WordPress or Drupal: Which CMS Should Your Association Use to integrate with CiviCRM for Your Website and Member Portal?

2021-08-12 14:04
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In today’s day and age, most people whose work overlaps with website design or development are likely familiar with Wordpress. But does Wordpress’s ubiquity make it the best choice?

While WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world and is the most user-friendly, in our experience working with associations, Drupal is the CMS that we recommend to all our clients because of the complex needs and sensitive data used by associations.

Keep reading to learn more about how Drupal differs from Wordpress and why we feel Drupal is the better fit for associations to create a high-performing, long-lasting and secure website for your complex and sensitive data.

What WordPress and Drupal Have in Common

Both WordPress and Drupal are a content management system (CMS). They are both open-source technologies that help you design and manage the content on your website. 

WordPress and Drupal are both head and shoulders above template CMS options as you can create a completely custom experience for your audience. With the many building-block template options out there, your ability to design customized user journeys and user interfaces are limited. These limitations impact user engagement, which impacts member retention.

When your content and operations are straight forward, a template solution maybe a good fit for your needs. For most associations, the combination of membership options, member benefits and the goal to scale to new members requires a sophisticated approach.

Extending WordPress and Drupal Sites

Both WordPress and Drupal sites can be extended with add-ons. WordPress called them plugins while Drupal called them modules. Aesthetic add-ons are called themes by both.

WordPress has over 58,932 free plugins and over 8,544 free themes, plus thousands more premium plugins and themes.

Drupal has over 47,389 modules and 2,964 themes, however only 10,000+ modules and 250+ themes are compatible with the most recent version of Drupal, Drupal 8.

The extensive plugin world affiliated with WordPress appears to be appealing, but it lends itself to problems down the line in terms of securing your websites from hackers and avoiding your site breaking when plugins are modified. More on that later.

More on WordPress

WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS and is home to 40% of all websites. Many big players use Wordpress, from government sites to the most popular brands in the word. 

Why WordPress Is So Popular

Here are the most popular reasons why WordPress is the number one player in the CMS space:

1. Easy-to-use Interface

The back-end of WordPress is less intimidating for people outside the developer world. It’s clearly organized and labeled, and easy to build with.

2. Wide Functionality

WordPress has an extensive list of plugins that create added functionality without the need for custom development.

3. Accessible Support

Because so many people are using WordPress, finding support is easy.

4. Lower Up-Front Costs

The upfront costs of setting up a WordPress website are lower because it comes out-of-the box at a more developed stage and finding developers who support WordPress is easy. You could create a website in a matter of hours. The complex audiences and member benefits of Associations would make this more than an afternoon’s worth of work!

Not So Fast, Associations!

These are all notable perks for WordPress, but for Associations, we still recommend Drupal. 

Let’s Talk Drupal

Although Drupal predates Wordpress, it powers just 2.5% of all websites with a 4.6% share of the CMS market.

Why Associations Choose Drupal

There are few entities as complex as an association; you have many different stakeholders (prospects, new members, veteran members, donors, board members, the public, partners, etc). You have varying content for each of these stakeholders. You have benefits for different tiers of membership. You run events and try to keep up with the leads generated by your site. It’s all very complicated and you need a reliable website that can help your team stay organized, automate as much as possible and keep private data secure.

Here are some of the top reasons why people love Drupal:

1. Create Custom Content Types & Views

Drupal’s custom content types offer more flexibility to create and organize different types of content. WordPress does offer custom post types, but Drupal can better organize different types of content for better reporting.

2. Create Unlimited User Permissions

Drupal allows you to create as many new roles with customized permissions as you like. WordPress comes with only five basic user roles. For large associations with different membership tiers and different staffing departments that only need to see certain data, this is a better option.

3. Multilingual

Multilingual functionality was built into Drupal. This is great for websites that support different languages, or who have members or staff who work in different languages. WordPress sites need a third-party plugin to support other languages.

4. Sophisticated Taxonomy

Drupal’s taxonomy system is more flexible than WordPress. This means that you can drill down into your content and sort it into specific categories more easily than with WordPress.

5. Inline Editing

For simple layouts Drupal provides the ability to edit content while “looking at” your site. 

6. Customizable Layouts

The built-in Drupal system for managing “blocks” of content for sidebars, footers, and other areas allows for detailed control over which pages and contexts in which the content appears. Additionally, it makes it easier to show the same, editable piece of content site-wide.

Hmm, I heard “Faster” and “Cheaper” in the WordPress Section. I’m Stuck There.

“Faster” and “cheaper” are some of our favourite words, too. But as software providers, we want to set up our clients for success. Those big governments and companies that use WordPress are huge entities, but what is the goal of their websites? Their websites are surprisingly quite simple. They are not collecting data from their users and members, they are not collecting donations, they are not running events or trying to increase engagement and interaction on their website. For associations, getting members to engage and develop a longterm relationship with you, as well as data collection and event registration, are key goals of associations that make Drupal a better fit.

What Can I Expect with Drupal?

While some Drupal themes do exist, your average Drupal website will require a custom-coded design. You will need a graphic designer and a developer to make your website presentable. The same goes for the back-end view; it comes with every little out-of-the-box so you’ll have to work with your developers to add the fields and text you need to maintain your web content.

What about Longterm Costs?

Although the upfront development costs of Drupal are higher, your maintenance costs for Drupal are less. Drupal’s code is kept very clean with minimal updates so it is rare that your site will break. Updates are less frequent and therefore less expensive. 

