Because I have worked with (and for in my previous life as a person with a normal 9 to 5) a number of non-profit organizations, and am a Squarespace Specialist, I’m often asked by non-profit employees, board members and volunteers whether or not Squarespace is a suitable website platform for their needs.
And the answer is… it depends.
Ugh, I know, right?
Squarespace may be the perfect fit for your cause, but it may also be too limiting or even too expensive for your organization. Here are a few questions you’ll want to asked yourself when you consider building a Squarespace website for your non-profit.
(Update 4/16/2019: We now offer two tracks for nonprofit organizations who want to work with us. We have a consulting program for established nonprofits who have large, existing websites and, for small, nimble organizations, we offer Design in a Day™ Pro. Learn more about how we work with nonprofits, foundations and charities!)
PAW Team – A brochure-style Squarespace website that uses Neon CRM to manage donations.
Do you have a plan for handling donations?
If you’re working in the charitable sector, obviously you’ll want to make sure you have a way for your supporters to contribute monetarily to your organization. Unfortunately, while Squarespace does have a donate block option, I find that it’s not appropriate for most organizations. Why? Well, a few reasons:
The non-commerce Squarespace plans have very high fees on top of Stripe and PayPal processing fees that can really hit your bottom line (as of writing it’s about 3%, meaning 6% of donor dollars will go to Squarespace on top of your hosting fees). If you have a Commerce plan, these fees are waived. Most non-profits will only want a regular Website plan. (Learn about Squarespace pricing here: squarespace.com/pricing.)
At this time, charities cannot process recurring donations via Squarespace’s donate feature. This means that there’s no way for your most loyal supporters to “set it and forget it” with monthly or yearly donations. This is a missed opportunity, for sure! People love supporting causes they believe in with small monthly donations that add up over the year ($10 or $20 a month can make a real impact).
This is really wonky, technical stuff, but the way data is handled in the backend is structured with physical products in mind, not donor data, so you’ll find yourself doing a lot of manual clean up. This isn’t a big deal if you’re a tiny organization with a handful of donors, but as you grow, trust me, it’ll make you crazy.
Instead, I recommend a more robust system for handling donations on a non-profit Squarespace website. I’ll go into detail in a future post, but solutions as simple as PayPal buttons or MoonClerk up to systems like NeonCRM, Little Green Light, MembershipWorks and others will likely serve you far more effectively than Squarespace’s donate button.
How complicated is your website structure?
Squarespace can only support a secondary level of navigation (via folders) and if you have deep navigation or need “breadcrumbs” to help uses navigation through highly detailed information, you may find yourself frustrated.
Now, much of the time, a skilled web designer and content strategist can help you develop a tight, more shallow website structure (and that’s something I strongly urge owners of all websites to do, regardless of platform), but sometimes you really do need that third level of navigation and you simply cannot do it with Squarespace–it’s not how the system was built.
So, before you get too far into the process, your website committee or marketing team should sit down and outline your current site (if you have one) and take a hard look at your content, what you need and how it’s structured. Be ruthless and focus on what your target audience needs–not what you, the insiders, want.
(This is the reason I build strategy time into all my non-profit website projects–it’s absolutely essential for you folks!)
What’s your page count?
Additionally, while Squarespace technically offers unlimited pages at some plan levels, I have found that sites with more than 40 or so pages become very challenging to manage (remember: index “pages” are actually collections of many page presented as sections), and sites do slow down once you hit a few hundred pages. Why are these large sites so fussy? Well, there isn’t a way in Squarespace to search for pages (so, if you need a page that’s hidden deep in your pages panel, you have to scroll, scroll, scroll), and when you want to create internal links, the window is tiny and convoluted to use. (
This can be circumvented by housing some of your content in blogs or galleries–or even hacking the ecommerce system for this purpose, but it’s definitely something you need to plan for (I’d recommend talking to an expert to evaluate your site if this is the path you’re considering–even if you’re going to DIY it, there are other considerations you’ll need to dig into as well).
Do you have access to great visuals for your site?
