Choosing a web host for your non-profit WordPress website

What WordPress Hosting is best for your Non-Profit Blog Facebook

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So, your non-profit entity has made the decision to use WordPress for your new website. That’s a great decision! Now, where do you host it? How do you choose a web host? There are literally thousands, ranging in price from next to nothing up to hundreds of dollars per month. What are cPanel and Plesk and do you need them? Shared, Cloud, VPS or Dedicated? What about managed or unmanaged? Does it matter if you host your website in your country? Do you go for the cheapest option or somewhere in the middle? What do all these things mean to you and your not-for-profit?

Well, let’s address these questions and break down what all these hosting options are! If you aren’t sure whether or not WordPress is right for you. Check out this blog post on why we recommend WordPress for non-profits.

cPanel or Plesk

cPanel and Plesk are both hosting control panel platforms. They give you a visual interface to manage different aspects of your hosting. There are others available, but these two are by far the most popular. cPanel is the dominant choice for Linux servers and Plesk is very popular for Windows servers. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which one you go with as long as the server is compatible with WordPress. To ensure the best compatibility with plugins and themes I would go for Linux over Windows.

These control panels are designed to be a one size fits all approach, so they cater to the needs of many different websites, not just WordPress sites. This can make them a little bit confusing since there are a lot of options in them that just aren’t relevant if you are only launching a WordPress website. All these extra options and controls can also make it easier to break things, and since they aim to support as many different websites as possible, they often need a lot of tweaking to get the best performance out of them for WordPress.

So I want to emphasise that you shouldn’t feel like you need to have cPanel or Plesk for your not-for-profit website. There are a number of hosts, especially managed hosts like Kinsta and Cloudways that do not use these control panels. Instead, they have their own systems that are simplified to focus just on the things you need access to for your WordPress website.

Shared, VPS, Dedicated, or Cloud hosting

You’ll see a lot of these terms on the websites of bigger hosting companies like Hostgator. These guys cater to everyone and so they provide many different server options to meet those requirements. So what’s the difference between shared, VPS, dedicated and cloud hosting, and which one is best for non-profits?

Shared hosting

Shared hosting is the most common kind of hosting available and is typically the cheapest. Shared hosting typically takes a high-end server with significant processing capabilities and then places lots of websites on that one machine. Depending on the hosting company and server specifications, this can be anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of websites running from a single server. Since they can split the cost of a single machine between so many websites they can make this service extremely cost-effective. Hostgator often has pricing starting below USD $3/month. This is perfectly fine for smaller websites.

The trade-off for this low-cost hosting is that web hosts place limits on each account on their shared servers so that individual websites don’t adversely impact the other websites on the server.

What do shared server limits mean in practice? Well, let’s say you have a spike in traffic, perhaps 1,000 visitors come to your website all at once from some publicity you just received. That 1,000 visitors arriving at the same time will cause a spike in CPU and memory usage for your website. There are other factors as well, but CPU and memory tend to be the things that most commonly cause issues on shared hosting environments. As you approach the CPU limit imposed on your site by the hosting company, your loading speed will start to slow down. As it slows, it means more visitors are waiting simultaneously for the site to load, which in turn increases the load on both the CPU and the memory. When you hit the CPU limit, the server will start to drop some of the requests and send error messages to your visitors. Not good.

Some shared web hosts will let you exceed limits for short bursts as long as they are uncommon. If you frequently exceed your limits though, your web host may suspend your website to protect the other websites on the server from being slowed down or from potentially crashing the server if it becomes overloaded.

You can optimise your website with caching tools and using other means to reduce the load on the server, but these options can be limited on a shared host. In order to ensure code being run on one website can’t interfere with other websites on the server, many advanced capabilities are locked down. This means you are very limited in how much performance optimisation you can really do, especially for more complex sites that have member functionality, learning management systems, e-commerce or other dynamic data.

Hint: A great way to get better e-commerce performance from a shared host is to use Ecwid as your e-commerce system with your WordPress site instead of Woocommerce. This offloads the heavy processing of e-commerce to Ecwid servers instead of yours and allows your website to handle greater traffic quantities on a shared host.

