8 Must Have WordPress Plugins for Nonprofits

UPDATE: This post was updated on 4-10-2015. Things move pretty fast with technology these days, and while popular WordPress plugins are fairly stable, there are always new and interesting products to use. Of course, we prefer not to make any recommendations until we’ve had time to thoroughly test a plugin – hence the distance between the original post and the new update. We’ve made several updates – even removed one plugin in favor of another. Those updated recommendations are posted here and are marked as such where appropriate.

Any good executive director is always on the lookout for ways to improve his or her nonprofit site, and if you run a WordPress powered blog, one of the easiest ways to do that is to add plugins.  You do run a WordPress site, right? Of course you do! Plugins can help turn your plain Jane site into a feature-packed nonprofit powerhouse.

5 Must Have Plugins for Nonprofits

The 8 plugins we feature here will bring all the following functionality to your site:

  1. protect your site from spam
  2. encourage comments on your posts and engage your readers
  3. backup and restore your site
  4. include forms, surveys, quizzes, and take requests from readers
  5. Sell items, products, and services online AND take donations – both single and recurring
  6. Create, manage, and sell tickets to events, plus display events on a calendar
  7. Make your site more visible to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo
  8. View and store Traffic statistics on your posts and pages
  9. Shares your post and pages on social media networks
  10. Create a short URL for your posts for easy sharing
  11. Embed media from places like YouTube and Vimeo
  12. Auto post new articles to social media sites
  13. Grammar and spelling checker
  14. Custom css editor to make theme design changes
  15. Embed carousels in posts and pages
  16. Ability to convert your theme to a mobile site
  17. and much, much more…

In all, there are more than 20 features that these 8 plugins bring your to your site, and, in our opinion, by employing these plugins you can turn your simple site into a site that most designers would charge thousands of dollars or more to create.

 

Why these particular 8 Plugins?

We recently took stock of the sites our team has developed, both with OrgSpring and independently, and we were pleasantly surprised to know that together we’ve developed more than 100 WordPress sites. Each one a custom site built on WordPress directly, and through a variety of themes; both free and premium.

We’ve worked with some of the bigger theme development companies, purchased themes on behalf of our clients, customized and created themes and plugins from scratch, and worked with nearly every major WordPress framework released to date. We’ve also worked with a few of the WordPress core developers on occasion!

Over the years, the platform has changed significantly, as has the web in general, but one thing that has remained very much the same are the types of plugins we use to add awesome functionality on our own websites and those of our clients.

While discussing this post with our team, we reviewed some of the reasons why we use these 8 plugins, and have chosen to stick with them for so long. The result of that conversation is the remainder of this post.

In my own humble opinion, these plugins represent the best in class, and provide the a good mix of functionality and ease-of-use in the back-end admin panel and the front-end user experience.  Most of the plugins mentioned here are free to use, but there are a few premium plugins among the bunch (read: cost money) that surpass the free versions in both functionality and quality .

After each one, I include a link where you can download the plugin. In the case of the few premium plugins on this list, the links will take you directly to where you can view demos or purchase the product. In a few cases, we include affiliate links to those product areas. That means if you purchase the plugin using our affiliate link, OrgSpring is compensated by the plugin seller. There is no additional cost to you, we get paid directly by the seller. As you know, OrgSpring is a nonprofit too. When you use our affiliate links, you help OrgSpring continue to provide helpful posts like this, and other tutorials specifically for nonprofits. We thank you for your continued support.

And without further adieu, here is OrgSpring’s (Updated) list of

8 Must Have WordPress Plugins for Nonprofits

 

Akismet

http://wordpress.org/plugins/akismet/

No plugin list should go without mentioning Akismet, the best plugin on the market for killing spam. It has been written about thousands of times, and for good reason. It was developed by the team that developed WordPress, and is supported by Automattic, the company created by WordPress’ creator.

Akismet taps into the intelligence gained by millions of other blogs to determine which spam comments are currently making the rounds on the internet. It then zaps that comments, and makes sure they don’t show up on or slow down your site.

If you have experience with WordPress sites you know that this plugin comes pre-installed with all new WordPress installations. You might also be asking “Do we really need to activate this plugin, does it make a difference?”

The easy answer is a resounding “YES!” We ran a study to show you exactly why you should be using Akismet, and you can read that post here: The Akismet Plugin and Why Every Nonprofit Should Use It.  In that article, we show how Akismet reduced spam more than 80% on a new blog, automatically cutting hundreds of junk comments in less than 30 days time.

