Free Tools: Visual Timelines

Tiki-toki

Tiki-toki

Facebook isn’t the only place you may want to use an interactive visual timeline to tell the story of your organization’s evolution and accomplishments.

Lucky for all of us, there are some new FREE timeline tools out there that nonprofit communicators can make good use of: Tiki-toki, Timeline JS, and Dipity. Examples of each are to the right.

Check them all out and choose according to your needs. Of course, there are premium versions to buy that offer more flexibility, but any of the free versions probably would work fine for most nonprofits. There are several differences among them.

Tiki-Toki allows you (makes you) add months and days to the dates of your stories (at least I haven’t found a way around that!). That works great if your story takes place over a month or a week, but it doesn’t work so well for anniversaries where you just want to note years. You can only create one timeline and you can’t embed it on your website without upgrading to a premium account (lowest upgrade is $5 per month). You can share your timeline, just not embed it. There are also some limits on images hosted on the Tiki-toki server.

TimelineJS

TimelineJS

TimelineJS  is good if you’ve got tech support in building your timeline. It’s easy for the viewer to use, but not so straightforward for the person creating it. Personally, I found Dipity that simplest to create with. You can get a timeline going in 15 minutes. And I like the way Dipity hides the detailed information–you have to click on it. That makes the big messages in the headlines really pop, and lessens the distraction of the reader. Yet, anyone who wants more details can easily get them. Also, you have the choice of viewing a Dipity timeline as a flipbook or list.

The free version of Dipity allows you to create 3 timelines with a maximum 150 events. These timelines can be embedded and shared. Note–your timeline will have ads on the page unless you buy a premium version ($5 per month minimum). Also, Dipity allows you to sync your timeline with your twitter, facebook, tumblr and other social media so the timeline is automatically updated with those posts. (This feature could come in handy if your timeline is tracking campaign progress.) Here’s a good video tutorial on starting out with Dipity.

Before you even start thinking about using one of these cool tools, you need to have a good reason. Strategy first! None of us have much time to learn tools just for the fun of it. But, if your organization has an anniversary coming up or you’re trying to tell a story that rolls out over time, visual timelines can be a lot more effective than scrolling narratives. Like infographics, they offer easily digestible bites rather than a huge meal of text/photos. Consider the possibilities… And if anyone knows of other free timeline creation tools, please leave a comment below.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, Dipity has experienced long-term technical problems that have prevented creators to edit or add to their timelines. It’s been three weeks and the problem still exists. What’s worse, Dipity hasn’t been forthcoming with information to its users about the nature of the problem. They keep promising it will be fixed by such and such date, but that never happens. I moved my Dipity timeline data to Whenintime instead–based on a referral from another Dipity user. I don’t like the timeline mechanics as well, but it does offer an interesting blog template. Check it out, or one of the other two free timelines above. I can no longer recommend Dipity!

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!

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

10 Time Management Tips for Nonprofit Communicators

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a consultant (and a former nonprofit communications director), it’s how incredibly busy nonprofit communicators are–-always. There don’t seem to be peaks and valleys, it’s all just climbing, climbing, climbing.

Nonprofit communications professionals are pulled in 17 different directions at any given moment, and it can feel like you don’t have much control over your day. Pretty soon you find yourself working at home in the evening just to stay afloat.

I encourage my clients who call me short-of-breath from work overload to make the time to rethink how they organize their days. You may not be able to incorporate every tip I’ve described below, but even using a few of them can have an impact. Keep in mind—when you’re waist-deep in project management—that it’s an important part of your job to stay attuned to news, trends, and larger environment. (I’ve aimed these tips at communications managers, but any communication staff member could find them useful.)

Tip #1:  Don’t overload your plate

If you’ve got too much on your plate, acknowledge it and decide what has to go. You risk your own reputation and that of your organization when you take on too many activities to do each of them well.

To help you figure out what you should let go of, organize tasks/projects into a four-quadrant grid with the horizontal axis as URGENT and the vertical axis as IMPORTANT (this axis is where you measure the impact of a project). Your biggest priorities are probably in the quadrant where important and urgent coincide. (If anything falls in the least important, least urgent quadrant, why are you doing it?) Lean toward acting on what’s important first. But keep an eye open for urgent actions that can hold someone else up if they don’t get done—try to be as sensitive to others’ deadlines as you want them to be to yours.

Another skill you absolutely have to master is saying no. When someone pops into your office with a cool idea that’s either not strategic or impossible to add to your already full plate—be straight with them. If the idea’s worth considering at a later time, tell them you’ll do that. Be nice, thank them, but don’t leave them believing you’re going to undertake something you have no resources or time to undertake.

