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!

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

Top mobile social media apps for nonprofits

Flickr/Irish Typepad

Reminder: If you don’t have a great website and email strategy, you probably shouldn’t be focusing on social media yet. Those have to be your first priorities.

It’s predicted that by the end of 2014, mobile (smart phone and tablet) access to the web will have outstripped desktop access. Think about that in relation to your current website and social media strategy.

It’s time to start thinking/acting mobile.  Even if you’re aiming for older audiences, you can’t ignore mobile—tablets are becoming very popular.

I just took a great webinar from Heather Mansfied, author of Social Media for Social Good, on the most useful social networking mobile apps for nonprofits and I want to share the top 8 with you. These apps are essential content management tools when you’re away from your desktop.

But first, a couple of pieces of sage advice from Heather.

  • Real-time stories rock. Understand that your communications role via mobile is that of a 24/7 reporter. You need to keep your eyes open for storytelling opportunities that you can post, update, tweet, and upload on the spot (rather than next week when you have time).
  • For small nonprofits with tiny staffs, probably the most important entry into mobile is the creation of a mobile website. She recommended doing that through mofuse.com, where it costs about $8 a month to launch a mobile site.

Top 8 mobile social media apps

Now for the social media apps nonprofits should consider downloading and using. Most nonprofits won’t need all of these because few organizations have a presence on every social networking site. Where on the social web you invest your time and money depends on which sites make the most sense for you in light of your strategic communications plan. But once you’ve got a presence on one or more social media, use these apps to add and edit content on the run.

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Location-based apps: Foursquare (Gowalla–more a travel guide; Google Latitude–which will probably merge with Google Places and Google+ brands at some point). Location-based nonprofits (museums, parks, etc.) have just scratched the surface of these apps’ potential. Great for activism. But be very clear whether you’re using them as an individual or an organization—it can get messy.
  4. Photo-sharing apps: Flickr works best with mobile right now, but other options include Twitpic, Twitrpix, and Instagram
  5. Video-sharing apps: Twitvid and Youtube
  6. Live-streaming apps: USTREAM, but a warning from Heather that this is hard to use on iphone 3. Great for events and conferences. Heather believes live streaming apps will get better and much more popular very soon. Nonprofits will even start their own TV stations as this medium gets more traction.
  7. Payment app: Square (allows any smart phone to accept credit card payments for 2.75% fee, with next day direct deposit to your bank account.)
  8. Free group-texting app: GroupMe (great for working with volunteers)

My advice to communications staff is  to download one app at a time and get used to using it. Once that one becomes routine, download another—if that makes sense. For instance, maybe you’ve got conferences coming up that you want to do live tweeting from—so you might want to download the Twitter app, learn to live tweet, and then download Twitrpix or Twitvid apps and learn how to use those with your phone camera.  The app combinations are endless, but if you learn one at a time you won’t feel overwhelmed.

The most important thing to remember is the 24/7 reporter role you play for your organization. To do that well, you’re going to have to learn some new tricks! These 8 apps are one way to start.

Thanks, Heather!

Creative Commons photo credit: Irish Typepad

Guest post: 10 things to consider when designing your annual report

Linda Henneman, ThinkDesign

Linda Henneman, ThinkDesign

Over the years, I’ve been in charge of developing a dozen annual reports for large foundations. For some of them, I was lucky enough to work with ThinkDesign Group. Their award winning work is known for its powerful interplay of text and design. For this guest post on annual reports, it was a no-brainer to turn to Linda Henneman, creative principal at ThinkDesign.

My nonprofit clients are producing annual reports this year, despite the economic downturn. Together, we’re creating pieces that are appropriate for the times. Like them, you too may be faced with a complex story to tell, with only a few pages to tell it on—most likely on a trimmed budget.

While addressing the reality of the economy is important, it need not be all doom and gloom. Instead, your audience needs to know that supporting your organization’s work now is more important than ever. So focus on setting the tone through a reassuring voice and compelling design, and be assured you won’t need to break the bank.

Remember, an annual report is your chance to talk to the people who have been passionate enough to support you financially. So create a solid annual, they’ll appreciate it!

1. How to think about the strategy behind the annual report

  • Yes, it’s a report addressing the past year, but make it even more useful by placing focus on the future.
  • What’s your message? It must be aligned with the needs of your organization, concise, true in good times and in bad, and delivered with confidence. Your message should convey the essence of your organization.
  • You’re talking to your supporters, but it’s also a great opportunity to talk to a new audience. Balance the “choir” audience and the potential new audience. Keep in mind that your supporters may also need help understanding the nuances of what you do.

2. Key leadership needs to be a part of the process

  • This is true from the initial discussion to choosing concepts. This is a piece that is the voice and vision of the leaders. Hearing directly from them is critical in setting the right tone.

3. Bring the designer and writer in early, they’ll help spark the process

  • The writer and designer can get the process started by being the outside voice and getting the focus off of the “internal speak.” Designers are problem solvers by training, and can offer ideas to overcome challenges. A good writer can inform the design and make the whole piece stronger, so get them on board from day one.
  • Provide your design team with the details they need to make your annual report stand out.

4. Start Early

  • Give yourself enough time, between three and four months. Forcing it into a shorter amount of time will only increase cost, errors, and stress. Your annual report concepting process can be a great opportunity to evaluate, revise, and reinforce your organization’s communications strategy.

5. The power of less copy & why writing shorter can be better

  • Using minimal text with powerful images can make a strong statement; quickly. In today’s world, it needs to be quick. People are taking less time to read.

