Mark Morton: Why we chose an open source website

Platforms like Wordpress and Drupal, which are maintained by a community of users, can be a cost-effective and flexible option for charities, writes the digital media manager at Epilepsy Action

Mark Morton
Mark Morton

Digital encompasses so much of people’s lives now, which means that charities must shout extra loud if they are to capture the attention of their supporters. That can be through an eye catching website, or an engaging social media campaign. For instance, highly successful campaigns such as the no make-up selfie and ice bucket challenge have been real game changers in this sector. They show how powerful technology can be as a method of getting a charity’s message out there to the public.

However, with limited resources, it is well understood that the digital budget at a charity or social enterprise can often be dropped to the bottom of the list. The development of open source platforms such as Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla has opened up a real opportunity for the third sector to develop quality websites in a cost-effective way.

Unlike traditional proprietary systems, where charities can find themselves locked in to one supplier because it holds the source code for their website, open source is a program or software for which the source code is made available on a free licence and can be accessed by anyone. This allows a community of users and developers to collaborate with each other in order to make improvements.

Open source has seen a dramatic uptake across the charity sector over the last five years. Some charities may choose to train their staff in how to use these platforms themselves, but at Epilepsy Action we have been working with a specialist Drupal agency, Ixis, who deliver support and development for our main website and also our community forum site. This has freed up our staff to do their jobs whilst ensuring we have a cost-effective, fully functional and flexible website solution.

So why are charities choosing open source over traditional proprietary content management systems?

Cost Open source software is free to use and means that budget-conscious charities will not have to commit themselves to proprietary packages where they are at the mercy of the vendor’s vision, requirements and prices. With open source, you can get quality at a fraction of the price.

Expertise Drupal, for example, is maintained and developed by a community of more than a million users and developers. It is constantly updated by an international community who want to make it a better product all the time.

Support It’s not always possible for a charity to have a dedicated digital team member who knows everything about the website. The open source model lends itself to organisations looking for support through vibrant online communities or paid-for, specialist support options. Either way, there is a great deal of support out there and charities who opt to work with like-minded agencies to teach their staff how to use and modify an open source CMS themselves will save money in the long run.

Flexibility If users and developers have a hand in developing the software, they can tweak it to suit their needs. It’s simply a matter of modifying it to add the functionality they want. In addition, open source software means you don’t need to be constantly upgrading software and hardware, as core modules are updated by the community.

Security Bugs in open source software tend to get discovered and fixed much more frequently than in proprietary systems, where it can take weeks, if not months, to patch up vulnerabilities. It’s essential for organisations to have secure websites, especially when confidential information such as payment details are being taken.

In an increasingly busy and competitive web space, and with the upsurge in donations online, charities need to step up and make sure they stand out – or risk losing out.

Mark Morton is digital media manager at Epilepsy Action

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