It isn’t all negatives though, there is that cost factor I mentioned earlier, and there is the server management factor. Web hosts do all the server management for you. They ensure all the server software is up to date, they manage security patching, they do antivirus scanning and monitor for known malware. If the server has a problem, they fix it at no cost to you.

Pros of shared hosting

  • High-end server for low-cost.
  • Very cheap hosting.
  • The server is fully managed and there are no extra costs for server related issues.

Cons of shared hosting

  • Server resource limits can be very low.
  • Servers are not usually optimised for WordPress.
  • Server optimisation capability is limited.

Recommended shared hosts

There are many shared hosts available, but there are only a handful that I would recommend. Each one has their own pros and cons, but they are all excellent choices if you need a low-cost solution for a low-traffic non-profit website.

  • Hostgator
    • One of the largest hosting companies.
    • Quite quick support.
    • Allows your website resources to burst intermittently.
    • Will suspend your website if you regularly go over resource limits for long periods of time. You must demonstrate how you have resolved the issue before they will remove the suspension.
    • All servers are in the USA.
    • Very cheap promos.
    • Uses cPanel.
  • Digital Pacific
    • Been around for decades.
    • Quick support.
    • Based in Australia with all servers in Australia.
    • Limits resources.
    • Uses cPanel.
    • Not as cheap as overseas options.
  • A2 Hosting
    • Not to be confused with A2 milk.
    • Extremely fast support.
    • Choice of servers in multiple countries around the world.
    • Great deals on new hosting accounts.
    • Has hard resource limits (no bursting allowed), but does have the option to upgrade those limits to “Turbo hosting” without a full server upgrade.
    • Will reduce the resources available to your website if you are hitting the normal limits for long periods of time. Will tell you that this has happened and offers you tips on improving your website performance.
    • Uses cPanel.

VPS hosting

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. A VPS is a middle-ground between a shared server and a dedicated server. A VPS is a virtual container that runs on a server alongside other virtual containers. It has its own operating system with dedicated resources that no other website can use. So, a hosting company would deploy one high-power server and then deploy multiple virtual containers on that server. Let’s say the server has 16 CPU cores with 32gb of RAM. The hosting company might divide that into 8 virtual containers, each of which has dedicated use of 2 CPU cores and 4gb of RAM. Each container will also have dedicated hard drive space. Each one of these containers is what is called a VPS, but it isn’t truly a VPS until it has an operating system and server software installed.

Most hosting companies give customers a choice as to what operating system they would like installed, common ones are CentOS Linux, Ubuntu Linux or Windows Server. Customers can also close to add a hosting control panel like cPanel or Plesk, typically for ane extra cost.

If you purchase a VPS with CentOS Linux as the operating system and WHM/cPanel as the control panel, it will look and feel very similar to a shared hosting environment. The big difference though is that you have dedicated resources available to your website, and, you have almost complete access to configure the server as you like. This level of access means you can employ more advanced optimisation techniques and install more powerful caching systems. Since you don’t have hard resource limits on your site, it can often stay online under greater load than a website on a shared host, however, if the server crashes and doesn’t auto-restart successfully, no one is monitoring it to resolve the problem.

The trade-off for VPS performance benefits is that you have to deal with almost everything yourself or pay a management fee. Doing this yourself can be complex and daunting, sometimes requiring command line usage. It is not something I would recommend for non-profits entering the web-hosting space for the first time. Most web hosts do offer management services to do everything for you, but these services can be more expensive than the VPS itself.

Other factors to consider are that server software updates are your responsibility, as is server security. No one is going to monitor and patch vulnerabilities for you. If you don’t want to deal with this then you have to pay the management fee.

In my opinion, while VPS’s do present a great cost to performance balance, they are not a good solution for non-profits that don’t have internal technical expertise to manage the server. Server administration can be a steep and daunting learning curve. This is especially relevant as not-for-profit entities are often handling large quantities of sensitive donor data that must be kept secure.

Pros of VPS hosting

  • Dedicated server resources.
  • Good balance between cost vs performance.
  • Server optimisation capability is extensive.
  • Choice of software systems.

