Sam Zimmerman

Vice President, Global Project Management

June 10, 2019

Filed Under

Social Fundraising: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown

Is Drupal Migration a Challenge or an Opportunity?

At Drupalcon 2019, BSD and Teach For America (TFA) presented a session about the redesign of teachforamerica.org, which included migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. In our conversations following the presentation, we found that many attendees and organizations were interested to discuss when and how they should migrate from Drupal 7. Although Drupal 8 was released three and a half years ago, Drupal.org estimates that 70% of their user base is still on Drupal 7.

It’s easy to understand why so many haven’t upgraded yet — for sites like TFA’s, with extensive customizations and numerous plugins, migrating from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is a substantial lift, comparable to rebuilding in an entirely new CMS. Many organizations have looked into the effort and cost and simply decided to stick with their existing site for another fiscal year (or three). With the release of Drupal 9 coming up in June 2020, many are planning to skip Drupal 8 entirely. Some organizations are even wondering if they should consider abandoning Drupal for a new platform altogether.

Drupal wants to assuage these users’ fears. For the second year running, Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal, devoted a portion of his DrupalCon keynote to encouraging Drupal 7 users to take the plunge now and move to Drupal 8. His reasoning is that Drupal 9 will be a direct extension of Drupal 8, so there will be a simple and straightforward process to replace deprecated Drupal 8 code with the Drupal 9 versions — no complicated migration required.

However, Dries has made this pitch before, and there are still hundreds of thousands of Drupal 7 users who are stubbornly dug in. In 2018, Dries announced that Drupal 7 support would be extended to November 2021, the same end-of-life date as Drupal 8. This year, Dries went a step further, assuring Drupal 7 users that even after the community ends support for Drupal 7 in 2021, commercial entities like Acquia will provide ongoing commercial support for years beyond that.

By 2022, some Drupal 7 sites could be upwards of 11 years old! Generally speaking, software isn’t meant to approach junior high school age. It can take a lot of extra, ongoing work to manage the code and technical debt that accumulates over that amount of time. Plus, it’s harder to keep up with current best practices and updates to modules, server software, and PHP itself (the underlying programming language).

It’s hard to get excited at the prospect of making a big investment to simply recreate the same functionality and capabilities of the current site. But it doesn’t have to be that way: A substantial rebuild is an excellent opportunity to assess your needs and the landscape and bundle in some new, modern features in addition to just upgrading your CMS.

Many nonprofits we speak to think their next-generation website should introduce more user-centric features like personalization and intelligent journey management. Often, organizations use multiple systems to deliver information and services: the main informational website, a membership or account portal, an individual giving tool, a peer-to-peer fundraising tool, a learning management system, a community forum tool, an online store, etc. As a user moves across pages served from these various systems, ideally the information presented in each system should have contextual awareness of previous interactions with the other systems. It seems like a simple goal, but many organizations struggle to provide this experience — especially when wrestling with systems that were not initially set up with coordination in mind.

More advanced journey orchestration tools can analyze and coordinate a range of digital touchpoints, including interactions via email, social media, and display ads. Awareness of the proprietary platforms that promise these capabilities is driving the appetite of marketers and campaigners, but many organizations can’t contemplate the hefty price tag for these products (especially those that are struggling with the cost of moving on from Drupal 7).

Pull quote: A substantial rebuild is the perfect opportunity to bundle in some simple personalization features while upgrading your CMS.

And that’s ok! For most nonprofits, an all-in-one personalization and journey orchestration platform is unlikely to provide a return on investment. For one thing, these products are primarily geared for commercial B2C and B2B use. The other reason is that it takes a lot of work to personalize a website for many segments — more than most organizations are realistically able to commit.

Luckily, there were a couple dozen sessions on personalization at Drupalcon this year, including some manageable personalization capabilities that would be smart to bake into your migration plan from Drupal 7 to 8.

In one particularly interesting session, Mike Lander of Elevated Third presented Smart Content, which customizes content for anonymous (e.g. not signed in) site visitors. Not all personalization requires deep knowledge of the user’s behavior and history: This module looks at common information that comes across with the page request — the user’s IP, device, browser, etc. — and allows editors to associate those variables with content segments. For example, a marketer selling sportswear could include a lifestyle image relevant to the user’s location (urban, beachy, mountainy, etc.), or a software provider could load screenshots and download links that are specific to the user’s device. Even subtle personalizations like these can lead to conversions you might have otherwise left on the table.

Smart Content can also be set up to customize content if there is accessible cookie data available — for example, a cookie tracking when the user has signed up for email. This is a manageable first step into content personalization — one that adds relatively little cost to get started. From there, you can build out a more robust personalization scheme using a tool that captures granular event interactions, such as Mautic, Segment.io, or Telium.

With thoughtful planning, you can avoid purchasing capacities that are beyond your needs and achieve results that are both affordable and manageable. Tying together best of breed tools is an area where Drupal — and open source in general — continues to excel. For organizations struggling with the challenge of moving off their legacy Drupal 7 platform, framing the opportunity with Drupal 8 in this context may be useful to determine the way forward.


Does the prospect of migrating to Drupal 8 fill you with anxiety? It doesn’t have to — let’s talk about it.

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