Tip #2:  Sunday evening prep

I know this is off-the-clock time, but by spending 15-30 minutes doing this your Monday morning will be SO much easier. Take a look at new emails and emails from the past week that you’ve flagged for action but not acted on. Listen to new voicemails. Make a quickie online, chronological list (starting with what you need to do early in the week) of the things you have to do related to the content of these emails/voicemails. Flag top priorities.

Tip #3: Monday morning me-time

(Beg your ED not to schedule staff meetings on Monday mornings; Tuesday mornings are more productive. You’re all back into the swing of things and new questions will have arisen.)

Spend your first half- to full-hour figuring out your biggest strategic priorities for the week—this is your big picture thinking time. Your priorities shouldn’t be all implementation—there should be relationship building/management, evaluation, information gathering, budgetary, and planning activities as well. Understand how this week’s tasks fit into your goals for the month and year. This is one way to keep on track with the projects that matter most, without getting mired in the morass of tiny “emergencies” that inevitably crop up.

Tip #4:  Be the first to know

Every workday morning (except Monday), spend your first 15 minutes to half-hour reviewing top news headlines and alerts related to your work in your online reader and on Tweetdeck. There may be developments that present opportunities or require response, and those need to be added to your weekly project grid too. Be the first to know, and share news with whomever in your organization needs to know. (Your colleagues will find this a valuable service.) At 4 pm, revisit these two sources again to keep up with relevant news. (If you tweet, this is a good time to share links of interest with your followers.)

Tip #5:  Tame your tools

Your phone and computer are tools, don’t let them become bosses. If you’re at your desk, resist the temptation to answer the phone or look at emails throughout the day (there are obvious exceptions, if you’re expecting an important call and you see that number flash up,  you answer it). This allows you to move on your priorities. At 11 am, review phone messages first and emails second…and act on what needs response right away. (A lot can wait until the end of the day). If an email response is only going to take a minute, do it then and get it off your to-do list. At 3 pm, do this same routine. Be sure to flag emails that are going to require later action. If you’re on the run a lot, use time between meetings to check emails and voicemails on your smart phone. Try to have gone through all your messages before your day ends.

Tip #6:  Make meetings matter

Schedule meetings between 9:30-11 and 1-3, to give yourself time to catch up on emails, phone calls, and news beforehand. Be selective about scheduling your own or attending others’ meetings—80% of the time they aren’t necessary. Meetings are for making decisions and building relationships, not for sharing information. (There are great ways to do that through other channels.) If you’re not sure how important a meeting you’ve been asked to attend is, ask yourself this: If I don’t attend, what’s the worst that could happen? If the answer to that question isn’t compelling, if your priorities call you elsewhere, and if an important relationship isn’t at risk—consider sending apologies and not going. Be as concerned about not wasting other people’s time with your meetings as you are about wasting your time with theirs.

Always be prepared for and on-time to meetings. It’s a basic sign of professionalism and respect. It also helps speed things along.

Tip #7:  Recognize trouble

It’s easy to get so absorbed in meeting deadlines that when a tiny red flag waves, you don’t see it or just dismiss it and hope it goes away. Always be vigilant for what can go wrong and when you see signs, take a deep breath and sit for a minute. Don’t panic, just let the right course of action come to you (it will). Smart actions are better than knee-jerk responses, they have a greater likelihood of forestalling further problems and will save you time later on. An ounce of prevention…

Tip #8:  Keep chats short

Part of your role as a member of your organization is to contribute to a healthy, enjoyable culture. You can’t just close your door and bar chatty neighbors who may be less busy than you at the moment. But you do have the right to: 1) Tell them you’d love to catch up but you’re facing a deadline, or 2) Limit the chat to no more than a few minutes. Informal exchanges with your colleagues are important for team-building (and sometimes information gathering), so don’t cloister yourself away completely. If it works for you, use your lunch time for informal chats.

Tip #9:  Take a break at least once a day

At times, it may be impossible to take a lunch break because a project needs to get done, but make those times exceptions. Walking away from your work for at least a half-hour a day can provide mental downtime that increases your clarity, creativity, and productivity. Get away from the office (and outside) during those breaks as much as possible.

Tip #10: Be kind

Just as you’re slammed with deadlines, others in your organization often face the same level of pressure. Watch the tone of your emails and your voice when dealing with unwelcome interruptions and requests. “Lean and mean” behavior may get a project out on time but lose you the long-term cooperation of colleagues. A nonprofit communicator’s success depends on good relationships on every side, internal and external. (Remember, you will need them at some point, just like they need you now.) So be kind and as helpful as you can.

Any time management tips of your own to add?

Creative Commons photo credit: Leo Reynolds

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

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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