Nearly any manual task your nonprofit is doing right now can be automated with a free or low-cost online tool. So why are many nonprofits not taking full of advantage of the tools specifically built to make their lives easier? In our experience, one big hurdle is that there are so many tools out there, it’s hard to know which ones will actually help you. Some tools sound good, but are they really worth your time and money?
As nonprofit tech geeks we love spending our time scouring the web for new and useful nonprofit tools. The moment any new product is released online, we’re often among the first to sign on for a beta and test it out. In this post, we’ll share some of the tools we have found to be the most useful for nonprofits. We’ll also share a simple guide we use to evaluate the tools we are considering.
The guide we use is something we call the Olympic motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Before deciding if a tool is worth exploring further, we ask three questions related to the motto:
1. Does the tool help us do our work faster?
When we pose this question, we look at some of our existing processes and simply ask if it helps us accelerate them. Here are some examples of tools that help us go faster:
- Looking for images or icons? The Noun Project speeds up the process of finding icons for your day-to-day usage, rather than wasting time scouring the Internet. Icons are free for usage with attribution, or available for a nominal fee.
- For images, Unsplash allows completely free images which may be useful for marketing and communication materials.
- If you use any series of keystrokes more than five times a day, you can benefit from automating that process. Time that is spent completing simple, repetitive tasks can really add up. For those of you on Macs, Keyboard Maestro allows you to program frequently used keystrokes as keyboard shortcuts ($36 USD). JitBit’s Macro Recorder is a great PC counterpart that offers a robust set of macro features to create and edit macros ($39 USD).
- For any of you who have ever collaborated with a videographer on a video project, Vidhub accelerates the process of reviewing videos and providing feedback. You can import a video and add time-coded feedback easily so that it’s clear what needs to be revised. Vidhub’s pricing starts at $9 USD/month.
2. Does the tool help drive higher revenue? Or higher efficiency?
When examining tools and assessing if they are driving higher revenue or higher efficiency, it’s important to understand a lot of the benefits here are indirect. This can be through providing additional information that can lead to better decisions, or aggregating time savings by automating routine tasks:
- LastPass helps to drive higher efficiency by providing a central storage for personal and organization-wide usernames and passwords, and can help ensure that you are using different (and secure!) passwords for all your accounts. This helps to cut down on time that is otherwise spent on forgotten passwords, as well as the dreaded task of transferring credentials back and forth to coworkers and new hires. LastPass is free for basic usage, or $1 USD/month for premium accounts to synchronize across mobile devices. Team pricing is separate.
- Optimizing your website and online tools can be a great place to eliminate inefficiencies. Sumo is a great suite of tools for your website that helps to highlight specific calls-to-action and collects useful analytics. Sumo offers features like heatmaps, split testing, and full-screen takeovers, just to name a few. We found Sumo to be very useful in driving higher conversion rates for specific calls-to-action, such as donations, or purchasing memberships. Sumo is free with their branding for basic sites, and a premium version starts at $29 USD/month.
- Google Analytics has been around for a while, but it is still underutilized by many organizations. Google Analytics is also constantly adding new features and functionality. It can reveal many useful insights around user behavior on your website and, when integrated well across your online properties, can be very effective in providing additional information, such as age and gender demographics of your website visitors. Google Analytics is free to use.
3. Does the tool enable us to build stronger relationships with our supporters?
When examining tools that build stronger relationships, we’re looking for software that allows us to add a special touch to the communications that we engage in with our supporters:
- Tools like Twilio’s API allow for integration of functionality like text-messaging into some existing applications. This can be used to provide additional channels of communication to connect with your supporters to build stronger relationships. Another tool along these lines is also MightyText, which allows you to sync with your Android phone to send text messages from your computer.
- Cloudflare provides a content delivery network that accelerates the delivery of your website content from the closest server so that your supporters will generally have a better experience with your website. It is free for personal websites, blogs, and “anyone who wants to explore Cloudflare.” Premium pricing starts at $20 USD/month.
Just as Olympic records are continually broken, due in part to new techniques and technologies that are introduced, a similar dynamic can be found in the use of tools for organizations which continually produce incremental gains. Our Olympic-themed tool assessment of “faster, higher, stronger” is a simple way to make sure you invest your time in tools that are actually worth your time and money.
The preceding is a guest post by Jason Shim, Mark Hallman, and Shub Sengupta.
With over 10 years of experience spanning the nonprofit and academic sectors both as an employee and a consultant, Jason Shim has consistently helped organizations engage with youth online and stay ahead of the technology curve. He currently serves as associate director, Digital Strategy and Alumni Relations, at Pathways to Education Canada. Jason also currently serves on the boards of 211 Ontario and NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network.
Mark Hallman is president of Evergreen Digital Marketing and has worked with charities and nonprofit organizations across North America to help them strategize and execute their digital marketing plans. As a Google Partner, Mark helps organizations to ensure they get the most out of their Google Ad Grants.
Uniquely positioned at the intersection of the nonprofit and tech sectors, Shubhagata Sengupta (Shub for short) is a digital renaissance man who is obsessed with how the latest and greatest tech can better the world. He currently serves as a digital media coordinator at Capacity Canada while working on his tech startup, Vidhub.co, which allows teams to review and discuss videos online in a secure, collaborative environment.