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

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.

Mobile giving: 4 trends nonprofits should consider

flickr/closari

This is my second post based on information gleaned from a recent Common Knowledge webinar on nonprofit communications trends for 2011. This time the topic is mobile giving.

Many believe that mobile giving reached a tipping point with response to the Haiti crisis last year. This year, it may be poised to grow even more. Nonprofits should think about how they can leverage quickly evolving mobile giving options in their fund raising to make it easier for  supporters to donate. But remember, there are strengths and weaknesses with each option.

Make a habit of reading nonprofit tech blogs to keep up to speed with mobile technology. There’s also a Linkedin group: Mobile Technology for Nonprofit Organizations—a good place to ask questions.

The 4 big trends predicted are—

Text to give goes mainstream

Text to give—texting on a smart phone to pledge money to a nonprofit and paying for that donation as part of your mobile carrier’s phone bill—has definitely gained traction. It’s convenient because it alleviates having to enter credit card information on your phone. Last year, by the weekend after the earthquake, the American Red Cross had raised more than $10 million for Haiti relief through its text-to-give campaign. The limitation right now is that text to give pledges can’t exceed $10-$20 each. That has the potential to cannibalize larger gifts. There are other challenges nonprofits need to consider before adopting text to give, as captured in this Mashable post.

Apps and mobile support credit card giving

Kind of cumbersome on a tiny screen, but the option to type your credit card number into your phone and give securely is getting more prevalent on nonprofit websites and apps. One advantage is that your donation reaches the nonprofit significantly sooner than it would through text-to-give, where the mobile carrier is an intermediary.

Another development related to this is the popularization of QR codes (quick response) on mobile devices. You can create these codes free at several sites online (just search for create free qr codes). These are little square bar codes that can immediately link to a url (for example your Facebook page or a donation form), send a text message, or dial a phone number when you scan them with your phone. Just be aware all links should be to mobile friendly pages. Here’s a great post from Nonprofit Tech 2.0 on 22 creative ways nonprofits can use QR codes. (Update–there’s now research from consumer marketers saying that QR codes are too labor intensive for the vast majority of people. Few really use them.)

Facebook credits

Facebook introduced the concept of its own virtual currency—Facebook credits—last April. They allowed people to buy from $1-$100 worth of these credits to give to their friends for great status updates. This was the first small step toward a more widespread use of this kind of virtual currency by Facebook. Later in the year, two charities accept donations using Facebook credits for their fund raising campaigns. Recently, Facebook made credits mandatory for any gaming transactions. It’s pretty clear that at some point in the near future, Facebook will expand credits throughout the Facebook system (maybe even beyond!). In that case, people may be using credits instead of dollars to donate to a nonprofit through Facebook. (Are you ready?)

The advantage to Facebook is that it will take 30% off the top of many transaction fees. And to keep as much money as possible inside the Facebook system, they’ll also give better terms for trading credits for Facebook advertising than for cash outs. But, at some point, Facebook may also give nonprofits a break on transaction fees. Stay tuned.

Paypal Mobile Express Checkout continues to grow

Just launched last summer, Paypal’s Mobile Express Checkout is in the news because of Starbuck’s new app that lets customers pay by having a QR code on their phone swiped, which uses PayPal’s Mobile Express Checkout. It’s a convenient, safe way to make mobile financial transactions, but it’s not yet clear that the people who support and contribute to nonprofits are the segment of the population with Paypal accounts. Maybe that will change.

Smart mobile devices are an increasingly important platform for interaction with your supporters. Think about ways you can leverage this medium more effectively for fund raising. But don’t just jump on the bandwagon—do your cost/benefit research and make sure whatever option you choose supports your brand and your fund raising strategies. Here’s a good post (from MediaPost) to get you thinking about mobile strategy!

CC photo credit: closari


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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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Social issue documentaries: Building a movement

Here in the Twin Cities, we’ve just experienced an interesting media frenzy about a social issue documentary called Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story that was produced by the University of Minnesota and funded by various foundations and governmental agencies. The one-hour film–which was scheduled to debut on Twin Cities Public Television this month–examines the contribution of modern agricultural techniques to the dangerous degradation of Midwest water and soil, and the burgeoning growth of the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A few weeks before the film’s scheduled airing, the University’s vice president of external affairs pulled the plug on it. They said they were going to have to review it more closely and that it villified agriculture. I won’t get into the PR debacle this last-minute censorship unleashed for the University (and rightly so in my opinion)–that’s a sad cautionary tale in and of itself. The story broke in a community media blog and spread to every other media outlet in the region. After much public outcry and pressure from funders and advocacy groups, the University allowed the film to be shown to a SRO crowd at the University and finally, to be shown on Twin Cities Public Television—without any pre-promotion.

I watched it last night, and was impressed at how clearly it raises important questions about U.S. farm policy and points toward next practices that could help stem the rapid loss of our best soil and the pollution of our watersheds. With all the publicity surrounding it–I’m hopeful it will have a long shelf life and eventually reach a much larger audience.It deserves that kind of exposure. (I wish I could give you a link to the film, but both the University and Twin Cities Public Television provide only minimum text information on their sites. I hope that changes!)

All this reminded me what a powerful medium film has become for igniting social movements. We all haunt the halls of YouTube, but we sometimes overlook the extraordinary film documentary work that’s being done to help people understand the causes and solutions for what seem like intractable problems. It’s not just Al Gore and Michael Moore—there are hundreds of writers, directors, and producers devoting their talents to this new way of educating citizens and building social movements. Here’s a great blog post from the Center for Social Media at The American University on Social Issue Documentaries: The Evolution of Public Engagement.

The good news is that—like Troubled Waters, which was funded in part by The McKnight Foundation—foundations are starting to grasp the promise of film documentaries. Obviously, this isn’t a realistic communications undertaking for most nonprofits—high quality production and distribution cost money. But for foundations, large nonprofits, and consortia of nonprofits—it can be a very effective way of sparking public and media interest, and getting more people engaged in behaviors that support the common good. And remember, as the line between television and computer blurs, these productions could gain much wider viewership in the next few years.


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