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A Plethora of Resources for Nonprofits
For those of you in the Portland area, the monthly meetings of the the Portland Tech For Good user group (also known as PDXTech4Good) are a valuable resource. Meetings generally consist of presentations and time for networking. Attendance is free and refreshments are usually available. Topics are generally of interest to nonprofits and a number of tech folks attend so there are plenty of opportunities for free advice, learning, networking and socializing. Recent topics have included tools for nonprofits, Constituent Relationship Management Systems (CRMs), use of social media, use of location-based services, effective collaboration between IT and communications, and many others. You simply attend the meetings you're interested in, or you go for the people.
So the first useful resource for you is this group! Meetings are monthly and attendance is usually in the 20-50 range (the extended group membership is over 300 strong). It is actually a merger between what used to be two separate meet-ups, namely the local Net Tuesday group and the 501 Tech Club. Interestingly, the local Net Tuesday group was originally started by Amy Sample Ward, who was a staff member right here at MMT at the time.
However, the main focus of this blog post is to discuss online tools to help organizations most effectively achieve their mission, which was the topic at the super useful January 2011 PDXTech4Good meet-up. I'm going to break it down by similar categories to those Ash, the presenter did and am going to add some of my own favorite tools, quite a few additions and my own perspectives and thoughts. The presenter's notes, links and slides are also available.
Newsletters (bulk mail)
Many nonprofits send out newsletters in some manual way, for example they might keep their list of subscribers in a spreadsheet and then use a normal email account to send it out. Or they might use a tool of some kind, maybe one that is integrated into their email client or their website. MMT currently use Simplenews in conjunction with our Drupal website. It gets the job done and is completely free, but we have considered using a paid service instead. However, we have resources that many nonprofits do not, namely myself on the Drupal end and an outstanding systems administrator to make sure we don't end up on any spam lists (getting blacklisted).
As a general rule, bulk emailing should be left to the experts. Why? Manual processes are too prone to error and you might run afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act. There are a lot of rules about what constitutes spam and the ability for people to easily and permanently remove themselves from email lists, and it's easy to make mistakes if you're doing this yourself. As a result your email account might get shut down or your server blacklisted (meaning many internet providers will not even allow your email to be sent/received). You're also more likely to have your newsletters lost to email junk mail folders. Further, the email account you use might get swamped with replies and many of your subscriber emails can be intercepted. Manual processes are also a largely blind system without any reporting to tell you how many people read the newsletter, how many click through to articles, how effective your methods and approaches are, etc.
What it comes down to is that any tool is better than a manual process. Some of these tools are free, but most require some payment. Advantages to using a service are many. All those laws, removal processes, maintenance of lists, etc are all handled by the service. More than that they mostly automatically adhere to the best practices for their industry and take care of all the hard work to ensure that your email looks mostly the same, no matter what email client your recipient uses. They also host their own service, meaning that it's their job to worry about black lists and your own server is safe. More than that, many of them will give you extensive reporting tools so that you can see what your most effective campaigns are and learn as you go. Some of them will even integrate with your existing website.
Each of them has their own pricing structures so you're going to have to find services you like and that best suit your budget. Some have setup fees and services generally either require payment by quantity of emails, or by a monthly/annual subscription rate. As an additional resource, Groundwire have put out a very useful comparison of the top ten bulk mail services that is well worth your time and it includes a very useful price comparison table.
Here's a list of those that came up during the meeting, as well as a few other notables:
- Constant Contact
- Vertical Response (free to nonprofits, but more legwork needed)
For those of you with a bit of tech help it is also worth considering phplist who, according to their web page, are, "The world's most popular open source email campaign manager. phplist is free to download, install and use, and is easy to integrate with any website. phplist is downloaded more than 10,000 times per month.". They also have an online version that you can consider instead of one of those above.
Photo Editing (and Sharing Your Stories)
In the photo editing world Photoshop leads the pack by such a wide margin that they have entered into our vernacular. There is so much you can do with it... but it's really expensive and for most organizations it's more than they will ever need... the proverbial sledgehammer as a fly swatter. In reality most organizations have really simple requirements and only need to fix red-eye, crop, resize images, and create web versions. The good news is there are a lot of free tools to help with these simpler needs and many of them help you to share your images with anyone anywhere.
Factors to consider when picking a service depend on your specific needs, including costs, storage, image sizes, file formats, share-ability, power of the tools and so on. Before you get started, be sure to check your computer as many computers come with simple image editing software already loaded. So, below are the ones that were mentioned in the meet-up and I added the free advanced editor, GIMP, to the list. However, if you want to know more about photo editing you should also check out an earlier blog post on this site, Fix your Pix (for free!) as it covers a number of good tools in more detail.
- GIMP (A free, open source editor that you can download and use if you really do need a more powerful editor.)
- Aviary (a suite of online tools, all free)
- Picasa (by Google. Includes social media and some incredible face-recognition and tagging features)
- PhotoBucket (includes social media)
- Flickr (includes social media)
There are few more effective ways of telling your organization's stories than through video. Similar to the photo world, there are a lot of tools available for video editing. This section is a bit above my pay-grade, so I'll just list the links.
Have you ever sent out a collaborative document for editing and received so many edited versions back that you can't tell if you're coming or going? Or had different versions of the same document on half a dozen PCs? Or tried to plan complex events using email and IM chat? Well, there are a host of tools out there that let you overcome all this. Imagine one document/spreadsheet in an online location that changes right in front of you as others add to it, no matter where they are in the world. Imagine being in a conference call and using an online tool and seeing your meeting minutes grow right in front of you as every member of the call adds their thoughts and notes. All of this is out there, much of it free and mostly really simple to use. You'll love it. Each document only existing in one place and always up to date... usually to the second. Similarly you can have shared calendars with invitations, reminders, change notifications, registration tracking and so on.
Similarly, you might want a ticket system to track specific issues to make sure they are on time, on budget and getting all the resources you need, not to mention have discussions, share files and so on.
Issues around selection include price, data ownership (does it sit on your server or theirs and does that matter?), feature set, usability and so on. The following are possible resources:
- Basecamp Ticketing, resource-sharing
- Open Atrium (for those of you with a bit of technical resources, a free open source Basecamp rival built with Drupal)
- Google Apps (or you can use the same approach a lot of volunteer groups I've worked with, namely free Gmail email accounts, Google Documents and Google calendar)
- Active Collab
- TypeWith.me (an awesome, simple to use, wiki-like online collaboration tool that you will be up and running within just moments
- RT: Request Tracker (a free, open source ticketing system for exchanging information about issues and tracking the status of those issues. We use this at MMT for tracking issues and making sure that someone responds to all incoming emails.)
Other tools - Gems you did not know you needed to know about
So what other tools are out there that you might not know about but that could really help you in a variety of ways? Here are some from the talk and a few of my own:
- Frontline SMS (Group SMS/Texting tool: SMS with large groups via mobile. OS. Stores all the information. Cost of text messages must be considered.)
- Square (Mobile Payment Solution: A phone app. Accept credit card donations via mobile phones, direct to your bank account. Competitive Rates, often better than PayPal. Much better than manual processes. Takes responsibility for holding credit card numbers out of your hands.)
- Care2 Petitions (Online Widget Petitions: Free. Start your own petition. Shareable widget for use on many sites. Real-time updates. Public Listing.)
- Ge.tt (Large Files sharing: Free. Share via email, Twitter, Facebook and more. Simple. Not yet ad-revenue supported.)
- VolunteerSpot (Online signup forms and scheduling tools: Free tools to help you coordinate volunteers. Add and product supported.)
- Quora (Social Media for Information Sharing and Collaboration: A continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.)
- bit.ly (Shortens URLs for Twitter and email but also tracks statistics on how many clicks you got and how many clicks that link is getting overall from everyone who posts it. Also gives other tools that tell you where the clicks are coming from, how they're being found and more.)
- CamStudio (Free Streaming Video Software. Lets you record activity on your computer allowing you to create demo videos of software or your website for training and/or FAQ purposes, or what have you.)
- Prezi (Free presentation service. Lets you create some amazing presentations live and on the web.)
- SurveyMonkey (Web-based surveys. Use it to find out if your organization is as effective as possible, or if your website is useful, for constituent satisfaction and employee performance reviews, and so on.)
- Markup (A very useful little web page markup tool. In their own words, "Markup lets you draw on any webpage with a variety of tools to express your thoughts, make a point or just simply edit." Really useful when working with designers or brainstorming about web strategies. Those of you using a Mac computer should consider downloading the free and super powerful Skitch which lets you take screen grabs and mark them up with text, drawing tools and the like as well as some basic editing.)
Well, there you have it. Quite a broad swathe of tools that can make your life easier and make your organization more effective. I hope you found the post useful and please feel free to let me know if I left out your favorite tool/s by posting a comment below.
Edit: If you know of any good websites for helping people find nonprofit jobs and employment opportunities, share resumes/CVs or really any tool that helps people find nonprofit work or helps organizations make appointments, fill new new or existing positions or any other hiring help, then please let me know.
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