How to Evaluate WordPress Plugins for Your Nonprofit’s Website

If your nonprofit’s website is built on WordPress, at some point, you’ll likely want to install a Plugin. Plugins are sets of code that extend the functionality of WordPress.

But, just as you needed to evaluate if your nonprofit was ready for WordPress before you built your nonprofit’s website on it, you’ll also need to evaluate each Plugin before installing it to make sure that it will meet your needs. Here are a few tips for evaluating WordPress Plugins for your nonprofit:

  • Find the Plugin you think will meet your needs. You can find available Plugins on the WordPress website.
  • Read the documentation. Once you find one or more Plugins that you think offer the functionality you’re looking for, be sure to read the description, installation instructions, and any other documentation provided. If there is a demo available, be sure to see it in action.
  • Investigate any dependencies. Watch for any indications that the Plugin requires other Plugins to work properly. The more Plugins that a Plugin requires to work, the more chances you may have compatibility issues down the road if one of the Plugins is not updated. This is not necessarily a mark against a Plugin, just something to be aware of, as you may have more Plugins to keep up with in the future.
  • Determine what it may cost you. It’s not uncommon for a Plugin to have a free version with basic features, but charge for a “Pro” version that may have the functionality you actually need.
  • Check the “last updated” date and compatibility with your version of the core WordPress software. The Plugin should have been updated within the last six months or so. If not, the author may have abandoned the Plugin, and it may not be compatible with recent versions of WordPress.
  • Look at how many people are using it. Each Plugin page lists the number of installations of the Plugin. The more popular Plugins might indicate a better Plugin.
  • Check the ratings. As with popular shopping sites that you’re likely familiar with, WordPress has a star-based ratings system in which users rate each Plugin. Look at the ratings and read the reviews as you would when making any other purchase.
  • Look into the author. Click through to the Plugin’s author page to read about the author. Has the author written any other Plugins? Do the other Plugins have good reviews?
  • Check out the Support history. Each Plugin page has a Support tab, which includes threads of posts from people asking for support. Read through these threads to find out how many and what types of support issues have been submitted, and how/if they’ve been resolved.
  • Consider all evaluation points. When evaluating a Plugin, keep in mind that a newer one may not have had time to accumulate many installations or ratings, but still may be a good Plugin for your needs. Considering all evaluation points as a whole, versus focusing on just one or two points, will give you a better sense of whether a Plugin is right for your needs.

Once you’ve decided on a Plugin, be sure to update the WordPress software for your core website and any other Plugins on your site before you install the new Plugin.  Also, be sure to install and test the Plugin in a test environment, on a staging server, before going “live” to ensure the Plugin installation hasn’t broken anything in your site.

Plugins can help you take your WordPress site in exciting new directions, but not all of them are created equal. It’s well worth it to take the time to find the Plugins that meet your specific needs. If you keep in mind the tips in this article, you’ll be pointed in the right direction to make the best choice for your nonprofit.

If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress, need help deciding if WordPress is the right CMS for your nonprofit, or need help with your WordPress site design, contact Cathexis Partners.

by Jim Jasper, Designer/Developer, Cathexis Partners
Based in Northwestern Connecticut, Jim started designing and developing websites for nonprofits in 1996. He has worked with organizations of all types and sizes using a wide range of technologies.

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