6. A great cover makes you think

  • The cover should make you think. You should feel the urge to open it. And when you do, you get the payoff: your curiosity is satisfied.

7. Don’t neglect the mailing envelope

  • The envelope needs to break through the mail pile. An odd size for a little extra “wow,” or try colored envelopes or add a teaser headline to spark interest.

8. What to look for in photos

  • Photos don’t need to be literal—like people sitting around a table, working. Find more dynamic ways of telling your story.

9. Today’s green printing option

  • Promoting green printing practices sends a powerful message and can motivate others to do the same.
  • Choose a designer knowledgeable in eco-friendly paper and printing vendors. One that can help you make decisions on paper recycled content, vegetable-based inks. Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, renewable energies, efficiency in printing and press/paper setup.
  • Be sure to add a simple line of text explaining how your piece was printed green, include all applicable “certified-green” logos.

10. Differentiate your report from others without breaking the bank

  • It’s easy: a good concept, with strong messages, compelling visual, and clear, concise copy—and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to print. For instance, The Headwaters Foundation for Justice’s consistent, award winning annual reports are 2-color, use stock photography, and reprint efficiently on a sheet of paper.
  • A good designer can help choose an appropriate printer for your specific project. Paper selection, production and printing techniques can all be ways to cut costs.
  • Mailing cost is another area for potential savings. Consider smaller formats for lower postage costs.
  • Order realistic quantities. It may be cheaper per piece to print more, but if you just throw them away it doesn’t save money or the planet.

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Free tool of the week: Animoto for a Cause

cause CaptureThis is the second in a series of explorations of free, online audio-visual tools that have potential nonprofit applications.

Animoto—a service that automatically programs music you select and your images and text into a video slideshow—has been around a while. Again, it offers a free level (30-second limit) and a paid premium level of service. But last week, Animoto for a Cause was launched, giving nonprofits the chance to sign up free for the premium level, which includes:

  • Unlimited full-length video creation
  • A tool that allows you to add text to your video
  • Free access to their library of 300+ songs, all licensed for promotional purposes
  • A call to action feature that links your video to a website (great path for getting viewers into a relationship with your organization)
  • Unlimited DVD-quality downloads (much better resolution that the standard Animoto videos) which can be burned, re-sold, or played during events
  • The ability to post your videos to popular social networks

Here’s Animoto’s own description of the program:

Animoto for a Cause (http://animoto.com/cause) gives non-profit organizations and community activists free and unlimited access to the full range of Animoto’s services, both standard and premium. Animoto is the web application that lets anyone quickly and easily create dynamic, professional-quality videos from their own photos and music.  Now organizations can use the service to promote their cause online in a multitude of ways, from posting and sharing videos on websites, YouTube and social networks, to downloading them to DVD for distribution at events.  Applications are now being accepted from qualified organizations, groups, individuals, non-profits, and activists.

And here’s a sample about Darfur from Animoto that gives you a sense of what the finished product is like. (Sorry, wordpress.com doesn’t accept Animoto embeds, so these examples are links instead. Just click on the photos.)

darfur Capture

Obviously, you need good free music, strategically crafted copy, and photos that tell a story. I’m thinking this example isn’t the best the medium can yield. But it holds communications promise—especially for younger audiences. Animoto suggests that it’s a good way to highlight special events, but I think it could be interesting to use this tool for advocacy, fund-raising, or community-building messages.

Because I wanted first-hand experience with Animoto, I created a free 30-second portfolio of my past work just for fun. The process is very simple, and here’s the result. (I used free music from CCmixter, which is also very simple.)

animoto Capture

If any of you nonprofits have used Animoto or have other ideas about uses for this tool—add a comment or a link to share your example!

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Free tool of the week: Design Eye-Q

eye-q-captureIn a recent post on A List Apart, called In defense of eye candy, the author concludes this about attractive Web site design:

“The more we learn about people, and how our brains process information, the more we learn the truth of that phrase: form and function aren’t separate items. If we believe that style somehow exists independent of functionality, that we can treat aesthetics and function as two separate pieces, then we ignore the evidence that beauty is much more than decoration. Our brains can’t help but agree.”

This wisdom extends to all kinds of visual design beyond Web sites. Keep in mind that 2/3 of all the stimuli that reach the brain are visual, so the appearance of your communications is critical. Pleasing, well done design can play a big role in getting your communications looked at and read—no small feat in this cluttered world.

But many nonprofit staff aren’t  trained in visual design and may not know what to look for when they’re judging a designer’s work. Design Eye-Q to the rescue. Got an hour? Here’s a terrific free, 60-minute webinar that takes the mystery out of good design.

One in a series of great nonprofit resources produced by CauseCommunications, it will teach you the 10 questions you need to  ask when evaluating new Web pages, e-newsletters, annual reports, direct mail, or any other professionally designed communications.  You’ll learn about the different emotions that particular colors convey, what type face to use when, things to consider when you’re designing a logo, why eye patterns are important, and other valuable tips.

After reviewing examples of design evaluated by experts in this webinar, you’ll feel much more confident that you’re making the best design decisions for your organization and your audience. (Plus, it’s fun!)

Once you’ve done the webinar, you might want to check out Donor Power Blog’s Stupid Nonprofit Ads archive and Vincent Flander’s irreverant Web Pages That Suck (his checklists are very useful)–another source for what not to do and why. Then jump over to the Council on Foundation’s annual excellence in communication awards for an archive of some great designs in annual reports, magazines, reports, campaigns, and Web sites. The more examples you see of poorly done and well done designs, the better you’ll be able to judge what designers give you.

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