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How to Make a Forum on Your Nonprofit Website: 13 Steps + Best Software

Author: Marlena Moore
November 14, 2023
🕑 9 min read

When it comes to building a year-round community for members near and far, you can’t go wrong with an online forum! Here’s how to make a forum on your membership website, plus our top 5 software recommendations to make the process a breeze.

What Is a Community Forum?

A community forum is an online platform where a group of like-minded people can share their ideas, ask questions and exchange information. Internet discussion forums are one of the earliest forms of social media, and can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Typically, forums are web pages (or full websites!) where discussion topics are broken down into threads that users can comment on.For nonprofits, online forums are often incorporated into members-only sections of their website. In fact, many nonprofit website builders come with plugins specifically for forums.

Learning how to make a forum for your nonprofit isn’t as hard as you might think—and there’s tons of benefit to including one on your website!

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

Benefits of an Online Discussion Forum

Setting up an online forum for your nonprofit can help you:

  • Create an active online member community. Where a directory website or page makes a fantastic list of your members, an online forum gives members a place to engage. Plus, the structure makes it easy to jump in and out of conversation at members’ own paces.
  • Establish a space for knowledge sharing. Chats can fly by quickly, but forums organize topics by threads, and are specifically structured for exchanging knowledge and ideas. Simply having a resource thread can help members find what they need without having to hunt through chat logs.
  • Drive engagement on your nonprofit website. There’s nothing worse than building a beautiful website only to see your clicks run dry! An online discussion forum will keep people coming back to your site again and again.
  • Keep the discussion going year-round. If your organization pops up during events and then goes quiet, it’s easy for members to forget to engage. A forum isn’t time locked, and gives members a way to connect with one another throughout the year.

How to Make a Forum on Your Nonprofit Website

Ready to get into the details? Here’s how to make a forum on your website in 13 steps!

1. Set your goals

Like we said, there are many benefits to forum sites! Taking time to clearly lay out your goals will make it easier for you to take the steps to meet them.

For example, if you want to:

  • Foster community, then you might want to link your forum to your member directory.
  • Create a resource hub, then it’s worth it to organize a specific resource section.
  • Amplify your brand, then you’ll want a highly customizable forum website builder.
  • Drive participation, then you’ll need active moderators.

Every forum is unique! If you can envision what makes yours special, it’ll be easier to bring your vision to life.

2. Choose a forum software or plugin

If you’re looking into how to make a forum website without becoming a computer whiz, then you’ll want to find intuitive software to work with! Many membership website builders come with forum features, and if you’ve got a website already set up, there are plenty of plugins out there that can integrate smoothly.

On the other hand, if you’re comfortable coding, then it’s always possible to go with something open source. No matter where you’re coming from, there’s software out there for everyone.

(Psst–you can scroll down to see our top 5 picks!)

3. Map out the structure of your forum

Nothing will stop you in your tracks quite like a blank page. Before you get digging around in your new software, sketch out a wireframe. You don’t need to be an artist for this! In fact, don’t even jump into branding, color or graphics just yet.

Use your wireframe to lay out:

  • How your elements should be spaced
  • What functionalities you need
  • Where logos, headers, menus and more should go
  • Navigation systems
  • Buttons

Once you have your ideal website laid out, you can search for themes and templates that get you as close to this design as possible! It doesn’t have to be a perfect recreation—this exercise just gives you a strong starting point.

4. Pick your theme (or design from scratch!)

Most website builders come with themes to choose from—many of which are even organized by the type of website they are! Search for the theme that fulfills the functions you need to make your forum website the best it can be.

Confident in your web design abilities? Then go all out and make something from scratch!

5. Customize your forum page to match your brand

Website branding should extend to your online forum. If your forum page looks like it doesn’t belong with the rest of your site, visitors might get suspicious about whether the site is legitimate.

Plus, an ugly website is a real turn off for users, and might discourage them from posting at all!

6. Pick out any extra plugins

You can take your forum website to the next level with the help of plugins that help with:

  • SEO optimization
  • Spam prevention
  • Social media integration
  • Gamification tools (points, badges, etc.)
  • Email notification
  • User profiles
  • And more!

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose how simple or complex you’d like your forum to be.

7. Create your rules

Now that we’ve gone through the set-up steps for how to make a forum, let’s talk about what comes next. This is a step you won’t want to skip: rules!

We like to think that members will all speak respectfully to one another, but unfortunately that’s not always the case—especially on the internet. Setting up (and enforcing!) a clear Code of Conduct is a must-do for any community space.

Make a Code of Conduct page that includes:

  • Hard rules that will get people banned
  • Guidelines that will get warnings (and then bans if needed)
  • The rules of moderation

Looking for an example?’s Code of Conduct is a great place to start!

