings or reviews, but you’re more likely to find reviews and tutorials elsewhere. Search for “WordPress {plugin name} review” or “WordPress {plugin name} tutorial” to see how other people use that plugin and what they think of it.

Sites To Help You Find Plugins

These websites may help you locate high-quality plugins with additional reviews and search tools: