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

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

Cultivate new supporters fast: A five-week “on-boarding” plan for nonprofits

flickr/benkessler

I’ve already mentioned in past posts Common Knowledge, whose highly useful webinars I regularly take (did I mention most of them are free?). This time I want to share part of a recent CK webinar on building your email list. I may get into that whole topic in another post, but what I want to share here is a brilliant strategy for quickly engaging new supporters who sign up with your cause and nonprofit through Facebook, your website, an email, or other channels that ask for email addresses.

These supporters have taken a huge first step—they’ve responded in some way to your communications and showed an interest in your cause. Now it’s up to you to get them engaged as fast and effectively as you can. CK calls this “on-boarding.”

One way to do that is to set up a rapid cultivation process through email. The example given in the webinar was a from a wildlife protection organization, but this strategy is widely applicable to other nonprofits.

The process kicks in immediately when the supporter gives you his/her email address, and lasts 5 weeks—with two emails sent each week (on Tuesday and Thursday) for a total of 10. Each email is educational and inspiring, with clear yet different calls to action. The whole sequence is structured as a ladder of engagement that creates much more knowledgable supporters and greater potential for their financial support.

The content of this 10-email sequence is all important. This is not just a means to a donation, it’s the opportunity to open the door to a long-term relationship with people who feel as passionately about your cause as you do. If your emails aren’t interesting, substantive, and valuable to your supporters—they’re going to be viewed as a nuisance and people will unsubscribe or not open them at all. (You need to track opens and unsubscribes carefully throughout the five weeks to gauge how successful your email content is. If lots of people keep unsubscribing or not opening throughout the first few weeks, you may have a content problem.)

To give you an example of how this might work, here’s the sequence of emails sent by the wildlife protection organization:

Week 1 Tuesday, welcome &  link to their organizational blog; Thursday, about seals with a link to their seals blog

Week 2 Tuesday, more education about threats to seals and a link to a petition to sign; Thursday, info about whales and a whale quiz

Week 3 Tuesday, info about orangutans and a video about them; Thursday, info about elephants and an audio about them

Week 4 Tuesday, more about elephants and a petition to sign; Thursday, a chance to pick their favorite endangered species and take a survey

Week 5 Tuesday, about bears and a donation appeal (the first, you notice); Thursday, more about bears, and another donation appeal

Again, you need to craft really great emails! This campaign triggered a pretty steady 21% open rate throughout the 5 weeks, which is a good sign that people remained engaged with the content. Compared with new supporters who were just mailed regularly scheduled communications, new supporters exposed to the rapid cultivation process took more actions and made first donations quicker.

And a word to the wise—once you’ve quickly engaged your new supporters, you have to keep them engaged! Be sure to immediately acknowledge their donations with a communication that tells them what their money is going to help you achieve. This 5-week process is only the beginning.You certainly won’t want to continue emailing them twice a weeks, but your long-term engagement strategy should be as thoughtful and effective as your short-term cultivation strategy.

This is a great way to increase your rate of conversion from supporter to activist to donor. Kudos to Common Knowledge for sharing it!

CC photo credit: benkessler

Nonprofit video roars into 2011: Here are the trends

flickr/John Biehler

I just took a terrific, free, Common Knowledge webinar on the five big nonprofit communication trends for 2011. It was beyond great; it was inspirational! So thorough and well-grounded in strategy-first. I’m going to be sharing some of the major take-aways in my next couple of posts.

BTW—Common Knowledge hosts a weekly webinar series, usually free. I highly recommend them.

One of the trends that excited me most was the increasingly central role that video will play in nonprofit (and everyone else’s) communications starting this year. Two things are contributing to that fact: Technology’s making it easier to stream video and video production tools are easily accessible, simple to use, and affordable.

In the last several months, mobile devices like smart phones and pads have made huge leaps in their capacity to stream video, and internet providers continued to provide faster wireless services and increased bandwidth. Meanwhile, the flipcam and other small, simple video cams—and easy movie editing software included on most computers—have brought production capabilities to almost anyone. If you don’t have any one on staff who knows how to shoot and edit video, you can easily find someone to do it for you at a reasonable rate.

The big predictions

What’s going to be happening in the nonprofit world with video this year?

  • Mobile video breaks out

Greater speed and capacity will have everyone viewing video on their phones or pads.

  • Video advertising becomes more popular

Following commercial advertising trends that recognize dynamic is more effective than static, video ads will join SEO and banner ads as ways that nonprofits can cultivate supporters.

  • User-generated video content goes mainstream

Your nonprofit isn’t the only one capable of producing video that can advance your organization. Your supporters can—and do—too. They’ll be looking for ways to help you tell your story through this medium. Invite them.