Are both Equally Safe and Secure?

Drupal and WordPress sites are both safe, however the huge amount of third-party plugins and themes offered by WordPress make it vulnerable to frequent breaks and hackers. 74% of hacked websites are WordPress sites, which is greater than it’s 60% market share. Drupal on the other hand only accounts for 2% of hacked sites, which is below its market share of 4.7%. Since associations work with personal membership information and baking information, Drupal is the safer choice.  

Drupal is more transparent about its security than WordPress and publishes detailed security reports regularly. One of Drupal’s top features is its enterprise-level security and ability to provide in-depth security reports. In fact, this is a driving factor for why Drupal is often used by government institutions and other large, security-conscious organizations.

WordPress or Drupal: Which Is Better for Your Association?

There is no right answer because both have their perks and both have their limitations.

The better question would be to figure out the goals of your web development project and pick the best software solution that will help you meet your goals.

Check out our Wordpress vs. Drupal Guide and Worksheet on our site to help you make your choice.


Thanks Farhad for contributing this reflexion. This is a topic that developers can be passionate about. To know a bit more about you, what percentage of your projects use Drupal vs WordPress?

I don't mean to throw oil on the fire, but if using CiviCRM, I strongly recommend looking into SearchKit as a Views replacement, and Form Builder.

Whether WordPress or Drupal, sites tend to become complex very quickly. Avoid custom code as much as possible, but also avoid complex configurations that might push the boundaries of what the tool was designed for, which might cause problems after upgrades.

Personally, I think in the end by the WordPress and Drupal9 provide a similar CiviCRM experience. I recommend to use what people around you are using, that way you have more options for support.

As well as Drupal and Wordpress, anyone looking for a CiviCRM-compatible CMS suitable for small organisations should also consider BackdropCMS; this is a fork of Drupal 7, and has many of the advantages of Drupal without the increasing complexity which Drupal 8 and 9 have introduced. It is widely reported that Drupal 9 needs considerable technical skills to maintain. See https://backdropcms.org/philosophy for more information

Joomla doesn't have the wealth of WordPress and Drupal - it's annual turnover is barely more than CiviCRM LLC's - and they have no full time paid staff - so are often forgotten. But their install-base is second globally after WordPress and I consider them the 'Goldilocks' CMS between Drupal and WordPress: more powerful out of the box than WordPress and easier to use than Drupal (or to Joomla's critics, worse UX than WordPress, not as powerful as Drupal!).

For the record I also use and love WordPress and Drupal - but feel that each CMS has its own strengths which varies depending on end-user needs, and as Joomla sits somewhere between WP and Drupal can be worth considering for mid-sized sites.

It has a few things that differentiate it too:
- multilingual management out of the box, including RTL support. This means content and UI translations are built into the admin UI - so I've found that easier than the main multilingual extensions on WP or D for this.
- access control and roles out of the box. While Drupal has roles that can be configured for different access levels, these aren't integrated across the system by default. Ie you need separate modules if you want access control per article, category, menu item, block, or view field. (Same with WP)
- two click updates of CiviCRM. To upgrade CiviCRM, provided your server has enough memory, you can just paste the latest download URL into the backend, then click the 'upgrade database' button afterwards. This is quite a bit easier than D7 or WP (tho Composer potentially makes this possible with D8/9).

So, for, say, a multingual organisation website, that needs to show different menu items to CiviCRM members after login, Joomla's worth checking out as it will do that without extra modules/plugins beyond the CiviAuthenticate plugin. It's also - unlike Automattic (WordPress maintainer) and Acquia (Drupal core maintainer) - but more like Backdrop and CiviCRM - a non-profit with an elected community council.

What I don't see mentioned above for either CMS is website forms that integrate with CiviCRM. These often need to be more than your typical donate or subscribe page, for example: scholarship applications, complex event registrations, calendar submissions, and more... Care to talk about the state of each CMS in regards to forms?

Thanks very much for another non-content contribution to our community blog which is nothing more than low-effort marketing spam aimed at funneling CiviCRM.org visitors to your own site.

About "spam aimed at funneling CiviCRM.org visitors to your own site" I think its important for CiviCRM to also integrate/work with other worldclass CMS alike system and I also go for the better new Joomla 4 (incredible) https://www.joomla.org/announcements/release-news/5846-joomla-4-0-1-and… version integration that is a really uplift for developers with fast, secure and stable MVC architecture but where you also can have free template frameworks like Helix Ultimate v 2 and pagebuilders like Wordpress. Joomla component builder is in a class of itself if you also integrate it with CivicCRM component integration development and not many knows about this extremly rapid developer tool https://www.joomlacomponentbuilder.com/. So Its good that CiviCRM is open to work with many other platforms as well.

The question should really be- should your association use "CiviCRM" to do the backend- since the group refuses to do the one thing that both Drupal and WordPress mastered long ago- one click upgrades of the install from a central repository.
Until CiviCRM masters this VERY BASIC necessity- it is going to be a poor choice for any organization that doesn't have a full time developer on board.
There are also some errors in the above post- WordPress most certainly provides front end inline editing.
Multi-lingual is available in WP- yes- via plugin- but due to it's popularity- WP is much more likely to support a lot more languages that Drupal.
As to all the other "customizations" that Drupal offers- all can be done in WordPress- just utilizing plugins instead of in the core.
It's time for CiviCRM to adopt the same kind of install practices for the plugin and the code as WordPress has offered for over a decade. Then- any organization can take Civi seriously as an option.