Cons of VPS hosting

  • Very daunting for unfamiliar customers.
  • Servers are not usually optimised for WordPress.
  • Servers are not usually managed unless you pay a hefty management fee.
  • It’s up to you to monitor and resolve issues, security patches, software updates etc.
  • Some minor limitations due to the containerised environment.

Recommended VPS hosts

Most companies that offer shared hosting also offer VPS hosting, and there are a number of companies like VPS.Net and Linode that specialise solely in VPS servers. Each one has its own pros and cons, but they do all offer a great cost/performance balance as long as you are confident in managing the server yourself.

  • Hostgator
    • One of the largest hosting companies.
    • Quite quick support.
    • All servers are in the USA.
    • Very cheap promos.
    • Offers both Linux and Windows options.
    • Choice of Plesk or cPanel.
  • Linode
    • Specialises in virtual server solutions sold as “nodes”.
    • Wide range of node sizes and configuration options.
    • Wide range of operating system choices.
    • Simple process for upgrading resource requirements as needed.
    • Servers are available in many countries around the world.
    • Linode is moving more towards the cloud hosting space but still offers standard VPS nodes.

Dedicated hosting

As the name might suggest, dedicated hosting offers you a dedicated server. You get the whole machine to do with as you will. You don’t share any part of it with anyone else. Is that good or bad? It depends on your needs and capabilities.

Having full access to the server, you can perform any customisation and optimisation that you like. However, once again, all the management is up to you unless you pay a management fee. The hosting company simply provides the hardware, data centre space, bandwidth, and looks after those things for you.

Dedicated servers tend to be expensive, but the trade-offs can be worth it if you have need of the performance and dedicated capacity. I would suggest that for most non-profits operating in a single country that a dedicated server is going to be far more expensive and trouble than it is worth. You really need someone on your team who knows what they are doing to help you get the most from a dedicated server.

Pros of VPS hosting

  • Dedicated server hardware.
  • The greatest level of server optimisation available.
  • Choice of software systems.
  • Can start with fewer system resources and allocate more as required.
  • No sharing of anything with any other sites.

Cons of VPS hosting

  • Very daunting for unfamiliar customers.
  • Servers don’t usually come optimised for WordPress.
  • Servers are not usually managed unless you pay a hefty management fee.
  • It’s up to you to monitor and resolve issues, security patches, software updates etc.
  • Resource upgrades usually take time to process, though some platforms have implemented streamlined upgrades.
  • Expensive.

Recommended dedicated server hosts

Most companies that offer shared hosting also offer VPS hosting, and there are a number of companies like VPS.Net and Linode that specialise solely in VPS servers. Each one has its own pros and cons, but they do all offer a great cost/performance balance as long as you are confident in managing the server yourself.

  • Hostgator
    • One of the largest hosting companies.
    • Quite quick support.
    • All servers are in the USA.
    • Very cheap promos.
    • Offers both Linux and Windows options.
    • cPanel and Plesk are available if you choose to pay for server management.

Cloud hosting

Cloud hosting is a newer hosting solution that blends traditional VPS technology with advances in cloud computing to create virtualised containers that can ‘float’ between physical hardware. In other words, they aren’t limited to the constraints of a single physical server and resources can scale across multiple servers or move between servers as required to prevent outages caused by hardware failures.

Many VPS providers, including Linode are moving to this cloud hosting model, and major vendors like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are making their own virtualised technology stacks available through platforms like Google Compute Cloud, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Cloud hosting essentially gives you the best of all worlds except for dedicated server access since you are always restricted to the controls available in a virtualised environment. You do get dedicated resources, you get access to as much configuration and optimisation as is possible in a virtual container, you get hardware costs at scale, and you minimise the risk of downtime due to a single point of failure.

Brilliant!

The trade-offs though?

Cloud hosting does tend to be more expensive than shared hosting, and some hosting companies offer it the same way they offer shared hosting – with a large cloud server running many websites on it. Other cloud hosts (typically the more expensive ones), offer dedicated containers.