  • Marketing video blossoms

Our lingering reliance on text and photos will fade further as nonprofit storytelling makes more and more use of video—a medium (thanks to TV) that everyone’s familiar with and one that humans find very engaging.

Your first steps

If you’ve never done a video before, start now! And probably, start small.

Produce a video in 2011. Take a look at all your communications strategies and objectives this year (and your budgets) and seriously consider which could be better met through a video. There must be at least one opportunity in there somewhere! (Read more about video strategy in my past post on it. Figuring out who you’re trying to reach and why is a critical first step.)

Find a videographer who knows how to shoot, edit, help create a story arc, and do effective interviewing. Work with them on your first production to learn the ropes.(BTW: The rule of thumb for budgeting is about $1,000 for each finished minute of video, but you can pay more if you want a really professional result.) Once you’ve been through the production process a few times, and have gained skills, you may be able to buy a small video camera and do production yourself.

Think in advance how you will use/promote the video, and what ROI you’re after. Will you put it on your website, in an email, on YouTube, on your social networking sites? Also think how the video will integrate with and support your other communications tactics. What response to the video will spell success?

Measure results against the ROI you outlined. By tracking these results, you can get better with each video production you do. You don’t have to be great right off the bat, but you do owe it to your supporters to get better and better.

I leave you with one statistic: Within the next three years, it’s estimated that nearly half of all the information on the internet will be streaming video.

Need any more motivation?

CC photo credit: John Biehler


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The CEO bully pulpit: Commentaries in the digital age

Flickr/southtyrolean

I’ve wanted to post for a while about one of my favorite media tactics for nonprofits and foundations. I guess it’s one of my favorites because I’ve been lucky enough to work with some courageous CEOs and executive directors who were willing to use their stature and credibility in the community to move the needle on social issues—everything from renewable energy to the importance of arts for school children.

I call this media tactic the bully pulpit, and you should only use it if you and your board are comfortable taking a public stand on an issue.

As more foundations and nonprofits understand that information is one of their chief assets, their leaders are using online tools like blogs and twitter to share their knowledge and perspectives with a wider audience. One simple sharing tactic is the submission of opinion editorials or commentaries to online media outlets—both mainstream and niche.

Most mainstream media have robust online websites, and nearly all include invitations for people from the community to submit opinion pieces or commentaries for online publication. Think about the media outlets—and don’t forget the specialty media—that are read by the audiences you’re trying to reach.

First, let me remind you that any tactic has to fit within your larger communications strategy. For instance, if you’re trying to change an issue frame on a particular issue, or bring new information and wisdom to light about a public policy, this tactic may be of use to you. If you’re trying to change public policy, this can work too, but be sure to adhere to nonprofit guidelines about advocacy.

Part one: Placing the commentary

This tactic actually has two parts, both equally important. First, you need to write and place the commentary. That involves five steps:

1) Clarify what you want to change (behavior, policy, awareness) as a result of the commentary and who can actually make that change (your key audiences).

2) Thoughtfully pick which media outlets reach those people and look over those outlets’ submission policies.

3) Think about timing (if you’re submitting more than one, do you want a blitz or a stream? Do you want to tie this to an event?).

4) Write a commentary tailored to each media outlet and the audience it attracts, which includes understanding your main talking points and path of persuasion, as well as the commentary guidelines for each outlet. Most op-eds run between 500-800 words.

5) Submit the piece online, including a brief explanation of who you are. (NOTE: Most outlets can take up to three weeks to publish op-eds. They may ask you for a photo.)

For each of the outlets you think are good matches for you key audiences, take time to read through the last few months of  published op-eds—both from  their editorial staff and members of the community—to get a sense of what kinds of issues and approaches each outlet is interested in. (Also, make sure no one has already written what you’re planning to write.)

Then do a topic search of their news for the past two months on the issue you want to write about. Pay special attention to what they’ve published about this issue in the past two weeks—there may be a news hook for your piece in there. For instance, if you want to write about education, it’s important to know that a new educational achievement report just came out last week—you may want to tie your commentary to that article.

Part two: Targeted recycling

Part two kicks in when the commentary is published. It’s great when visitors to the media website happen to read your piece, but don’t rely on serendipity for getting your key audiences to the website. Let them know once it’s been published through a short email with a link included. Don’t look at the email as a way to toot your own horn, think of it as sharing interesting content with potential readers. (Check to see if the media outlet requires link rights. Sometimes, these articles go offline after a couple of weeks unless you have obtained those rights.)

If you want to get even more personal, get reprint permission rights from the media outlet and send it out to key people with a personal note attached. (Be aware, reprint rights can cost money. Be sure to ask if they offer a nonprofit discount.)

More likely than not, this post-publication recycling of the op-ed is going to be the best way to ensure that those people you really want to see it actually do.

