Free Tools: Visual Timelines

Tiki-toki

Tiki-toki

Facebook isn’t the only place you may want to use an interactive visual timeline to tell the story of your organization’s evolution and accomplishments.

Lucky for all of us, there are some new FREE timeline tools out there that nonprofit communicators can make good use of: Tiki-toki, Timeline JS, and Dipity. Examples of each are to the right.

Check them all out and choose according to your needs. Of course, there are premium versions to buy that offer more flexibility, but any of the free versions probably would work fine for most nonprofits. There are several differences among them.

Tiki-Toki allows you (makes you) add months and days to the dates of your stories (at least I haven’t found a way around that!). That works great if your story takes place over a month or a week, but it doesn’t work so well for anniversaries where you just want to note years. You can only create one timeline and you can’t embed it on your website without upgrading to a premium account (lowest upgrade is $5 per month). You can share your timeline, just not embed it. There are also some limits on images hosted on the Tiki-toki server.

TimelineJS

TimelineJS

TimelineJS  is good if you’ve got tech support in building your timeline. It’s easy for the viewer to use, but not so straightforward for the person creating it. Personally, I found Dipity that simplest to create with. You can get a timeline going in 15 minutes. And I like the way Dipity hides the detailed information–you have to click on it. That makes the big messages in the headlines really pop, and lessens the distraction of the reader. Yet, anyone who wants more details can easily get them. Also, you have the choice of viewing a Dipity timeline as a flipbook or list.

The free version of Dipity allows you to create 3 timelines with a maximum 150 events. These timelines can be embedded and shared. Note–your timeline will have ads on the page unless you buy a premium version ($5 per month minimum). Also, Dipity allows you to sync your timeline with your twitter, facebook, tumblr and other social media so the timeline is automatically updated with those posts. (This feature could come in handy if your timeline is tracking campaign progress.) Here’s a good video tutorial on starting out with Dipity.

Before you even start thinking about using one of these cool tools, you need to have a good reason. Strategy first! None of us have much time to learn tools just for the fun of it. But, if your organization has an anniversary coming up or you’re trying to tell a story that rolls out over time, visual timelines can be a lot more effective than scrolling narratives. Like infographics, they offer easily digestible bites rather than a huge meal of text/photos. Consider the possibilities… And if anyone knows of other free timeline creation tools, please leave a comment below.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, Dipity has experienced long-term technical problems that have prevented creators to edit or add to their timelines. It’s been three weeks and the problem still exists. What’s worse, Dipity hasn’t been forthcoming with information to its users about the nature of the problem. They keep promising it will be fixed by such and such date, but that never happens. I moved my Dipity timeline data to Whenintime instead–based on a referral from another Dipity user. I don’t like the timeline mechanics as well, but it does offer an interesting blog template. Check it out, or one of the other two free timelines above. I can no longer recommend Dipity!

Free photo editing tools for nonprofits

PIXLR

Visual content is online gold, especially for social media. But lots of nonprofits don’t have the money to hire great photographers or buy Photoshop, so they end up using lacklustre photos or no photos at all. But there are great free photo editing tools out there that can turn your photos into masterpieces, and allow you to do very creative things with them.

I’ve been using these a lot myself, so I wanted to let you know about them!

Quick and dirty photo enhancement: PICMONKEY

This replaced Picnik for me when it moved to Google+. It doesn’t require any download and it very quickly and slickly lets you fine tune photographs and add some interesting creative effects. Really simple to use. So if you need to adjust contrast, color, or brightness, eliminate red eye, resize, add text or overlays, or touch up a photo fie–this is the place to go. Also, try out the very cool effects section! Love it.

More advanced photo editing and manipulation: PIXLR

I tried GIMP for a while, but PIXLR editor has become my favorite for about every kind of photo manipulation tool that Photoshop offers. You can make backgrounds transparent, create image layers that are then compressed into a single finished image, and do just about anything to a photo or graphics file. GIMP had these capabilities too, but it seemed much less easy to understand than PIXLR. ( I don’t have time to pore over manuals, and I’m betting you don’t either.) I highly recommend watching this Norwegian’s introduction to pixlr video–it’s about an hour and half long, but he goes through almost every tool in an illustrative and understandable way. You come away ready to go!
PIXLR also has a vintage effects section that’s interesting.

