Laura Quinn's blog

Online Seminars - Graphics for the Web, and Online Conferencing

We've got a new online seminar we're excited about coming up tomorrow (Wednesday) from 1:00 - 2:30 Eastern - Creating Great Graphics for the Web.

Looking for a way to take your current photos - or find inexpensive photos or illustrations online - and convert them into great graphics for your website? This is your seminar - we'll talk through methods to acquire good material, principles of transforming them into great web-ready images, and the inexpensive software packages that can help you whip them into shape. Register here.

Or on Thursday, also 1:00 - 2:30 Eastern, we have the always popular Getting Started with Online Conferencing and Seminar Tools - we walk through the useful features for conducting online conferences and seminars, and then some of the free and affordable software options, such as Glance, DimDim, Yugma, GoToMeeting, ReadyTalk, and Adobe Connect. And we close with some tips and tricks for conducting online seminars. Hey, there's nothing like an online seminar about online seminars! Register here.

Resource Roundup 8/31

Learning from Obama: Read the (E-)Book (e-politics)
The prolific and always useful Colin Delaney has put out a new, free e-book " Learning from Obama" - chock full of interesting insights for nonprofits and political groups about the tactics and technologies Obama used in his campaign

Online Video: Why I’m a Believer (frogloop)
Shirley Sexton makes the case for why online video is an important tool for nonprofit communications.

How to Use Facebook for Nonprofit Organizations (
CharityHowTo sells useful and practical online videos on how to use specific software applicable to nonprofits, for a small fee. This one on Facebook is particularly interesting, providing a step-by-step guide to getting started.

Networking Basics: What’s a Firewall? (
Great, very friendly and understandable article on what a firewall is and how it works

Is Direct Mail Dying? (Mal Warwick's Newsletter)
In a word, no. In two words: that's silly. Here's a well written piece from Chuck Pruitt saying why.

The Shrinking Generational Digital Divide (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
Research based look by a AARP staffer of what older people are doing on the internet

Visualizing the Social Software and Collaboration Marketplace (CMS Watch)
Several useful diagrams showing the huge variety of software tools able to help organizations and business with collaboration and social media tasks

If We Can Do It, So Can You: Mobile Evaluations at the 09NTC (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
Useful case study of NTEN's session evaluations by mobile phone at their NTC conference

Online Community Building: Gardening vs Landscaping (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Very useful metaphor to help think through the role of an online community moderator

Build Your Own Social Network : Elgg (Beaconfire Wire)
A collection of resources about Elgg, a free and open source tool that allows you to build your own private social network for your constituents.

How I Raised $1,000 on Facebook Without Breaking a Sweat (Blue Avocado)
Nice case study on using Facebook for a birthday campaign

Conducting Technology Focus Groups

We use a lot of research methods at Idealware. We do a tons of interviews and a fair amount of surveys, but the occasional focus group can also be useful. A focus group is essentially a big group interview - a discussion with 5-10 people and a facilitator. They have to be used with care - focus groups offer suffer from a "group think" mentality where it seems like everyone has strong feelings about something, when actually just one or two people do and everyone else agrees to seem agreeable.

But they can be useful to quickly get people's opinions on complex subjects (like, say, a department's needs for a new system) - the discussion can help highlight some of the nuances involved . And, from a practical perspective, it's much less time consuming to conduct a focus group with seven people than to interview seven people individually and then to analyze that data. There's not a lot of cases where I'd prefer the focus group to the seven interviews in the ideal world... but on limited budgets, a focus group is way better than no research at all.