You can use online commentaries to create buzz by submitting different pieces to different media on the same topic in a short period–3-4 weeks. Or you can create a steady stream over a few months, or aim at quarterly placements that keep an issue in front of the public.

If you have any other advice for nonprofit leaders who write commentaries—please share it below!

CC photo credit: southtyrolean

Nonprofits: Become a personal “content” shopper for your audiences

shopping bags

flickr/Somewhat Frank

Content curation isn’t new, even though a lot is being written about it these days. Some nonprofits have been curating content on their websites and blogs for quite a while…maybe without exactly calling it that.

Content curation is filtering, selecting, and/or remixing and reorganizing online content, typically to meet the needs and interests of particular audiences.

Why is this practice valuable? Because none of us has time to comb through the web for the bits we’re most interested in. Think of this service as akin becoming a personal shopper for your audiences—someone who finds the stuff they love and pulls it conveniently together for them, saving them hours, frustration…and 500 bags!

Ever since Clay Shirky’s observation about information overload being a problem not of too much information but of filter failure, folks—including the corporate sector—have begun paying more attention to the crucial role of filtering quality content to serve their customers/supporters. Now that about anyone can publish and the web is rife with information of questionable quality/credibility, this filtering role has taken on even more value.

If you look around, content curation is everywhere—from “10 best restaurant” recommendations to magazine features on sustainable gardening tips to blogs that provide the latest tech news for geeks. Remember, this isn’t just collecting, it’s selecting. Good curation is more than aggregation. Your supporters want you to provide them only with the cream of the crop.

It also involves organization. Using the personal shopper metaphor—you have to decide whether your clients prefer to view outfits (where the shoes, tops, bottoms, etc. are put together by you), functional categories (all the shoes, all the tops, etc.), or everything grouped by color. You want to make it as easy for them as possible to understand what parts of your content they’re going to like the most.

If you want to get more intentional about curation, first become your key audience. Think from their perspective about what information they want and need related to your issue or cause. What will help them make the decisions they face in their lives? What will reward them and make life easier? What will amaze and delight them?

Here are a few examples of blog and website curation that hit the mark. They’re audience-centric, selective, and presented in a way that provides enough information about relevance and significance for viewers to decide what links to click. These examples range from simple lists to broader topical contexts.

  • Wild Apricot blog’s monthly list of free webinars well serves their audience of nonprofits interested in technology and social media. Professional development content is very relevant (especially the word FREE). They further help you filter your interests by telling you both the date/times of the events and a bit about the topic, so you can go right to the content that fits your schedule and interests.
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog curates news and information about conservation and climate change, covering everything from migratory birds to coral reefs and rain forests. They include original content, links to interesting online features, news from around the world, and reader comments. But it all centers on conservation , their core work.
  • The National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There blog helps parents think of creative ways to get kids away from their computers and video games to spend time outdoors. They want young people to build a relationship with the natural world that will benefit both the kids and the planet…and develop potential future donors to NWF!
  • Another great curatorial site is mnartists.org, an online marketplace for Minnesota artists and a clearinghouse for almost anything art related that’s happening in the state—from competitions to concerts to community events. Because the site’s so good at curating content useful to artists, it’s built a large, active following.

My curatorial aim in tweeting is to share the best resources and advice I find in my daily online reading about nonprofits, communications, and social media. The intended audience is nonprofit communications staff, and my goal is to do some of the heavy “sifting” for them. Organizations can use Facebook the same targeted way. You already know that from all the pages you’ve “liked” that provide you with continuous content related to a favorite book, TV program, movie, celebrity, etc. Even advertising is curated on Facebook.

As repositories of important information, nonprofits and foundations can be great content curators. Not only does their knowledge about their causes allow them to spot the best online resources, but they can also curate their own original information.

For example, does your website categorize your information by type—publications, links, news releases, speeches, video? Why not gather your best resources from those categories on specific topics of interest to your audience? (Few viewers come to your site eager to learn about your publications or news releases, they’ve got a subject in mind.) Put it all in one place for them—and that includes links to your social media channels if they contain relevant information. (Don’t forget the share buttons!) Here’s an example from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a news page on multicultural health issues for journalists who write for Latino and African American readerships.

Another way to curate content is to display it by its popularity. You can do this by tracking clicks or by actually opening up your content to “Like.” It may feel risky, but it will be a great source of intelligence (rather than guesswork) about what kinds of content matter most to your audiences. Lots of retail sites have already begun to display their most Liked wares (e.g., Urban Outfitters). In the nonprofit world, Wild Apricot blog does a great job of this—allowing viewers to vote on which content they like best and then highlighting that content each month.

Chances are you’re already doing some kind of content curation on your website, blog, and social media. I hope this post helps bring sharper focus to that practice. It’s crucial expertise to have as the amount of online information grows every day.

CC photo credit: Somewhat Frank


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