 

BackupBuddy

http://ithemes.com/purchase/backupbuddy/

We’ve tried nearly every backup program on the market and none of them can out perform the feature set of BackupBuddy. We tried ManageWP for more than a year, BackWPup for a short time, and even a few off-market solutions.

We put this plugin through the ringer for almost two years, and through several updates and it keeps getting better. The program does 2 things and it does them well. It backs up, and it helps you restore.

Anyone who has lost a site or needed to roll back knows the importance of restoring a site. It’s a function the other plugins leave out or don’t spend enough time on. It’s one thing to give a great backup, but another entirely to spend time on the user experience for reinstalling from a backup. BackupBuddy gets high marks here.

Its plugin script ImportBuddy makes reinstalling a backup super easy. Just a few steps, a few clicks, and some database/server info and you’ve got your backup running in no time. Luckily we’ve had to restore only a few live sites in a 2 year period, but we’ve restored dozens of test sites as we try new plugins and new features. The new version of the plugin makes restore even easier, ditching the import script altogether. Having Backupbuddy was a lifesaver.

As a bonus, BackupBuddy gives you 1gb free space in it’s program Stash, where you can save your backups. It also lets you set schedules for backups and off shore them to more secure locations like Amazon S3, or your own server via FTP. Support from its developer, ithemes, is fast and courteous. We had one issue in two years regarding backing up a site that was nearly 20gb in size. Support tracked the issue down to one line in a plugin conflicting with the backup script. It took a few days to sort out, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack. They got it done and we got the site backed up. No other backup program was able to backup a site that large.

Backing up Multisite Installations:

Because of the special structure of multisite networks, you cannot use regular backup programs reliably, regardless of whether they say it is supported on the sales page of that plugin. The fact is, the support for multisite is lacking on most of the commercial backup solutions that are popular for single site installs.

If you want to backup individual multisite blogs/sites, there are only two reliable options: VaultPress and Snapshot from WPMUDEV. VaultPress works extremely well, but will run you at least $5 per site per month, depending on which method you want to use for backing up and restoring. This can get pricey if you run a large network with many sites. If you charge for those sites, VaultPress is worth its weight in gold. It offers incremental backups and super easy restore.

Your other option is Snapshot, which is a very good backup program and also offers relatively easy restores. The benefit of using Snapshot is a lower cost of entry, and you’re not charged extra for each site you want to use it on.

 

***UPDATE 4-10-2015***

Back-ups for Developers and Agencies:

I absolutely love MainWP – a plugin you use on a stand-alone WordPress installation to manage several (or many) other WordPress websites. This is a great product for website developers who manage 2 or more sites for clients or friends. MainWP gives you a unified dashboard that shows all your sites in one place, plugins and themes that need backups, and a whole ton of other great stuff. You can track uptime of your site, page speed and response time, spin up new posts, manage comments and users, create backups and offshore them to remote locations. It also works with WordPress SEO and Ithemes Security, allowing you to set the settings for those 2 cumbersome plugins automatically, and instantly across all your site. You can also spin up reports for clients, check broken links, and so much more.

OrgSpring has transitioned its site maintenance to MainWP, which now handles nearly all our back-office maintenance and management for our own sites and for our clients. I absolutely love it and recommend you try it as well. In the very near future, I’ll be posting a much longer article reviewing MainWP, and comparing it to other great backup and management programs like BackupBuddy/Sync from Ithemes.

In the meantime, check it out at MainWP.com (affiliate link).

 

Gravity Forms

http://www.gravityforms.com (affiliate link)

Gravity forms is the best form plugin for WordPress. Period. It’s a premium plugin and it will run you $39 for a single site license. The feature set for creating online forms is a mile long.

You can create simple contact forms (name, email, comment) or multi-page forms with progress bars.  You can use it to create surveys, limit entries, even tap into custom post types.

You can set it up so people can enter posts on the front end (like with multi-author submission blogs), even set advanced notifications in the form settings.  With a few free (and premium) add-ons, Gravity forms can be extended to take payments, sell tickets, work with WooCommerce, PayPal, Authorize.net, and more payment gateways.

It can be used to book events (like we did in this 40 minute video tutorial here), work with your email marketing providers, even manage and display entries on the front-end. You can set time limits on the form, conditional logic to display certain fields only when the right conditions are met, style each field and form differently, and more. With some light programming and coding, you can tap into the powerful settings API and pre-fill form entries with categories and other options.

If you’re a developer, Gravity Forms has a ton of hooks and filters to modify content from your site through your form. You can take custom post types, let users create posts, events, and more. You can even pre-populate form fields with information from your blog.