Smart phone photo styling: INSTAGRAM

I’m sure you’ve all heard of this little gem, and many of you have used it personally. Think about ways you can snap photos on the run that relate to your nonprofit’s work, then style and post them on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media. Here’s a recent Mashable post about 10 inspiring nonprofits using Instagram.

Start with these three, but here are a couple of links to top-rated photo enhancement tools you might like, too.

Fearless Flyer’s 5 of the best photo editing software–for free!

Freeware Review’s Best free digital image editor

So, get yourself a digital camera and snap on my friends!

Pinterest Primer for Nonprofits

Flickr: stevegarfield

My name is Gayle Thorsen…and I’m a Pinterest addict.

Me and 21 million other users, more and more of whom are nonprofit organizations.

The demographics of Pinterest–82% females with higher education and income levels–hold a lot of promise for nonprofits. That combined with the fact that it now drives more referral traffic than Twitter doesn’t hurt. (It had already exceeded the referral traffic of Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined!)

Rather than repeat all the sage advice out there for nonprofits who want to add Pinterest to their social media portfolios, here are the most recent, best tips.

Getting Started

Why and How Causes Should Use Pinterest  (Joe Waters on Huff Post IMPACT)

How to Get Your Nonprofit Started On Pinterest (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

10 Strategies for Nonprofits on Pinterest (Mashable)

Ideas/Best Practices

9 Pinterest Best Practices (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

12 Ways to Use Pinterest for Your Nonprofit (John Haydon)

42 Creative Pinterest Ideas for Nonprofits  (Frogloop)

Role Models

11 Must-Follow Nonprofits on Pinterest  (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

It’s important to acknowledge that there are still copyright issues related to Pinterest, despite the fact that they announced policy changes last month. The best advice (from the linked copyright article) is to:

  • pin from the source
  • pin from permalinks
  • give credit and write a thoughtful description

Ready, set….pin (and repin!)

CC photo credit: Steve Garfield

Free digital storytelling tools for nonprofits

Flickr/mysza831

A little holiday gift for you! A couple of times a year, I dig into the web to find free tools that can help nonprofits tell their stories in ever more engaging ways. Each time I do that, the range of options kind of astounds me. This year is no exception,

Not every nonprofit has the resources to hire videographers or even buy and use a video cam themselves. These online tools offer FREE ways to get dynamic content onto your website, blog, and social media without HAVING to use video. Many of these create mash-ups of just photos, text, graphics, and music.

I’m amazed more nonprofits aren’t using them because they have so many potential communication applications. They offer interactivity and surprise so they attract and hold people’s attention. Plus they’re fun! And remember, the web and social media are about entertainment as much as education.

In past posts I’ve covered some amazing AV tools like Prezi (which still has a free version but charges $59 a year for more capabilities), Glogster, Yodio, and VoiceThread (which now is available at a very low cost). This time I’d like to cover six other storytelling tools–Animoto for a Cause, VuVox, MixBook, SmileBox, ZooBurst, and Masher.

Animoto for a Cause

Nonprofits can get a pro level Animoto account free (worth $249 per year) by applying through Animoto’s nonprofit portal. Animoto is a very simple to use animated slide show producer (photos, text, music, various design templates, all animated automatically) that you can share  through YouTube, Facebook, etc. Really professional looking and the music is terrific. There are many design templates to choose from and a certain amount of branding can be done. I used Animoto last year to produce a nonprofit annual report and it got great response.

VuVox

VuVox allows you to create attractive photo collages with text overlays that advance horizontally at the speed the viewer chooses. Here’s one example and another. You can also include audio and video, although I was unable to find an example of those in their gallery. If you’ve got great photos that tell the story of how someone’s life was changed, this could be your tool. I think VuVox could also lend itself to policy issue framing.

MixBook

Using MixBook, you can make very creative free digital scrapbooks customized with your colors/wordmark etc. and share them online. Page-turning  is animated. (You can also order printed copies, but that costs.) Here’s a generic version of a scrapbook about camping. You can see how easily an environmental group could use this template. But you can also create your own pages from scratch. You can also create digital cards, invitations, and calendars that you can send and share. (I could see creating an event scrapbook with this tool!)

SmileBox

SmileBox covers a lot of territory from creating one-page “newsletters” to photo collages, invitations, ecards, scrapbooks, etc. The animated slideshow option would be great for capturing events. Here’s a sample of a SmileBox slideshow for a cancer fundraiser. This tool is free, but  like most of these programs, there’s a premium level you can buy that gives you many more options. I wouldn’t buy into any of these until you’d used the free version and seen how it works for you.

