Building 10 non-profit sites in 8 hours on WordPress.com

Note: this post was originally published on one of our new Automattic design blogs

This past weekend, a few of my colleagues and I participated in Out in Tech‘s Digital Corps hackathon in NYC. Along with about fifty other volunteers, we worked to create websites on WordPress.com for ten international organizations fighting to protect LGBTQ+ rights.

Because participants were constrained to building sites on WordPress.com, it was a great opportunity to see folks using our platform “in the wild.” As a designer, watching groups use WordPress.com was an incredibly valuable opportunity.

Throughout the day, teams asked my colleagues and me for help on various issues, and a couple trends started to emerge:

  • Each team had 5–8 people building the site at the same time. This collaboration ended up being a challenge — folks accidentally overwrote each other’s work a couple times, and constantly had to check in with each other about who was working on which pages and who was customizing the site. This is a great opportunity for WordPress.com to develop better tools for collaboration.
  • My perpetual usability nemesis, pages and menus, reared its ugly head. Many groups struggled with the relationship between menus and pages, which I’ve been trying to improve in the core WordPress software this year. Additionally, people needed help creating “folders” in their menus (a top level menu item that isn’t clickable, but contains child pages in a dropdown), and adding category pages to their menus.
  • We recently rolled out Simple Payments on WordPress.com, which many of the groups wanted to use to add donation buttons to their organization’s sites. However, it wasn’t clear to them that Simple Payments could be used for donations. We’re looking at ways to improve this feature, so this is very timely feedback.

After the hackathon, we reported these findings back to the rest of our team at WordPress.com. We also found a couple of bugs!

WordPress.com ended up being a good platform for a hackthon because of its constraints. I encouraged teams to draw from our collection of themes instead of installing an outside theme, which meant that setup was consistent and well documented.

At least one team experimented with a different theme after setting up the site, and the similar standards between themes on WordPress.com made that much easier than if they’d used a third-party theme.

Because teams were given a curated set of themes and plugins, they were able to quickly make decisions and get down to the information architecture and customization of their sites. Limiting the scope allowed folks to really focus on getting something up in a day. And, with WordPress.com Business as an option, the teams that wanted to install additional plugins were able to.

One of the greatest parts of the day was becoming acquainted with the organizations we built sites for. Many of the organizations are based in countries where queer people face tremendous discrimination, hate, and legal barriers preventing them from living their lives safely and authentically.

Here are the ten sites we built:

As a queer person with an incredibly accepting family, who has lived in fairly tolerant places my entire life, I am extremely privileged. Most queer folks aren’t nearly as lucky. Supporting the LGBT+ community through technology is one way I can pay it forward.

If having a website makes it any easier for these organizations to receive funding, support their local communities, and push for legal and societal change, then I want to do everything I can to help. I’m thankful that Automattic feels the same, and that we’re in a position to sponsor events that can make a difference.

2 thoughts on “Building 10 non-profit sites in 8 hours on WordPress.com

  1. Thanks Mel for writing about this interesting and important topic.
    Could you elaborate what was the process the teams took to selecting a theme for their sites?
    Did they first create a brief / wireframe and then look for a suitable theme or was it done the other way round?
    Also – could you add next to the website’s URL the theme they used?

    Thanks
    Dan

  2. I’ve seen events where they built one or two websites in a day, never eight before. Good to see non-profits taking advantage of the plugins allowed in the wordpress.com business package, because that’s made it a viable option for more nonprofits, and they’re unlikely to outgrow it so fast. Sensible decision to curate themes and plugins first to reduce the risks. Good work!

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