So how do you make the most of a focus group? Organizations rarely have the luxury of a professional facilitator, or even one that's not directly involved in the project at hand. With that in mind, here's some tips for team members to successfully facilitate.
  • Default to over-clarification. It’s important to think of yourself as an apprentice, there to learn everything the people there know on these topics. Actively keep yourself from assuming that you know what people are trying to say, but instead ask them to clarify, or at least paraphrase it back for them (“So it’s difficult for you to make sure you’re not sending two letters?”). This is difficult to do in practice, and takes effort. Most of us have the urge to just accept statements and assume we know what they mean, to ensure we don’t look stupid or slow to understand.
  • Keep yourself out of the conversation. Try hard to keep your opinion and plans out of the discussion. If you’re asked questions (for instance, what your plans are to address a problem), say that you really want to hear everyone’s opinions first, and you’ll take on questions at the end.
  • Don’t agree with people. Stay away from actually agreeing with people’s statements (“I know what you mean.” “Yes, we’ve found that too.” “That’s something we’re working on.”). That kind of reinforcement biases your data by introducing your own opinion. Instead, try to limit your responses to acknowledgment (“Thanks for mentioning/ sharing/ saying that!”), leading (“Do others have thoughts?”) or clarifying (“Can you say more?”)
  • But be agreeable! Be pleasant. Try to keep your body language friendly – open, arms uncrossed, leaning forward.
  • Try to use a light touch in moderation. Your job is to keep the conversation mostly on track, to make sure everyone participates, and to cover the guide. Often, conversation flows pretty well once you get started, so don’t feel you need to steer it constantly. Remember that whenever you prompt people (“what about fundraising? Have you had issues with wikis?”) you are directing the conversation, and making it difficult to know whether they would have mentioned that topic without prompting. So prompting should be done sparingly.
  • Be the hero when needed. Remember that if one person’s dominating, or a small group is taking the conversation off topic, the rest of the group is likely to be relieved if you bring it back to a more balanced, productive conversation. You can be their hero!
  • Make it a jargon-free zone. Strive to keep the conversation free of jargon that not everyone in the group would be familiar with – try to use accessible language yourself, and try to translate for others if other participants use technical language (“Thanks – that sounds like a big issue for you. Just to confirm, when you say CMS, you mean a content management system?”)
  • Remember that you’re there to facilitate. Keep in mind that it’s more important to keep the conversation useful and on track that it is to process the implications of what you’re hearing. You can do that later from the notes. In fact, as alarming as it sounds, you don’t actually need to listen to what people say more than is necessary to guide the flow around their key issues, and to keep it productive and friendly. It’s common as a facilitator to listen with only half an ear to the end of a discussion while planning out how you’re going to transition to the next thing.
  • But don’t let these guidelines freak you out. It’s more important that you’re comfortable and natural than that you follow these guidelines to the letter. Don’t stress about these guidelines to the extent that you become awkward or robotic.

New article: In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software

Do you work in the health care or mental health realm? Then you should be thinking about the guidance that HIPAA provides in terms of software. We've got a new article up summarizing the (complicated!) advice of a bunch of experts in this realm: In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software. What should your client tracking systems do in order to help you be HIPAA compliant? Read on!

Thinking Through Your Social Networking Tone

It can be hard to work through the many and sometimes conflicting messages we're hearing about the types of things nonprofits should post on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Just be yourself! Be authentic! Be fun and witty! But don't be inane! Don't just post PR message points! But be relevant! Align your use of social networks around your organization's goals! But talk to what your audience is interested in!

These aren't easy to resolve. What if I'm authentically not very funny or witty? What if my goal is to communicate something that my audience doesn't yet know they should be interested in?

I've been thinking through this stuff a lot, and I wanted to propose a quadrant diagram (everyone loves a quadrant diagram, right?):

Down in the lower left corner, you've got irrelevant but robotic message points - the worst of all worlds. There's no virtue there; you are truly spamming people.

In the top left, you're posting things that are engaging, but not related the mission. You're eating a disgusting blueberry bagel, the office has just run out of paper clips for the third time this month, does anyone know a good dog sitter? Some of this can provide life and a human touch to the organization, but if you post nothing but these kind of trivialities, there's no real reason to follow what you're saying.