***UPDATE 4-10-2015***

Gravity Forms is even better now than it was just a few months ago. The plugin styles have been updated – it’s much cleaner now and form fields look fantastic in any theme you use. The back-end area also got a slight facelift – tabs were added to the form field creation/editing screens making it easier to find settings on a per-field basis. Also, many of the developer add-ons were updated, making it even easier than before to add cool functionality to your forms like email marketing, polls, quizzes, signatures, and so much more. If you want beautiful and functional forms that just work – you’ve got to get Gravity Forms – http://www.gravityforms.com.

 

JetPack

http://wordpress.org/plugins/jetpack

Jetpack is the Swiss Army Knife of WordPress plugins. It does so much, and works so well, it’s hard to overstate its utility for your website. I initially started using JetPack for it’s social sharing buttons. I just got tired of using other plugins that worked half the time. I saw JetPack in action, liked the look and started using it.

Once installed, I found it offered a ton of other things that really worked well. Here are just a few of its features:

  • Traffic statistics
  • Social networking buttons
  • URL Shortener for posts
  • Hovercards for author and commenter gravatars
  • Media embedder for YouTube and Vimeo, among others
  • Auto posting to social media sites like Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn
  • Grammar and spelling checker
  • Custom css editor to make theme design changes
  • Embed carousels in posts and pages
  • Mobile theme activation
  • Form application
  • Search feature to search content across your whole site
  • Twitter and Facebook Feed Widgets

And last but not least,  it gives you the ability to offer email subscriptions for posts and comments, and this feature can not be overstated. When I leave a comment on a site I like to know if someone replies to that comment. That’s what this feature does, and it is a great way to increase engagement on your site. By letting your commenters know that the conversation is continuing on from their initial comment, you encourage them to come back and post again. It’s simple to add to your site, simple to configure, and it sends an unobtrusive email to your commenters when a reply has been made to a post they are following on your site.

And that is literally just a few of the options Jetpack offers. It does the work of more than a dozen plugins, and it works beautifully with WordPress as it was designed by the same people who update the WordPress core every day.

***UPDATE 4-10-2015***

I renew my love of Jetpack, and its position in this list of must-have plugins. Since this post was written Jetpack has also undergone a significant style facelift. The settings are looks great, and provides quick links to all its internal settings areas. It’s also added quite a bit of functionality – making it even more of an incredible plugin. Now, you can also do the following with JetPack:

  • Custom Content Types – easily add Portfolio Projects or Testimonials to your site. This is great for artists, photographers, service providers, business sites, and more. No custom code required.
  • Extra Sidebar Widgets – You can add images to your sidebar widgets, photo galleries or slideshows. You can also display posts from other WordPress websites.
  • JSON API – If you’re a coder and want to integrate your site with other applications – this is the way to go.
  • Manage – Like MainWP, WordPress now offers a manage feature which allows you to update and maintain your self-hosted websites using WordPress. It’s not as full-featured, but it works okay.
  • Protect – A brute force protection function to help keep your site safe from hackers
  • Related Posts – keep viewers on your site longer with lists of related posts after each entry.

 

WooCommerce

http://wordpress.org/plugins/woocommerce/

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to say something about this plugin that hasn’t already been said. I’ve used nearly every e-commerce and membership plugin in the WordPress world, from wishlist member to s2 members, to premise, to easy digital downloads, Shopp, Magento, MarketPress, and others. We’ve helped clients install many of those programs on their sites throughout the years. But within the last two years we’ve been converting all our clients to WooCommerce for its utility, wide reach, massive extension list, and integration with so many themes.

As a side note, Chris Lema has a fantastic post comparing the major WordPress membership plugins. It’s very accurate and takes into account many use cases. Chris’ opinion is very highly sought after in this space.

WooCommerce is a full featured e-commerce solution, that offers product and digital sales, service sales, and more. The code is solid, and it is VERY easy to use, right out of the box. Plus…it’s Free! You get integration with some basic payment providers.  But make no mistake, even the free version of woo commerce and its free extensions can be enough to power your entire store, or nonprofit. We’ve used it to help organizations take donations, sell tickets to basic events, track inventory, ship products, run basic memberships, and more.

If you want to get more complex and add functionality, paid extensions and plugins allow even more creativity. Woo offers a plugin to teach courses online, and to charge for the service. THey offer a paid subscriptions plugin that allows you to take recurring payments. This is great for recurring donations, or multiple month subscription services. They also offer a groups extension,which, when combined with subscriptions, can turn your site into a fully functioning membership site with complex member setups, multiple level plans, and recurring automatic billing – that is just as full featured as all the membership sites mentioned above.

