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

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.

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