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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Nonprofits and Foundations: Don’t Forget the Infographics

flickr/*raj*I’ve read many articles and posts over the past few years about the nonprofit sector’s inability to manage and share information effectively. (Gee, I’ve even written a couple.) Most of these articles suggest how nonprofits can share information more meaningfully than through reports, and how they can tell stories that convey information in a more powerful, memorable way.

Let me add another important tool to this remedial mix—infographics.

Wikipedia defines them as visual devices intended to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. We’ve all seen examples of them—subway maps, traffic signs, scientific diagrams, and even children’s books. Here’s a good blog post introduction to infographics from InstantShift.

I’ve been intrigued with this field of expertise for a couple of decades, but the sheer volume of information out there now and the leaps made in communications technology have forced an enviable bloom in the field over the past couple of years. (Look at all the examples that pop up when you search in Google images or the flickr infographics pool!)

Right now, infographics are being used most effectively by newspapers and magazines interested in easy-to-understand explanations of complex concepts and relationships. But, some foundations and nonprofits have started to understand the value of this tool to visually simplify information that’s difficult to convey in text. Check out the infographics page on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation site.

Foundations especially have struggled for years to find ways of making their knowledge bases more accessible and understandable…and actionable! Infographics—because they are so quickly understood—can really help build momentum for action.

Let’s look at a few examples of good infographics, so you get the drift. Here are 50 excellent designs compiled by blogger Francesco Mugnai. Check out his other inspirational infographics lists under “related posts” on his blog. Note the flexibility of this medium, able to capture information as disparate as what’s inside Bob Dylan’s brain to the population demographics of the US or global giving patterns for the Haiti disaster (shown on  Information is Beautiful).

In addition to what’s linked above, other online resources offer stunning examples and regular commentary about infographics to spur your imagination.

coolinfographics

francescomugnai

sixrevisions

myvisualvoice

My advice? The next time you encounter difficulty explaining information to your key audiences—don’t forget the beauty of infographics.

CC photo credit: *raj*

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Own the Room–Some great presentation advice

flickr/constantly-Jair

flickr/constantly-Jair

Lots of us tend to underestimate the potential ROI from a great presentation. If we absolutely have to do one, we default to PowerPoint and spend as little time as possible in development and preparation. Other communications tactics we’re working on are considered much higher priority.

Yet, most of us know that face-to-face communication is the top rung on the ladder when it comes to effectiveness. Mobile is awesome, but human beings still like to communicate in person. Think about that the next time you (reluctantly?) agree to make a presentation. Spend as much time as you need to ensure the desired effect. And, of course, the first step to that end is knowing what that desired effect is—ah yes, back to strategy. Set a goal for your presentation, just like you do with other tactics, so you’ll have some way to recognize whether you’ve succeeded.

I’m going to share some great advice from a new book called Own the Room, written by three experts on business presentations. It’s packed with good sense about strategy and useful how-to’s, but I’m going to focus on one aspect of the book—openings.

The best way to lose your audience in the crucial first 60 seconds of a presentation is to use a traditional, polite but dull opening aimed at everybody (and nobody). You know the kind: “Good morning. I’m Patricia Smith from the blah-blah organization. I’m delighted to be here this morning, and grateful to have this opportunity to talk to you about…..”

Everyone’s already looking at email on their phones or twittering that another lifeless speech has begun. Your opening has to get the audiences’ attention, and interest them enough in what you’re saying so they’ll stay tuned. As the authors point out, our brains are wired to pay attention to novelty and surprise–so use that knowledge. Be unpredictable—skip the tedious introductions and shake things up a little. Engage your listeners from the minute you open your mouth.

Here are three suggestions from the book about how to just that.

Ask a counterintuitive question

People may believe they know the right answer, but you then show them what the real truth is in a way that starts to frame the rest of your talk. The example given in the book is: “China has a history of disregarding copyrights. Of all the products whose copyrights are infringed where do you think the most violations are found?” Most people say movies or CDs. But you point out: “The number one copyright infringement in China involves Prozac.” From this opening you can move into the theme of your talk (trade, legal issues, depression, etc.) knowing you’ve gotten your audiences’ attention through surprise.

Make an attention getting statement

The example given is “Attractive people are more persuasive than average-looking people. How does this affect your business?” Again, from this opening you can segue into ways to level the playing field, aspects of persuasive speaking, etc. But you’ve gotten everyone to start thinking about how they fit into the attractiveness spectrum, and that engages them in your real topic.

Tell a personal story

Use the first few minutes to tell the audience something surprising or novel about yourself. Demonstrate why you’re passionate about your topic through a personal anecdote. Make it riveting, and full of visual details that help them see what you’re describing. People far prefer to hear a story rather than a lecture. Usually, we also find such stories more believable and memorable.

When using each of these techniques, the authors urge that you tailor your presentation to your audience. Generic openings don’t connect with anyone. To do that, you need to provide personal experiences, stories, concepts, or ideas in enough detail to make them interesting and relevant to listeners’ own experiences. Signal immediately that you know your audiences’ needs and expectations.

They also suggest that you reveal your personal values. Become a human being to your listeners, not just a speaker. (If that means revealing a small weakness they can identify with, go ahead.) Give them a window to your thoughts and feelings. If listeners feel like they know you, they are more likely to believe you.

And finally, the book encourages you to present your point of view on the subject. This helps your audience quickly understand your intention, context, and passion. The authors recommend that you picture your listeners with remote controls in their hands. Your job in the first few minutes is to keep them from flipping channels. Examples of a few great (and instructive) openings are included in the book.

Developing and preparing for a presentation—including one for a videoconference or YouTube—is a great opportunity to put all your communications wisdom to work. This book can help, as can many other books, blogs, and websites. Take the time to learn all you can about how to do good presentations. Your audiences will thank you!

CC photo credit: constantly-Jair

Own the Room is by David Booth, Deborah Shames, and Peter Desberg. I received a complimentary copy.

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