ZooBurst

ZooBurst lets you create pop-up books with images, photos, and text. The examples here are from young students, but I can see many nonprofit applications for this tool. For instance, if you run an art program for youth, you could create a book where each page is devoted to one student, showing their art work and a couple of photos of them, with a quote from them at the bottom about how your organization has changed their lives. Or you could create a donor thank you book, with quotes and photos of donors and the people their contributions have helped.

Masher

Masher deserves more exploration than I’ve had time to give it. It lets you create AV mash-ups of  not only your own photos and video, but video clips from a large library that includes the BBC. You gather and organize your images, then add special effects and music. Here’s one example with a “go green” message. Again, you can share these on social media sites or email them.

It takes a little time to experiment with these tools—as well as to hone your messages and gather your images. But they can add real zip to some otherwise very uninspiring communications, especially if you incorporate music. It adds excitement and can build momentum. As you’re thinking about tactics next year, remember these tools. They’re not only fun for your audiences, they’re fun to use!

UPDATE! Here’s another one for you, Projeqt.

If you’ve got a favorite AV tool not mentioned here, please tell us about it in comments!

Creative Commons photo: mysza831

3 cool, creative, free communications tools for nonprofits

Flickr/marcmo

It’s been too long since I’ve posted about free online tools, and there are some recent ones that deserve your attention. Depending on your audiences and communications strategies—these might make interesting new communications channels for you.

Your own live, interactive TV show

Want to stream an event live? Consider Ustream, which lets anyone with an Internet connection and a camera engage an audience of unlimited size in an immediate, interactive way. Ustream has been used to broadcast everything from high school sporting events to Hollywood movie premieres to Charity:Water’s well-digging, and people are finding new uses for it every day. You can create a channel for your organization, just like YouTube. You can also record your event for future uses. Here’s a quickie how-to overview and a recent blog post with tips from a nonprofit that’s used it. This is a great, free way to increase the reach of your special events.

Your own radio program

You may already listen to the nonprofit marketing and fund raising advice of Kivi LeRoux Miller or Marc Pitman on Blogtalkradio, but have you considered how this free internet radio platform could contribute to your nonprofit’s communication goals? All you need are a phone and computer and you can create your own online radio show, and share it everywhere–Facebook, itunes, Twitter, and more. What a terrific storytelling medium for sharing your work or interviewing the beneficiaries of it. If you’re not up to live video streaming yet, you may want to use this audio tool at events to increase audience reach. Or use it to broadcast discussions about nonprofit issues. (Here’s an example of that from Rosetta Thurman, talking about social justice and philanthropy.) Your supporters can listen where and when it’s convenient for them.

Your own animated slideshows

Last year I blogged about the promise of Animoto, Glogster, and Yodio as free ways to add more zip to your photos. I’ll add one more–Kizoa. I think Kizoa is more fun-loving than the other two, and may not work as well for more serious topics. You have a lot of choices among transitions, special effects, text, animation, and music–so the challenge here is to remember that “less is more.”  It would be very easy to incorporate so many gizmos that viewers are distracted from your message. But this could be a creative, engaging way to issue event invitations or say thanks to your supporters, among other things. Being light-hearted and humorous can be an advantage sometimes, just make sure you use it appropriately. You can share these slideshows through email or Facebook.

Multichannel communication is the name of the game these days, and don’t forget to effectively cross-promote! Connect your channels, align your communications, and invite participation in the form of comments, tweets, updates, posts, etc.

Any other newish free tools out there you’d like to add to this list? I’d love to hear about them.

Creative Commons photo credit: marcmo


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Using social media to drive policy change

Consider how you can best use social media to achieve your policy change goals

Before I launch into my real post below, I want to take a minute to revel in being a Minnesotan. In the past several years, there have been very few opportunities to do that. But Tuesday, we reclaimed something of our past selves by setting a new state one-day online fund raising record of $14 million!!!

As Beth Kanter says, it’s a jaw dropping figure. One day, one state, one website…hundreds of nonprofits supported.

The success of this venture is due to many factors–great communications among them–but we all owe a debt to the local foundations who helped come up with this idea and who gave major support to it–the Minneapolis and St. Paul Foundations, the Blandin Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota Community Foundation. (United Way was in the mix, too.) Did I mention they matched the first $500,000 in contributions!

