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

To self (and staff): Great job!

Flickr: Doug88888

When Marc Pitman asked us nonprofit fundraisers and communicators: “How do you say thanks to yourself?” The first answer that popped into my head was—yoga. The second was—a glass of wine and a long hot bath.

Then I thought a little harder about how I’ve rewarded myself in the past, after periods of taxing work, when complex projects have come to fruition. Here are a few things that buoyed me up and helped me celebrate what I—and my co-workers—had achieved.

  1. Dredge up the very first file or planning document related to the project. Take a look at it and marvel at how far you’ve come since it was written. Truly, our beginnings never know our ends (in a good way). You’re allowed to utter “wow” aloud.
  2. Go into the conference room and lay out all the communications products associated with the project on a big table. If there’s media involved, stream it on a computer. Gather your coworkers who helped with the project and create a moment of group pride where you all feel the power of working together to accomplish something big. Turn on Florence and the Machine’s “The Dog Days Are Over” and celebrate with a little wrap party.
  3. Take a minute to drop by your CEO’s office and let them know the project’s done and share any data about its success…then let yourself bask in whatever praise they choose to heap upon you. But be sure to acknowledge those who helped you. (If they don’t heap some praise on you…ponder whether you’re in the right organization.)
  4. Once the project’s done, take the team out for a surprise, mid-morning coffee-donut break. Throw in an inexpensive but appropriate gag gift for each member related to their role on the project. (These can be as simple as home-made award ribbons with funny titles, or those cheap button pins with wacky sayings on them). Let people enjoy each other when they’re out from under the press of assignments and deadlines. Let them know you appreciate their roles.
  5. Just for yourself—take a few days off and get away. Different sights and a new environment can recharge your energy and imagination.

But I wouldn’t want to leave it at that. Taking care of yourself (and your staff—because they can be real contributors to your well being) isn’t something you should wait until the end of a project or a tough work period to undertake.

Build in rewards (and fun) all along the way…at major milestones or just every few weeks. Small things (e.g., a great image/saying about gratitude with a little hand signed note from you, taped to each team member’s computer screen when they come in on Monday morning) to bigger things (e.g., a chill-out dessert potluck some afternoon)—the gesture is the important thing, not the cost.  And you don’t have to have all the ideas—invite your staff to think up cool rewards, too.

You work very hard, and so do your staff. Regularly acknowledge and reward that!!

Creative Commons photo credit: Doug88888

Augmented reality—Search moves from text to objects

Hold onto your hats!

I just read a Trendwatching report  about the not-too-distant future when Search transcends Google and spreads to everyday objects.

Instead of typing into a text search box to get information you want—just point your phone or pad at an object or scene and all kinds of information pops up. It’s called augmented reality, and it’s going to change everything. In part, because it’s so much more entertaining than text search. Some of this has already started with QR codes (also not so entertaining), but these new apps may quickly make QR codes obsolete.

Some nonprofits are already experimenting with this new technology, and it sounds like they’re using good sense about keeping their use of it audience-centric and very strategic. That’s great. It’s always easy to get swept away by the latest, coolest apps. But in this case, I don’t think it’s too early for nonprofits to start thinking about how this technological shift dovetails with their strategic communications plans.

Here’s a consumer example. You point your phone at a watch in the window of a jewelry store and everything you could want to know about the watch immediately appears on your phone—including a photo of the watch that you can superimpose over your own wrist to see how it would look. You can also do price comparisons and order it right over your phone.

Or, maybe you want to give your spouse a special valentines day gift. When a pad is pointed at the flowers you sent—up pops a video of your romantic message. The physical and virtual worlds are melding, and that’s pretty exciting—not only for those who market consumer products, but those who market social causes.

First, visit these two sites to see what’s already available out there—two mind-blowing FREE apps: blippar and aurasma lite. Consider downloading them to get familiar with how they work.

On the blippar site, check out what Nestle’s done with Shreddies—Knitting Nanas pearls of wisdom from a cereal box. Or how Nike is providing exclusive video from their posters. Be sure to watch the demo on the home page, too. For Aurasma, watch both the Daily Mirror and the 3-D toy examples.

Now, settle back and let your mind wander…hmmm. How could nonprofits use these new apps? Actually, I can’t STOP thinking of the ways.

  • Environmental organizations can key open space protection video/info to geographic spots they’re trying to protect, or spaces that are already protected and very popular—where people enjoying open space can learn about how your nonprofit is protecting other places that are threatened.
  • Arts organizations can go wild. Opera companies can spur traffic to upcoming offerings by attaching video snippets and other info to images in their programs, or even tickets. Museums now have a whole new, exciting, and visual way of conveying didactics–not just type on the wall. Performance companies can easily display their offerings when someone simply points a phone at their building.
  • When someone points a phone or pad at a new housing or retail development, community development organizations can convey the history and  importance of that project, and of course—make clear their role.

Think of the million ways schools, clinics, youth development organizations, foundations, social service agencies, and every other nonprofit can make use of existing information through these dynamic new apps. Maybe there will come a time when parents just have to hold their phone up to an early childhood facility or a local school to get quality rating information. Or when people can see an impact video about your organization simply by pointing their pad at your building, booth, or logo! Here’s one example of a simple brochure-based aurasma campaign by Save the Children.

And, of course, fundraisers will figure out ways to take all this virtual information sharing straight through to the GIVE NOW button.