Extensions like WooTickets from Modern Tribe allow you to sell tickets to events like conferences, concerts, walk-a-thons, and more. You can even integrate the plugin with Quickbooks.

But more than that, WooCommerce makes running a store almost effortless. Pictures and galleries are easily added to any product. The workflow between viewing products, adding them to your cart, and then checking out is seamless. WooCommerce automatically installs the required pages for you and manages the interaction between them. It just works, and looks darn good doing it.

For developers, working with WooCommerce is fantastic. You can easily edit template files, change checkout fields, and even include the plugin templates in your own child theme for complete customization. It’s also a great bonus that Woo supports their products very well. Not a day or two goes by without getting a response on any ticket I submit (and I don’t need to submit many at all) whether for a paid product or free product.

I particularly like WooCommerce for independent, or smaller nonprofits that need to set appointments or take bookings. For those groups, we like to partner woo with a great extension from Tyche Softwares called the WooCommerce Bookings and Appointment Plugin. You can see it in action on a live site here called Long Island Appliance Associates.

Let me put it like this…if there’s a way you can sell something online or offline, or charge or take money for something, Woo Commerce can do it.

***Update 4-10-2015***

WooCommerce has come out with dozens of new integrations since this post was first written. In particular, several new payment gateways were added, including Simple Pay, which is currently offering commission-free processing up to $10,000 for WooCommerce customers.  Also, WooCommerce has come out with its own booking extension called, creatively, WooCommerce Bookings. One extension I particularly like is from SkyVerge called Social Login – which allows users and customers to login with any one of a number of existing social media accounts rather than creating another login for your site alone. Finally, if your nonprofit plans on taking donations the Name Your Price extension is a must. It allows the donor to enter any price for donations, not just the pre-canned levels you set.

We’ve also started a WooCommerce tutorials series showing you how to tweak the settings, create products and donations, and more. You can find that here: WooCommerce for Nonprofits Series.

 

***Update 4-10-2015***

WordPress SEO

https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/

This plugin is alot like JetPack in that it handles its business…and then some. If you want to dive into SEO and help improve your site rankings this is the plugin to help you do it. It handles on page SEO, keyword planning and placement, linking and submitting your site to search engines, and it helps you analyze each and every post you create – to make sure it has the best format and structure it possibly have. And when it doesn’t have the best structure, WordPress SEO gives you specific instructions on how to improve your posts and pages.

It works with regular posts and pages and custom posts and pages. It also automagically prepares your sitemaps, which is why we’ve crossed out Google XML Sitemaps below. Put simply – we don’t use it anymore – we use WordPress SEO on EVERY site we manage, including our own. And in the process, with help from WordPress SEO’s analysis, we’ve seen our site traffic and reader engagement go through the roof.

The plugin is updated often and lovingly curated by a team of SEO experts. Check out WordPress SEO – your website will be better for it!

Google XML Sitemaps

http://wordpress.org/plugins/google-sitemap-generator

If you’re going to buy into the idea of search engine optimization, this is the ONLY plugin we recommend in that arena. Google XML sitemaps has been downloaded more than 10 million times by WordPress users, and is rated favorably by more than 92% of its users. THat’s one of the highest and most consistent rating of any WordPress plugin ever.

Google XML sitemaps doesn’t offer any gimmicky solutions to increase your page rank on search engines. Instead, it’s just a work horse of a plugin. It generates a site map and submits that site map of your site to google on a regular basis to assist google in its own crawling procedures. It also submits to Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com. Between those 4 engines, you have 99% of the search market covered.

This type of plugin is of particular importance for newer blogs, because chances are your site it not yet being indexed by google. If it is, it’s probably not being indexed as often as it should, and that’s the first step in increasing your rankings. Google XML sitemaps helps the search engines realize your site is live, and submits to them all of your new content for indexing. It also makes your site map file/feed easily readable for the search engines, so that your site is indexed properly, and properly attributed by the search engines.

Creating a site map was formerly a hand-coded item, and a confusing one at that. Google XML sitemaps changed all that, and has continued its path of excellence since it was introduced. They also have a beta version that works well with multisite.

 

Slider Revolution

Purchase at CodeCanyon – (affiliate link)

Slider Revolution is simply the best slider available for WordPress. It allows you to feature Images in layers anywhere on your site, and with as many sliders as you care to show. It’s one of the only sliders that also offers a Full screen version. That’s right, full screen – not just full-width. If you want your entire page to be a video or slide, Slider Revolution can handle it.