Over the last 5 years, there has also been a clear shift in demand for WordPress cloud hosting. Why? Because optimising cloud environments for WordPress can be a pain and with 30% of websites on the internet using WordPress, more and more customers want their sites to load quickly without having to do all the optimisation work themselves. Bitnami, for example, provides pre-optimised WordPress containers for Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. As a result, some hosting providers have begun to drop their cloud hosting and rebranding it as WordPress hosting. Others have arisen that solely offer WordPress hosting in this kind of environment.

Cloud hosting is a rapidly changing and evolving space with enormous amounts of computing power available. In my opinion, this is the best way for a non-profit to host their WordPress website. It is slightly more expensive than shared hosting, but it provides more control over your WordPress website, often coming with WordPress focused optimisation built-in, and most importantly, it is very easy to scale as your not-for-profit grows. Most cloud hosts can add more resources to your cloud hosting instantly, and some offer the capability to scale automatically as your traffic spikes, helping you to avoid costly down time.

I would not recommend going directly with Google Compute Cloud, Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure unless you have some familiarity with server administration. Like VPS’s, the management of the virtual server falls to you and can be complex. Dealing directly with these infrastructure providers also increases your billing complexity and can increase costs as they usually bill for all resources used on an hourly basis. Unless your non-profit has the capability internally to manage this, I would go with a web host that offers a WordPress optimised solution and incorporates the management for you into a simple solution with clear billing.

Pros of cloud hosting

  • Quite cheap.
  • Often come pre-optimised for WordPress.
  • Provide high-level of optimisation capability.
  • Easy to manage if you go with a WordPress focused provider.
  • Quickly add more resources as required.
  • Some hosts can scale your resources automatically.
  • WordPress focused hosts can be extremely knowledgeable and helpful with WordPress issues.

Cons of cloud hosting

  • Can be daunting for unfamiliar customers if the provider is not focused on WordPress.
  • Can be complex to configure if you don’t choose a WordPress focused provider.
  • Can be expensive as some providers charge on bandwidth used, data used, CPU used, etc.

Recommended WordPress cloud hosts

Since this article is about making the right choice for non-profit WordPress hosting, I’m only going to list cloud hosts with solutions specifically for WordPress.

  • Kinsta
    • Exceptionally fast servers on the Google Compute Cloud.
    • Fastest WordPress hosting I’ve found for Australian non-profit websites (speed tests here)
    • Optimised for WordPress.
    • Dedicated virtual container for your website.
    • Cloud servers available in many countries around the world for a single price.
    • Includes premium DNS through Amazon Route 53 to further improve loading times.
    • Very fast, knowledgeable support.
    • Some plugins have been banned that overlap with functionality provided by the server directly or that have known security issues.
    • Uses their own simplified control panel.
    • One website limit per container ensures impressive performance.
    • Includes an integrated CDN. Paid once you exceed the included data transfer limit.
    • One of the more expensive choices, but the price represents excellent value for what you get.
  • Cloudways
    • Very fast servers with a choice of cloud infrastructure providers (speed tests here).
    • Can choose to host your site on Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Cloud, Digital Ocean, Vultr and other providers using Cloudways virtualised containers.
    • Cloud servers available in many countries around the world with varying prices depending on the infrastructure provider and location.
    • Has containers available that are optimised for WordPress and for WooCommerce.
    • The cheapest WordPress cloud hosting on public cloud infrastructure with multiple country locations.
    • Fast support, but not as knowledgeable as Kinsta.
    • Uses their own, simplified control panel, however, there are still a lot of server configuration options available.
    • Deploys dedicated containers, however, you can run multiple websites from one container, great for testing and creating sub-sites.
    • CDN integration is available as a paid upgrade.
  • FlyWheel
    • The second-fastest WordPress hosting I’ve found for Australian not-for-profit sites (speed tests here).
    • Owned by WP Engine.
    • Deployed on the Google Compute Cloud.
    • Cloud servers available in many countries around the world for a single price.
    • Optimised for WordPress.
    • Excellent support, though a bit slower than Kinsta and Cloudways.
    • Uses their own, simplified control panel. I find this control panel a little confusing compared to Kisnta and Cloudways, even though Cloudways has more configuration options available.
    • Has a very competitively priced introductory plan.
    • Includes an integrated CDN. Paid once you exceed the included data transfer limit.
    • Uses a shared container model where larger containers are deployed and run multiple websites sharing the resources.
  • WP Engine
    • Deployed on the Google compute cloud.
    • Cloud servers available in many countries around the world for a single price.
    • Optimised for WordPress.
    • Decent speeds for Australian NFP websites (speed tests)
    • Great, fast support that goes well beyond just the hosting.
    • Lots of included premium themes from StudioPress.
    • Includes an integrated CDN. Paid once you exceed the included data transfer limit.
    • Uses a shared container model where larger containers are deployed and run multiple websites sharing the resources.
  • Hostgator
    • One of the largest hosting companies.
    • Quite quick support.
    • All WordPress servers are in the USA.
    • Not the fastest option for Australian non-profit websites, but cost-effective.
    • Very cheap promos and their WordPress servers are some of the cheapest on the market.
    • Uses their own simplified control panel for WordPress hosting.
    • Includes premium SiteLock security for WordPress.
    • The only option on this list with unlimited data.
    • The only option on this list that does not have an included, integrated CDN solution.