Are you excited yet? This is still emerging technology, but things move very fast. The way to start thinking about any shiny new technology is to step back from your excitement a little bit, and carefully consider if and how it might support your strategic communications goals. If you think it has a role to play, experiment with it and track results.

I’d love to hear your ideas about how blippar and aurasma could be used by nonprofits, in the comments below.

Creative Commons photo credit: turkletom

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

Blogs vs. Facebook for Nonprofits


(My 100th post!)

Over the past few months, I’ve helped a couple nonprofit clients who are ready to move into social media decide whether to go with a blog or Facebook. (I’ll talk about Twitter strategies in a future post. It’s kind of a different animal.)

Most approach it as an either/or decision because of their limited staff resources. That’s a real concern. If you truly don’t have the staff time to blog at least once a week or make a Facebook update twice a week, you shouldn’t be considering either medium.

If you do have adequate staff resources, go back to your strategic communications plan to make this decision. You have to start there—with what you want to happen as a result of your communications efforts. (If you need help with strategic communications planning, here’s the first part of my four-part DIY series.)

Each organization has unique goals and needs, they have to drive your choice. Don’t be seduced into thinking that because everyone’s on Facebook or such-and-such an organization has a blog, that you have to do the same thing. Do it only if it supports your strategic communications goals.

Here are a few hypothetical examples of how different organizations might make this decision. (There are many factors to consider in these decisions, but because these are hypotheticals I’m going to  keep it simple.)

Nonprofit A relies mostly on foundation funding. It’s identified program officers, board members, and executive staff from current and potential funders as its key communications audiences, and the priority goal is to keep those people impressed with and supportive of its work.

Nonprofit B has a very different communications goal. That organization is dependent on individual contributions and volunteers, so it’s crucial to engage, feed, and continuously grow its fan base to keep support levels consistently high.

Nonprofit C has developed a brand that emphasizes knowledge sharing and leadership. One of its priority communications goals is to be recognized by local partners, peers, and other influencers as THE knowledge source on a particular issue.

With limited funds and staff time—where do each of these nonprofits begin branching out to more social media: a blog or Facebook? (For now, let’s assume they have no other social media presence.)

MY ADVICE

Here’s what I’d probably advise.

Nonprofit A–blog

Although Facebook can be a very engaging medium, given the demographics and motivation of senior foundation staff, I’m not sure Facebook is where they will go first to find out about a nonprofit’s work. I’d say, first make your website and email newsletters very compelling for this audience, and work up a series of personal interactions that gets your CEO in front of key members. If you want something more—then consider a blog.

Facebook is fun, but blogs can be more professional and credible sources of information for this particular audience. Once embedded (I recommend embedding blogs in websites in most cases), they also add badly needed dynamism to a website. I also believe that a blog can go farther in advancing your brand than Facebook can—after all you own and control it, not some third party.

Nonprofit B–Facebook

Not only can Facebook help increase the size of your fan base, it can encourage and enable peer-to-peer fundraising and individual contributions to your campaigns and volunteer participation. It’s an exciting interactive medium for cultivating relationships, but do think through the demographics of Facebook before making a commitment. The key here is full integration with your website, email, direct mail, and all other social hubs you eventually develop. Remember, Facebook is one step on a much longer path to lasting engagement. Clearly understand the tactics and media you’re going to use to guide that new Facebook friend down the path. Here are some interesting “onboarding” ideas from a past post.

Nonprofit C–blog

Effective knowledge sharing goes far beyond adding a report PDF to your website. We’re not talking about mere information dissemination. Knowledge sharing involves adding context and meaning. You can’t just give somebody something to read, you have to help them interpret it…and quickly, because no one has very much time these days. While Facebook is great for snippets, links, and photos, a blog gives you more control and space to do that kind of interpretation of information. It also provides comment interactivity, which can lead to new information and refined knowledge.

And for organizations interested in high leadership profiles, recognize there is a difference between popularity and leadership. Facebook leans more toward the former and a blog more toward the latter.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

In general, here are some things to consider when you’re making this decision for your nonprofit.

1. CONTROL  Facebook is owned and controlled by a third-party. It’s policies and practices are in constant flux and have to be kept up with. Branding is limited. Blogs are created, owned, and controlled by you. They can be completely supportive of your brand, and you have more control over the interactivity.

2. CACHET  Although Facebook makes it very easy to share your organization’s activities, accomplishments, and engagement opportunities, it’s not easy to convey your organization’s expertise. Consistently well-written, relevant, thought-provoking blog posts are better at that. If you want a reputation as a thought-leader, go for a blog not Facebook.

3. REACH  Facebook posts last a day or a week, blog posts last forever. You can build up a body of knowledge on a blog that people can use as a resource for years. Also, Facebook posts aren’t easy to share as blog posts, and although Google recognizes Facebook updates/custom tab content now, blog posts are probably going to rank higher on search engines.

Finally…

This doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. If your communications goals match up well with both Facebook’s strengths and a blog’s strengths, and you have enough resources—maybe try both. Just be very clear about what your audiences and objectives are for each medium.

One more thing—if you go with a blog, try to optimize it for mobile!

Late breaking news–today (Oct. 26) IdealWare published the 2nd edition of their free Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide–a fabulous resource that can help your organization make better informed choices about which social media you need most.