You can also show video in the slider, which might seem elementary, but it’s not. Most video sliders will allow you to show video, but when you include multiple videos in multiple slides they rarely function well. Here’s what I mean: on some other popular sliders, once you hit play – the video will play. But when you switch to another slide, or the slide automatically switches to the next slide because of auto-timing, the new video loads and the old video goes into the background. The problem is, the old video continues to play so you hear audio even though you can’t see the video because it cycled away in the slider. That’s a flaw in programming and is prevalent among sliders – even premium ones that cost upwards of $20 each.

But Slider revolution handles this beautifully and videos work perfectly every time. It also includes layers so you can fly in text and html from different locations and angles. The developers support it fully and are extremely quick to answer any questions that users might have.

The slider can be configured to work with various adaptive website break points in browser size. It can also be configured to show Full Screen, and to be fully responsive. It is multi-language ready, works with WordPress multisite, and the new version includes a public api for event listening which will make audio/video developers very happy. The developers also make 20 sample slide decks available for import into your own site.

In the past, we’ve designed or edited sites featuring Slider Pro, SlideDeck, Genesis Slider, Woo’s Flexslider. In my opinion it is the best slider plugin on the market.

***Update 4-10-2015***

There have been many new sliders come onto the market in the past two years, but none of them come close to the functionality offered by SliderRevolution…still the best slider plugin out there.  And, we’re in constant touch with the developers of the plugin, ThemePunch. You’re not going to believe what’s in store for the next few updates. They’re combining functionality from some of their other plugins and will be packing even more features into Slider Revolution. I’ve seen the demos and it’s looking SWEET!

 

The Events Calendar

Free Version: http://wordpress.org/plugins/the-events-calendar/

Premium Version and Extensions: https://theeventscalendar.com/

This is one of the few Events calendars we use on a regular basis. It can be molded and modified to meet nearly any event and calendar need. It has a great templating system and works well with nearly every theme or framework where we’ve installed it.

It also has the best combination of features included in a free plugin. It allows single events through a custom post type. Those events can be seen on page or in a dedicated calendar.

The Events Calendar allows you to create and save event venues and locations, it has pop-up tool tips in monthly calendar views, allows for front-end searching of events, Google Maps plugins, widgets for upcoming events, microformating for search engine recognition, a robust hook and filter system for developers, and more.

But wait, that’s not all. Modern Tribe offers a pro version that gives you recurring events, and includes functionality to restrict recurring views to only the first event, so sites that have only recurring items don’t show long list of the same recurring events. This is great for churches who often only show Sunday Services.

Pro version allows you to do event countdowns, custom event attributes, geo-location, and to sort your calendar with multiple views ranging from weekly, map view, and even photo view. It integrates with WooCommerce and Eventbrite to sell tickets on your website through a few add-ons, and can be made to integrate with your Facebook events too.

Tribe support is super responsive and super helpful. They’re like your own developer buddies, and the very few support requests I’ve had to file in more than 2 years using their plugins and add-ons we’re answered quickly and in a friendly manner. I sincerely got the feeling they cared about my site working just as well as if it were their own site.

***Update 4-10-2015***

The Events Calendar has added an incredible filter bar to help your viewers filter large or packed calendars. They’ve also added the ability to include custom fields for your events and a more robust import and export function.

One of my favorite new extensions from Tri.be is their Woo Tickets extension, which integrates the Events Calendar with WooCommerce and enables you to sell event tickets through your e-commerce system. Additionally, they’ve built-in an RSVP engine which sends out e-tickets via email, keeps track of ticket stock, and separates attendees for each event into their own area. It also allows you to manually check in attendees the day of the event. It’s a great addition to their events lineup – one which we use often for our clients.

But perhaps the most interesting development is the addition of free licenses for premium plugins to nonprofits. You read that right – Modern Tri.be is giving away free licenses to nonprofit organizations upon approval. Head over to the Events Calendar website, fill out a nonprofit application. They review and approve them on a case by case basis, but once you’re approved, this is the best events calendar on the market!

 

We Want Your Feedback

Enjoy – and please send us your comments or hit us up on Twitter. Not a day goes by that we don’t test something new, and if we’re missing a plugin you think might be helpful, or if you are a plugin developer yourself – we want to know about it.

Thanks!

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Craig Grella

Founder and Executive Director at OrgSpring
Craig is the founder and executive director or OrgSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits achieve their missions online. Through tips and tutorials, Craig's goal is show nonprofits how to use technology to become more efficient, grow their list of supporters, and increase online donations.