Managed vs Unmanaged WordPress hosting

So, now that we’ve talked about all those different kinds of hosting, it brings us to managed WordPress hosting vs unmanaged WordPress hosting. We’ve touched on the differences already, but I’ll delve into them deeper.

Unmanaged hosting is where the web host provides the basic service and what you do with it is up to you.

Managed hosting is where the web host provides the basic service and also provides additional services on top of that to help make things smoother, safer, more secure, and less work for you. There are multiple levels of management, in its simplest form, it is managing the server software and security while typically also incorporating backup solutions. For example, the VPS management I talked about earlier. More comprehensive managed hosts include management of your CMS software, WordPress, as well.

All of the cloud hosting providers I mentioned above go this extra step. They all provide additional management services for WordPress. These services include securing the software and actively monitoring for vulnerabilities, patching any that are found. They also include optimising the server for WordPress to get the fastest loading times possible within the constraints of their respective environments. Many of them also go a step further again, providing support for WordPress itself, as well as plugins, themes and compatibility issues. They essentially become your tech support for WordPress. WP Engine and Kinsta are especially good at this.

There is also a new breed of managed WordPress hosting starting to come about that takes WordPress site management up another notch. WordPress hosts like our own AutoPilot.host incorporate full WordPress update services, ensuring your plugins and theme area kept up to date and that anything that breaks is fixed for you. Increasingly, hosting providers are also bundling other premium services as well like plugins and themes. WP Engine incorporates StudioPress themes as one example, WPMUDev includes their full suite of pro plugins like Smush Pro, Hummingbird Pro and more. AutoPilot.host includes Elementor Pro, GeneratePress Premium, and other premium plugins.

Manged WordPress hosting does tend to be somewhat more expensive than unmanaged hosting, but there is not a huge margin between them. The extra value that managed WordPress hosting can provide your non-profit is well worth the small added cost just in time savings alone. Bundled premium themes and plugins like the Elementor site builder can also help to bring down your costs if you are planning on purchasing them anyway.

That brings us to the next piece of the puzzle.

Does it matter what country your website is hosted in?

Yes, resoundingly yes! I see many websites, not just non-profits, hosted in USA data centres when their target market is Australia. Why? Because many of the biggest, cheapest web hosts use USA data centres. They might be cheap, but if your non-profit’s target market is not the USA, then the USA is probably not the best place to host your website.

We’ve blogged before about the importance of a fast loading website. Using Australian non-profits as an example, if your website is hosted in the USA, it adds a minimum of three seconds to your website loading time. Three seconds is considered to be the maximum acceptable loading time for a website. Longer than that and it will begin to significantly impact your conversions, your search rankings, and can even cause some of your donors to get very upset with you. Mobile users, in particular, will not wait for a slow-loading website. So you really are better off choosing a hosting locating that is as close as possible to your target market.

