What is a Content Model?

Content Modeling is a hot topic in the Information Architecture community these days. A content model is a document defining the structure of each content type within a CMS, or Content Management System. With the turn towards Responsive Design, a CMS is really a crucial part of any content-rich web presence because it allows you to structure your content to adapt to any device. And regardless of which CMS you choose, it’s also crucial to have someone smart “design” your CMS so that the content is structured properly.

Why do I need a Content Model?

See, most CMS’s, including Blackbaud’s Luminate CMS, include a “Body” section where you can insert HTML content. In the old days, the “Body” would be where you’d create your Web Page by inserting all of your text, images, headlines, etc. This practice worked well when your website would always display on similar-sized monitors but now we need to manipulate content to enable a clean display for tablet and mobile. The ONLY way to allow for this manipulation and thus, a successful Responsive Website, is to “chunk” your content into a variety of different fields. See examples below of the content “blob” versus content “chunks”:

WYSIWYG with all content in one blob

Example of having all of your content in one “blob” in the Body field


WYSIWYG with content split into multiple chunks

Example of how your content should be “chunked” into separate fields

Properly structured content has many benefits in addition to being well-suited for Responsive Design:

  • Content create/edit forms are easier to use for website administrators
  • Content display for end-users of the website is more consistent and clean, resulting in a more professional and usable website
  • Content is future-proofed, meaning that future needs for exporting and manipulating content are possible. Think app display, television display, Apple Watch or other wearable display. The possibilities are endless.

Content Model Success Story

I recently spoke about Content Modeling for a nonprofit at the IA Summit in Minneapolis. My talk was titled “The Anatomy of a Content Model” and you can check out the slides on Slideshare if you’re interested. I told the story of the National Military Family Association and how I worked with them to define one of the most complex Content Models I’ve seen. Because Luminate CMS allows for 100% custom Content Models, we were able to design and build a structure that works for their complicated Tabbed Content Pages. The best part is the end of the story: a happy nonprofit with a beautiful website containing organized content that can scale into the future of devices yet unseen.

“The feedback from our staff, volunteers, and users has been great. It definitely was a learning curve the first week, but overall has been a major improvement to the organization of our content.” -NMFA Web Team


Lacey Kruger, principal information architect for Blackbaud, works with nonprofit clients to design online properties that work. Whether a full-scale website, a campaign site or a mobile app, Lacey guides clients through a research-based and user-centered approach to design. In her 10+ years at Blackbaud, she has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit web presences. That knowledge, along with her years of experience in information design, have established her as an industry expert.

Lacey has written a Blackbaud eBook, “A Guide to the Nonprofit Web Design Process” and her article, “Designing Nonprofit Experiences: Building a UX Toolkit” was published in User Experience magazine. She has presented at industry conferences including bbcon, IA Summit and BIG Design. When she’s not working, Lacey loves to cook and also enjoys yoga, watching movies and catching alligators (really!).

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!