Or are you willing to invest in some? People are often attracted to Squarespace because the template library is so visually stunning–that’s as much due to the beautiful photography they source as anything! Unfortunately, I often have folks approach me who use examples they’ve seen in the Squarespace template library that simply don’t have the assets to create a knock-out, visually intensive site. A lot of prospective clients reference the Squarespace website I designed for the Chill Foundation (Burton Snowboards’ foundation) but one of the reasons it works so well on Squarespace is that they have incredible media to use that highlights their programs. From the awesome homepage background video, to their location map, the gradient divider images I create and the infographic Ashli from Cascade Creative PDX created, it all works together to create a high impact, visually immersive website.
Don’t have great visuals? Are you willing to invest in some?
My client Friends of the Library didn’t have any photography or graphics beyond their logo. But this was a surmountable obstacle because they planned for this very situation. We built curation of stock imagery that had a bookish Portland vibe but didn’t look “stock,” so they could have splashy banner images and achieve that look that draws many people into Squarespace.
Ashli also created some fun icons to go along with their site which, again, helped their brand feel cohesive and their website shine, which can make a big difference between a generic charitable website and one that really catches the eye of potential supporters.
Plan on budgeting $10 – $30 each for imagery–that can be a substantial line item, I know. The good news is that you can repurpose that imagery on social media or in printed materials, if your image license allows it.
Friends of the Library – Membership-based nonprofit Squarespace website.
Who needs access to the backend of your website?
This is something that a lot of my clients who are in medium-larger organizations are surprised by, but in Squarespace there is not currently a good system for access permissions to the back end. Basically, your choices are to allow your staff to be administrators (they can change everything) or content editors (they can edit content but not settings). So, if you want a staff member to be able to, say, only add blog posts or submit changes for review by a supervisor, that’s not possible in Squarespace and there’s not a viable workaround either. You also cannot limit access by page like you could in Squarespace version 5, so you can’t say, only allow an editor to update an event gallery. If they can edit one page, they can edit all pages.
I have had clients who’ve given editing permissions to staff people not realizing that it allowed for edits to the entire website and well-intended folks have accidentally changed pages or published information before it was time.
This is surmountable with good internal processes, however.
You’ll want to make sure that you have a system in place for updating your website (I’d say this is important, regardless of the platform you’re using), and determine who needs access and what will happen when you need to make a change. Should they submit content in a Google document for review first? Do they duplicate the page that needs updating for an internal proofread and them make them live? I recommend creating a simple one-sheet guide to website updates and making sure everyone knows those procedures.
Cats Safe at Home™ – an educational project of the non-profits the Feral Cat Coalition and Audubon Society
What special features does your non-profit organization need?
One of Squarespace’s greatest strengths–that you don’t have to deal with plugins and system updates–can be a big weak point for some organizations.
If your non-profit’s needs are more of the brochure variety–you want to educate your potential supporters and make it easy for them to get involved. However, many non-profit organizations need complicated tools baked into their websites, such as campaign pages (like Nationbuilder has), interactive elements, matching tools, database integration, API integration and more. Some of these things are doable in Squarespace, and it’s worth talking to an approved Squarespace Specialist who’s familiar with the pros and cons and nuances of the system’s developer platform, but it may be cost-prohibitive to implement what you want, even if it’s doable, or you may be uncomfortable with the drawbacks of using Developer Mode on your non-profit or foundation website.
If that’s the case, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons, and determine what features are must-haves and get good advice from a pro, if necessary.
I know this is a lot of information–but it’s also just a starting point. Don’t jump into a decision on a website platform for your non-profit, charity or foundation without at a minimum weighing these questions. Trust me, the time it will take will lead to a better website that works for you, rather than one that’s just creating more work and stress for your already thinly-stretched organization.
Have questions? Considering a new non-profit website and not sure where to start?
I’m an approved Squarespace Specialist who’s, well, seen it all. Click here to send me a message about your project or simply book an intensive strategy session over here. We’ll get you sorted out with honest, strategic guidance.