How to choose a new design for your NGO’s WordPress site

WordPress Buttons. Photo: Cristian Labarca

WordPress swag (Photo: Cristian Labarca on Flickr)

One of the nice things about WordPress is that you can easily change the look and feel of your website by swapping one design (aka “theme”) for another. It’s really not much different from changing clothes – the content remains remains the same, but the appearance changes. Here is a list of things you should keep in mind when looking for a new WordPress theme for your NGO or non-profit organization.

1. Free or premium theme?

When googling “WordPress themes” you’ll find thousands of small companies that are offering free themes as well as designs you have to pay for. For a professional website I would always choose a premium theme. The reason: support. No website is like another and as a paying customer you are far more likely to get (free) support from the designer. This is particularly important if your WordPress site uses many plug-ins. I, for example, could not get the floating share buttons you see on to left to work until I asked the designer for help.

2. Responsive design

More and more people use their mobile phones or tablets to read content online, and many of these devices have different screen resolutions. So called “responsive” themes adapt your website design to the device of the reader so that it always looks good. If you are buying a new design in 2013, there is no reason for settling for a non-responsive theme.

3. Customization

You’ll probably want to customize the design a little bit – for example change the text- and background-colours. In fact, recent versions of WordPress already contain a feature that helps you with customization, but not all themes play nicely with this tool. Look for themes that include a dashboard or colour picker to customize the design. While you can always customize a theme by making changes to the code, this is best avoided. Don’t hesitate to contact a designer and ask him how colour schemes etc. can be modified prior to buying the design.

4. Multiple page templates

WordPress started as a blogging platform, but today most WordPress sites are much more than just a blog. You will probably have a homepage that you use to present your organization, then maybe a portfolio page, a contact page and finally a news section that is the only part of the site that looks like a blog. Most of the time, these different parts of the website look very differently and therefore require different page templates. When selecting a theme, look at what kind of page templates are included and whether they serve your needs.

5. Image sizes

When changing from one WordPress theme to another, think about whether your existing images will still look ok in the new design. A lot of people make the mistake of uploading photos to WordPress that are already cropped to the size that their current design uses. Let’s say your current theme shows images at a 350px width and you always uploaded your images cropped to that size. If you now switch to a design where all images are 500px wide, you have a problem. You basically have three options: re-upload all images, live with the fact that some old pages won’t look good or choose a new theme where the design-dimensions are similar to what you already have.

6. What kind of website do you want?

I already mentioned the need for different page templates and that most professional themes will contain different page types. However, in my experience it is best to choose a theme with an overall layout structure that is as close as possible to what you want the site to be. In other words, if you want to create a blog to discuss policy, don’t choose a theme that is designed for photography or fashion blogs. You could probably modify it to your needs – but why bother?

7. Final tip

As of version 3.4, WordPress contains a feature that allows you to see how a new theme will look on your website, prior to it going live. After you have installed the theme, you can preview it under: Appearance -> Themes -> Customize.

Do you have favourite places where you buy your WordPress Themes? Do you have any additional tips?


  1. drvictoriaboyd February 7, 2013
    • Timoluege February 7, 2013
      • Victoria Boyd February 7, 2013
  2. breathingsunlight February 7, 2013
    • Timoluege February 7, 2013