In the bottom right, you're posting the official and cleansed version of what's going on at your organization. You have an upcoming event, your ED was on Oprah, you're doing a new campaign. It's a news feed. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this - after all, supporters likely care at least a bit about what you're doing or they wouldn't be supporters - but it's not necessarily what folks expect from a social networking site. You risk looking a little staid and out of touch.

Which brings us to the top right - bringing a human voice into what's going on at your organization. Tidbits of stories from the field, a "backstage look" at your preparations for an event, request for thoughts on a next campaign, a look at what your staff actually does day-to-day to make all the magic happen. This is they type of authentic and engaging tone that most people strive for, though it's not always a trivial thing to achieve.

What do you think?

A New Idealware Blogger: Shawn Michael

I’m thrilled to welcome Shawn Michael as the newest Idealware blogger! Shawn is the NPower Oregon Director at TACS. She has more than 15 years’ experience helping nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and governmental entities understand how technology can make their work more effective and efficient. She helps nonprofits assess their use of technology, develop comprehensive plans, and evaluate software used for client and service tracking, fiscal management, customer relationship management, donor management, and community resources. Read her bio for more

Shawn’s been a wise and valued friend to Idealware over the years. She has an amazing ability to boil down the real-world considerations and options to what’s really important to making an effective technology decision. She can always be counted on to tell you what’s what, compare one option to another, and give you candid and practical advice.

So we’re excited to be able to bring you her wisdom, now in blog form. Welcome, Shawn!

Online Tools for Automated User Testing

I was at a great talk about Trends in Usability Research last night, hosted by MaineUX/ MaineIxDA. Kyle Soucy of Usable Interface - a nationally recognized leader in usability testing - talked about some of the newer approaches that people are taking to user research.

It's apparently been a long two years since I was last doing user research, as there's now whole classes of tools that I didn't even know existed. In particular, there's some really interesting online tools that will help you do unmoderated user testing. For most of them, you'll still need to screen and line up your users, but instead of talking to them one-on-one, you can point them at a website and look at the results later.

You'll of course lose some of the detail that you get from individual conversations and being able to ask the user questions one-on-one. But it can allow you to test more users, and thus get some quantitative heft behind your results - which can be particularly persuasive to decision makers.

Here's some of the tools Kyle covered:
  • Loop11: Currently in a free beta stage - request an invite, and you'll get a free login and password. You define the tasks you want your users to conduct, and then send your test participants to your testing site. They see your website (or whatever you're testing) with a header frame that tells them what tasks they're supposed to be doing, and solicits their comments. You can then analyze the results by looking at the success rate for tasks, time to complete, and other useful metrics.
  • UserZoom: It's a little harder to get a sense from their website, but I think based on Kyle's talk and their info that this one is an up-market version of Loop11. Kyle estimated it at about $1000 per study, depending on the number of users you're testing.
  • Treejack: Free for up to three tasks, or $109/ month otherwise. Very cool in it's simplicity. You upload a set of terms or categories in a hierarchical structure from an Excel spreadsheet, and it creates a simple drill-down interface from them. You then define some tasks (for instance, the term you want your user to look for), and point your test participants at it. They try to find the terms in your structure, and you can see overall success rates and time to complete.
  • Chalkmark: By the same folks as Treejack, with the same pricing structure, and even simpler. Upload a screenshot, and define one or more tasks ("Find information about our Executive Director"). It records where they click on the screen, and shows you a heat map of the aggregate results.
  • Interesting and cheap, but questionable. For $29/user, people will walk through the tasks you define, and you get an actual video of their actions and thoughts, and a write up. However, they're not testing with actual users. Rather, they're paying people to do nothing but sit there and user test sites for all their clients. So it's likely they'll have a somewhat distorted perspective of what it's like to use sites - though better than nothing, certainly, and better than not asking anyone external to your organization at all.
So there's some very cool stuff I knew nothing about! Are there others in this realm that you've had good experiences with?

Want a Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits?