8. Open up a few discussion topics (but don’t over-thread!)

Get the forum discussions going by opening up a few threads! Consider what broad topics people might want to get into, and resist the urge to over facilitate. Once a conversation kicks off, users will ideally start making their own threads and taking things at their pace.

9. Review your forum website with your team

Just like with making a standard membership website, you’ll want to get your team’s eyes on it before launching! Show your staff and board of directors what you’ve got set up, and implement any feedback that feels useful.

You can also get a handful of trusted members to beta-test the website for you. Who knows—they might even want to become moderators!

10. Go live (and announce it!)

Once your forum website is up and running, make sure people know! Send out a newsletter to all of your members, and consider hosting a video session where they can learn how to use it together. This will be especially useful for your older members.

And don’t forget to connect with prospective members! Share the exciting news across social media, and be sure to update your member benefits page to include access to your forum.

11. Create engagement incentives

You know how icebreakers can take away some of the awkwardness of making introductions at events? Engagement incentives serve the same purpose for forum sites!

Encourage your members to get posting with incentives like:

  • Points and leaderboards for engagement
  • Badges (“conversation starter”, “expert”, “newbie” etc)
  • End of year awards

12. Consistently moderate and keep the forum active

Once you know how to make a forum, the real work is keeping it an active and exciting place to engage. Having your moderators drop in regular discussion topics and comment on other peoples posts will help you work through dry spells in communication.

You can also:

  • Set up limited edition “ask me anything” style threads with special guests
  • Create special threads for after events
  • Organize sections of your forum site for recurring workshops
  • Make campaign threads where people can focus their discussion

While members are passionate about your cause, they might get a little stumped when it comes to starting a new conversation. With active moderators, people will build up the courage to participate.

13. Gather feedback as you go

Whether you’re putting up polls or satisfaction surveys, it’s essential to check in about how people feel in your discussion forum. During an in-person event, it’s easier to read the room on how people are doing—online, it’s essential to ask directly!

All feedback is good feedback. If you find out that members are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe at any time, it’s essential to take action and remedy that. The priority should always be making your online forum safe for all members.

Top 5 Options for Forum Website Builders

Now that you know how to make a forum, let’s figure out which forum website builder is best for you! Here are our top 5 picks.


We don’t want to brag, but WildApricot has been awarded the #1 membership management software out there for 6 years—and for a good reason!

Our software offers features including:

  • A thorough member database (and front-facing member directory!)
  • An intuitive and attractive website builder
  • Automated comms for members
  • Secure payment processing
  • A mobile app for all your needs
  • A forum widget that you can embed or integrate into your website
  • And more!

Your online forum is only one part of how you engage members. At WildApricot, we can help cover all of your member management needs!

Sign up for our 60-day free trial today to see for yourself.

Pricing: After free trial, plans start at $60/month.

Start a free trial of WildApricot today. Click here


Wix Forum is a special forum app by Wix, one of the internet’s most trusted website builders. This app doesn’t just make forums—it allows you to include them in your subscription plans! This can make the difference in which membership level they choose.

Its special features include:

  • Customizable forum layout
  • User groups
  • Private messaging
  • Anti-spam features
  • Notifications
  • And more!

Pricing: Free.


phpBB is an open source community forum software—here meaning, it’s perfect if you like to get elbow deep customizing your forum website! Integrations are all possible but will require you to have some thorough programming knowledge.

Its special features include:

  • Customizable user profiles (avatars, signature, preferences, etc.)
  • Unread message trackers
  • Moderator tools
  • Registration customization
  • Anti-spam features
  • And more!

Pricing: Free.

Vanilla Forums

Similar to phpBB, Vanilla Forums is an open source community forum software. It specializes in making small, private communities, which is great for more personal forum discussions between members.

Its features include:

  • Fun avatars for users
  • Preview features
  • Mobile optimization
  • Two-factor authentication
  • Moderator tools
  • And more!

Pricing: Available upon request, alongside a demo.


WordPress is a free, open source web content management system that can make a website for pretty much any purpose. With thousands of themes (both free and paid!) made by professional web designers, a little bit of searching can help you find, and customize, your perfect website.

Also known for its many plugins, you’ll be spoiled for options when it comes to finding your ideal forum software—you just might have to do a few test runs, first. Here are 10 forum plugin options recommendations from WPBeginner to get you started!

Pricing: Dependent on themes and plugins.

Hosting Meaningful Forum Discussions

We hope this has helped you understand more about how to make a forum for your nonprofit’s website. Once you’ve got the right software in place, all that’s left is engagement, engagement, engagement!

Want to get a look at WildApricot’s special forum widget? Sign up for our 60-day free trial and see how we can help make your website a bustling community hub!

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

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