Achieve Your Social Impact Organization's Digital Goals with JAMstack

Social impact organizations need to provide digital experiences that are fast, responsive, and immersive. Learn the JAMstack approach to web development.
Cosmic article jamstack website

As a modern social impact organization, you already know that your website forms the foundation of everything you do. Long gone are the days when a static, “brochure”-like site fit the bill. Whether you’re spreading awareness about your cause, calling supporters to action, raising funds, or making sales, your website — and the underlying systems with which it integrates — have many big jobs to do.

Of course, as digital experiences are changing, so is the tech that powers it. (Or perhaps it’s the other way around...) Unless you’re a developer, you don’t need to keep up with the latest website development trends. But you do need to assemble a set of technologies that best supports your organization’s current activities and future growth objectives.

At Cosmic, we believe social impact organizations should think and act like digital media outlets. That is, you should commit to regularly producing and promoting high-quality content that connects and inspires. Your goal? To broadcast your message, nurture your relationship with your audiences, and maximize impact. Adopting this model also means committing to best-in-class digital experiences — experiences that are fast, responsive, and immersive.

For all of these reasons and more, when we build websites for our social impact clients, we use the JAMstack philosophy.

What is JAMstack — and Why Does it Matter?

JAMstack isn’t a particular set of tools. Instead, it’s a philosophy — a unique way of approaching website development. Many developers prefer to work with JAMstack (which stands for JavaScript, API, Markup). But if that were the major headline, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

You may not be interested in the technical details, but you care about JAMstack because of how it can benefit your social impact organization. You see, the JAMstack approach allows for improved performance, stronger security, increased flexibility, greater scalability, and reduced costs. All that wrapped up in a low-maintenance package.

Let’s take a closer look at why that is.

The Traditional, CMS-Driven Approach

The JAMstack approach represents a big shift in how websites deliver content to users. In what is now the traditional web development setup, your content management system (CMS) is responsible for housing your content, storing your data, and serving the end-user content — all in one monolithic system. In this arrangement, the CMS is pinged every time a user visits the website. Like a fast-food restaurant, the CMS quickly assembles the most current version of each web page as it is ordered and delivers it to the frontend of the system, where it is then rendered for the user.

Not only does this arrangement slow things down, but it also presents a greater security risk because multiple systems are involved with each page load. In addition, because this system relies so heavily on the CMS to perform a broad array of functions, organizations like yours can get “stuck” with a content management tool that doesn’t really meet their needs. But they can’t migrate to a new CMS without rebuilding their entire website.

The JAMstack Philosophy in Action

JAMstack turns the traditional, CMS-driven model on its head — and resolves all of those common pain points in the process. Rather than relying on the CMS to render content “to order,” JAMstack websites are pre-rendered. This means that when a visitor lands on a page on JAMstack website, the frontend system stands ready to deploy the most recent version of your content without querying your CMS. To stick with our restaurant analogy, visiting a JAMstack website is like going to a restaurant where you don’t even have to order. Your food is already waiting for you when you arrive.

In essence, the JAMstack approach means that the frontend and backend portions of your website are decoupled. In this arrangement, your CMS’s only job is to manage content. It no longer has to play a starring role in the frontend user experience.

With JAMstack, you are free to piece together the most modern, specialized applications. You can choose tools that perform better, are more developer-friendly, and pave the way for more immersive, app-like digital experiences. Using JAMstack, these disparate tools can be "meshed" together to create a seamless, coherent digital media and marketing system. At Cosmic, our preferred tech stack includes Gatsby for frontend development, Craft or Prismic for content management, and Netlify for content delivery.

You may be wondering how all of this impacts your organization in terms of how you manage and update your website content. The good news is that you don’t have to learn a new system. Unless you want to switch to a new CMS, nothing has to change in terms of your organization’s website-related workflows. You still get to use your favorite CMS to create and update content on the fly, just as you are already accustomed to doing. You're not replacing your existing content management system, just augmenting it with better frontend technology.

That said, JAMstack isn't for everyone. Building the system isn't a plug-and-play experience. It only makes sense if you want to create a custom digital experience and have a team of competent in-house developers (or are committed to working with an outside agency like Cosmic).

Why Your Social Impact Organization Should Adopt JAMstack

Building a website using the JAMstack philosophy yields many concrete benefits for your organization. These include:

  • The ability to use your modern CMS of choice — and switch to a new one without rebuilding your entire website.
  • A best-in-class user experience, featuring the fastest, most dynamic digital experience possible.
  • An improved mobile experience thanks to progressive web app functionality.
  • Better SEO scores from Google.
  • More conversions thanks to a more performant and engaging digital experience.
  • Improved security with no access points to your backend systems from the frontend of your website
  • The ability to cherry-pick the best platforms for each of your digital functions, such as Shopify for e-commerce and a donor engagement platform for donations, and integrate them into a single, holistic experience.
  • Less maintenance with no need to maintain your own server (as with WordPress) or manually handle plugin and security updates (depending on your CMS choice).
  • Infinite website scalability for planned and unexpected traffic surges with the ability to serve 1 million users with the same performance as serving 10.
  • The ability to fully embrace the digital media outlet model in a way that unleashes your creative expressions and allows you to personalize content, tell better stories, and inspire action.

Want to know more about how Cosmic can help your social impact organization leverage JAMstack to create a best-in-class digital experience and maximize your impact? We’d love to talk.

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