We're nothing if not busy over here at Idealware world headquarters! In addition to putting up new articles, setting up a new office space, and finishing off our Data Visualization report, we're in the planning process for a new resource, The Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits: Fundraising, Outreach, and Communications - a concise book that will help nonprofits pinpoint the types of software that might be useful for their needs and provide user-friendly summaries to de-mystify the possible options.

Does the Field Guide sound useful? We're looking for some Pilot Partners to help put it in the world - read on!

The Field Guide will help nonprofits understand the many different types of software that can help with particular organizational functions—like fundraising, or reaching new audiences—based on their own level of technological sophistication, and then provide friendly and easy-to-reference information on each relevant type of software, including typical pricing levels, features, common vendors and additional resources. We plan to eventually cover the whole spectrum of software for nonprofits, but are starting with a more targeted look specifically at tools for Fundraising, Outreach and Communications.

We may sell copies of the Field Guide through our Web site, but the primary distribution channel will be via licensing partnerships with foundations, affiliate organizations and membership organizations. For a license fee of between $1000-$2000, depending on number of members or affiliates, we'll provide a co-branded and a distribution- and print-ready version of the Field Guide, and our partners can then print or distribute as many copies as desired to their specific community. We can also work with partners to customize the whole Field Guide for your organizations, for an additional fee.

There's more about the Field Guide, including pricing and a mockup, online at

Know an organization that might be interested in this? Spread the word! A printed book version would make a terrific premium or membership benefit for a membership organization. Or an affiliate organization could use it to help all of their local offices get up to speed at the same time. For foundations, it would be a terrific way to boost the capacity of their grantees to support both theirselves and their specific program work, without a huge investment. We're getting a lot of interest, but hoping to sign on a few more partners to make sure we can make it happen.

If you know folks that may be interested, send 'em my way, at

New article: The Role of Email in Your Communications Mix

We've just posted a great new article: The Role of Email in Your Communications Mix, by Heather Gardner-Madras.

I'm really happy with this one. Heather interviewed a number of actual organizations about how they're using email compared to other communications methods (everything from direct mail to telemarketing to mobile texting), and summarizes their thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of these different methods.

Is email dead? Or is it thriving and instead killing off direct mail? We found that these were the wrong questions. Rather than deciding whether to use email or another method, nonprofits should be using email and other methods to communicate with constituents, volunteers, donors and others.

The article was created as part of the content for Aspiration's ANSWR project, a knowledge aggregation platform being developed to track best practices and frequently asked questions in nonprofit technology.

Resource Roundup 7/20

The State of Print and Electronic Publications in Higher Ed (Higher Ed Experts)
An informal survey looking at the use of print vs. electronic publications, and the pace of movement from one to the other. (Tip o' the hat to Michael Gilbert)

How to Implement "Share This Email" Tools (Beth's Blog)
In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Carrie Lewis provides some detailed and useful information on how to implement tools that allow your supporters to share emails on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media tools.

How Nonprofits Are Using Video Online: 20 Examples (Beaconfire Wire)
It's always great to see examples! Beaconfire provides 20 examples of interesting uses of online video.

Social Media Guides from ONE/Northwest (ONE/Northwest)
The always smart and practical folks at ONE/Northwest have put up a series of guides to understanding social media techniques, including blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

‘White Flight’ Online? MySpace vs Facebook (The Pop!Tech Blog)
Pop!Tech summarizes Danah Boyd's though provoking comments about potential divisions by race, class, and education between MySpace and Facebook

A Sample Online Outreach Plan (e.politics)
From the always helpful Colin Delany: an example outreach plan that he put together for a client.

Outsmarting the Facebook Lobster Trap (The Gilbert Center)
Michael Gilbert provides some useful cautions and principles for dealing with Facebook

Ten Useful, Free Web Services To Improve Connectivity (Practically Networked)
Ten utilities to help you test the speed of your connection, whether an email address exists, determine whether there's a problem with a site, and more.

Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned (New York Times)
An interesting summary of insights based on Twitter's use in mass political protests in Moldova and Iran.
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