This unprecendented outpouring of good will in such hard economic times is not only a fabulous case study for the potential of online giving, but an inspiration for other states. Today, I’m proud to live here.

But, even as GiveMN day was an important proving ground for online fund raising, this post is about a excellent new free online tool for those who want to use social media to support program related goals. Cause Communications has come up with yet another in its great series of guides for nonprofit communicators.

Their new Online Outreach Tool Guide is one the most helpful, concise resources I’ve seen to help nonprofit executives and communications experts decide how to use social media to advance their social issues and mobilize policy change.

The guide features a grid that shows which social media channels are best at achieving four different communications objectives: increasing credibility, raising awareness, encouraging dialogue, and mobilizing support. The authors also provide great examples from the real world about nonprofits that have employed each of these channels successfully—from social bookmarking and online advertising to microblogging and photosharing.

The short booklet also contains a lot of common sense wisdom that can help nonprofits start using these online tools strategically and measuring their results. There’s a whole section listing the ROI milestones that can be measured to gauge progress over time.

What especially appeals to me is the application of social media to policy change and issue framing, rather than just fund- and friend-raising. These tools have tremendous potential for informing people about issues, engaging them in civic dialogue, and ultimately, mobilizing them to take action.

Nonprofits should be thinking about using social media to support their program and organizational goals, not just their development goals. People like Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are helping lead the sector in that direction, and I’m hopeful that—even as beleaguered as nonprofits are right now—they will seize this new opportunity.

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Free tool of the week: VoiceThread for nonprofits

flickr/ //amy//

flickr/ //amy//

When I first found out about VoiceThread a while back, it struck me as something that foundations and nonprofits could make good use of. It’s a cool way to capture people’s engagement with a topic and image—to weave the threads of their voices into the story being  told.

A VoiceThread is a multimedia slideshow of photos, video, or documents that allows people to easily leave comments and join the conversation. Visually, it’s a slideshow screen surrounded by a mosaic of little avatars of all the people who comment on the image. When you click on the avatar you hear them or see what they’ve written or drawn. People can comment in five simple ways: by telephone, by computer microphone, by web cam, by writing text, or by drawing.

Once you’ve created the central slideshow story—you can invite people to view it and comment on it. Thus the conversation grows.

Wondering how you might use this free tool?

  • How about getting your donors to add their voices to a story about a common cause they all support, telling why they support it?
  • How about showcasing your grantees’ work by asking them to add their comments to a VoiceThread story you create about an issue they’re working on?
  • How about showing how real living human beings are affected by the work you do? Ask them to add comments to a VoiceThread about how one of your programs has helped them.
  • Honoring someone special? Create a VoiceThread testimonial to them including all the voice of people whose lives they’ve touched
  • Trying to build a social movement? Here’s a very visual way to start—tell your VoiceThread story and ask supporters to add their supportive comments. Watch the little avatars multiply!

These ideas should help you get started thinking about ways you might incorporate VoiceThread into your website, social media platforms, emails to help achieve strategic communication goals.  It’s very easy to share—embeddable, emailable, etc.

Now, for a little introduction from the Voicethreads folks. And here’s a great step-by-step how-to slideshow, and an example of how educators are using VoiceThread to carry out conversations with students. It’s a very versatile tool…as you’ll see as you browse through the collection of existing VoiceThreads; everything from podcasting tutorials to art exhibitions to children’s voices about what’s happening in Darfur.

As usual, I played around with this free tool—just enough to create a very simple 1-slide central story about the issue of homeless teens. When you get to the page, just click on the lone avatar for the ABCD Foundation to hear the story. (I pretended I was a foundation interested in highlighting the work of its grantees working on that issue.) You’re going to have to IMAGINE other little avatars surrounding it—each from a grantee talking about the impact of their work with homeless teens. (It would be terrific to have some of those voices be the teens themselves.)

There are a few different pricing levels beyond what you can get for free (3 min. maximums on recordings, max. of 50 comments, etc.). But, even the Pro account, which gives you the most creative freedom is only $60 per year.

I see a lot of potential of this tool for the nonprofit sector–and not just for educators. Nothing is more fascinating to us than other people–what they think, what they say and do, what they support. VoiceThread is a unique way to combine your organization’s voice with the voices of your supporters or beneficiaries. It makes for richer, more inclusive, more credible storytelling. Plus—it’s pretty darn easy to use! Try it.

CC photo credit: //amy//

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