If your preferred hosting provider includes a content delivery network (CDN), you may also want to consider how many points of presence that CDN has in your country. Using Australia as an example, if you choose a web host that has a Sydney data centre, but their included CDN only has a presence in Sydney, then the CDN only really adds value for your overseas visitors, not your target market. If they have a presence in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane though, then their CDN adds significant value to your local visitors, your target market. CDN’s are not the focus of this article, but they are a factor in how fast your website can load. In case you are wondering, of the cloud hosting options I recommended earlier, the Flywheel CDN has the most points of presence in Australia at the time of writing this article.

My suggestion is always to host your not-for-profit website in the country where the majority of your target constituents are, or if the cost is prohibitive, choose the one closest to them based on international cabling distances and bandwidth availability. If your non-profit is based in the Solomon Islands but most of your supporters are in Australia, it might make more sense to host your website in Australia than in the Solomons.

Which WordPress hosting is the best for your non-profit organisation?

Good question, and the answer depends on what your specific needs are. However, if you are going to build a WordPress website, I would hands-down recommend choosing a managed WordPress cloud host. Yes, they cost a little bit more than shared hosting, but the extra cost will save you time and money.

NFP WordPress Hosting Recommendation #1: Kinsta

Kinsta is a solid hosting provider. Their platform consistently delivers the best WordPress performance in our tests. They are simple to setup and can help you get WordPress up and running extremely quickly. Their control panel is simple and intuitive. There are few options, but you don’t need them anyway because it comes pre-optimised for WordPress and delivers impeccable performance. Their team is quick with support and they are extremely knowledgeable around WordPress issues. They have stacks of locations around the world, and they have free migrations if you do have an existing WordPress website you want to bring over.

View Kinsta Plans

NFP WordPress Hosting Recommendation #2: Cloudways

Cloudways gives you more control over your hosting environment along with the ability to deploy as many sites as you want on a single container. Their pricing starts much cheaper than Kinsta, but they are not as fast. If you want the benefits of a managed WordPress cloud hosting platform without the price tag, Cloudways is the one to go with. Like Kinsta, they have many locations to choose from, and they have a free migrations tool to help you bring your existing site across. Just keep in mind, you still have to do the migration yourself using this tool where Kinsta does it all for you. Cloudways is slightly more daunting than Kinsta for newbies to the hosting world, just because there are more options available. They have kept their interface nice and simple though, so as long as you don’t mind learning, these extra options can help you understand more about what goes into optimising WordPress (if you want to understand).

View Cloudways Plans

NFP WordPress Hosting Recommendation #3: AutoPilot.host

Our AutoPilot.host platform brings you managed WordPress cloud hosting with full maintenance management. AutoPilot.host is at the more expensive end of town, but it gives you the piece of mind that everything is taken care of for you, all you have to do is build your site and add your content. It is fast with many locations available, but I’ll admit, we haven’t reached the same level as Kinsta out of the box yet, so we’ll always recommend Kinsta for NFP’s that need high performance out of the box. However, we do ensure your website is fully optimised. We often find that once this is done, performance is similar to Kinsta or not far behind. Go with AutoPilot.host for the most hands-off non-profit hosting solution.

View AutoPilot.host Plans

NFP WordPress Hosting Recommendation #4: Hostgator

If price is more important to you than performance and you need the absolute cheapest option, HostGator’s shared hosting is one of the most solid platforms on the market. Unlike some other providers, they don’t oversell their shared servers and will give you great value for money. Their managed WordPress hosting is also one of the cheapest and is quite easy to get setup. The process isn’t as streamlined as other providers, and you can’t host anywhere besides the USA, but it does represent good value if you really need to save the dollars. If you can afford to go with one of the other managed WordPress hosting providers, I can guarantee it is worth the extra money, but I know this isn’t always possible. So when you need to save the dollars, HostGator is the provider I would always recommend.

View Hostgator Plans

Still not sure which WordPress hosting option is right for your non-profit?

Get in touch with us, either via email, send us a tweet on Twitter or message us on Facebook. You can also reach out to me via my personal Twitter account, @stillaslifematt. I’m happy to have a chat with you about your NFP needs so I can help you make an informed decision about what option is right for you.

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