October 2011

Launch Day! Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide

Here we are again with another Launch Day at Idealware. We've completed updated our Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide, including the workbook and consultant directory. The frequency with which we've been releasing new reports, articles and other publications is something of a source of pride for me, for a couple of reasons.

One is that when I started working for Idealware in a freelance capacity back in 2007, the entire organization was a single person--our executive director, Laura Quinn--who leaned on her network of experts and partners across the nonprofit technology community. I know how much work went into a release then, and getting them out was cause for celebration. Now there's five of us, plus an intern and a couple of regular contractors. We still work every bit as hard for each publication--we just release them with much more regularity. Our network of experts and partners has also grown substantially, and we still count on their help for everything we do at Idealware. 

Somewhere in my background is a journalism career. In my experience at newspapers and magazines, journalists rarely celebrate their publications. They can't afford to, because they're already moving onto the next story, the next edition, the next issue. When I ran a newspaper, I tried to stop after each paper hit the stands to catch my breath, pat each reporter on the back and recognize their contributions. I'd like to do the same here.

I don't want to just congratulate Kyle, Andrea, Laura and Jay--I work remotely, and I imagine there are cupcakes or some other form of celebration in the office that I'm missing out on--or our indispensable sponsors, partners and contributing experts. I want to congratulate the entire Idealware community, including all the people who have asked us questions about social media at one time or another, because this guide can help the entire nonprofit sector with the work they do toward so many remarkable missions. 

This is what we do, but you're why we do it--thanks for your continued support. Now pat yourself on the back, and download the report for free here.


Broadcast Email Tools VS. Microsoft Outlook

Should You Be Using Microsoft Outlook for Your Broadcast Email? Quick and simple reasons not to:
  1. Outlook’s lack of formatting control. What looks beautiful and well-designed to you in Outlook will very likely look messy in another email client. If you are trying to do anything with a template, colors or formatting of any type, don’t expect Outlook to maintain it as it sends out the email—and don’t expect other email tools (like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc) to see it the same way. 
  2. Outlook will not offer you templates. Yes, you can write your own code and create a template to make your emails look snazzy, but Outlook won't offer them to you included and easy to use like broadcast email tools. 
  3. Outlook provides no metrics. You will not be able to see open rates, click through rates, conversion rates or unsubscribe rates with Outlook email. And as we often mention in our trainings, metrics are the core way to evaluate the overall success of your email and your campaign.   
  4. Outlook has no unsubscribe option. Managing subscriptions is really difficult in Outlook. You need to remember to take people off of your list when they ask and have to keep an up to date list. It can be difficult to know who was on your list and who is not anymore, and to make sure you don't accidentally re-subscribe people who ask to be unsubscribed. Broadcast email tools will have unsubscribe options built in to make list management easy. 
  5. Outlook does not allow you gather emails for your list. Most broadcast email tools will allow you to put subscription widgets on your website or social media pages to enable better list building. 
Perhaps most importantly, using a broadcast email tool instead of Outlook will remove the danger of getting your domain blacklisted. Let's say I send out an email to 150 people from my Idealware email address about an upcoming training, and some recipients reported my email as spam. If that happens too often (as it will when you send out mass emails), my domain will become blacklisted. That means that nothing from my email address (or any others from the Idealware domain) will be allowed. The system won’t differentiate between person email or mass emails.
It takes time to get off a blacklist, and will be detrimental to an organization's ability to communicate. Using broadcast email tools lets you avoid this situation. Some tools are even “white listed,” which means their emails always go through to different providers. 
Many broadcast email tools are quite affordable, at $30 a month or less. Vertical Response offers deals, including the first 10,000 emails a month free for qualified nonprofits.  
One last note about security: You should feel safe using cloud-based email systems. While there have been a small number of widely-publicized instances of system lapses, overall these systems have way more security protecting their data than we do at small nonprofits. Honestly, I'd trust a large organization like Network for Good or Vertical Response to keep my data very safe. They will also back it up frequently and effectively so there is no fear about data loss.
Check out a few broadcast email tools, and take advantage of all that they have to offer.  

AskIdealware: Should I Use Google+?

We've got social media on the brain here at Idealware, as we put the finishing polish on our Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide--which we're releasing next week. Based on how many questions we get about it, we know social media's on your mind, too. To tide you over until Launch Day, here's our own Kyle Andrei weighing in on the much-talked-about newest entree on the social media menu, Google+.


Making the Most of your Organization's Used Book Sale

Our executive director’s husband, Henry Quinn, is a creative thinker and occasional blogger whose thoughts sometimes stray into topics of interest to the nonprofit sector. This is one of those times...

Your organization receives an item of value from a donor. Do you…
A: Take reasonable steps to get fair price in sale of that item?
B: Sell it to the first person that gets in line to buy it at a heavily-discounted price, so they can re-sell it for several times more than they bought it?

If your organization is having a used book sale, and you're not making online price-checking and selling part of your plan, you're choosing option B. Fortunately, technology and the internet have made it easier than ever for your organization to do the right thing and choose option A.

My wife and I go to a lot of book sales, and while I’m happy to get cheap books, I always feel terrible for the organizations throwing them. These sales are stuck in the 1980s, when individuals and small organizations didn’t have access to the information or sellers who might allow them to get a fair price for their books. The winners in this arbitrage are the dealers who show up early and pick the sale over for steals, and the loser is the nonprofit. IMHO, that’s a lousy situation.

Here’s what you need to make online pricing and selling part of your book sale strategy. Your plan is going to be to take all your books, find the ones of value, sell those for what they’re worth online, and put everything else out on tables just as you normally would. Note, as you read, that I don’t suggest you use anything other than free tech. And tape. And bubble wrap.

You need to decide where you’re going to sell them. Me, I use Amazon because I use Amazon for everything, but eBay and Half.com, Powell’s, AbeBooks and about a dozen other sites are also in this space. Check fee schedules and think about the support the site has for importing, listing, and tracking books.
You need to figure out which books are worth selling on-line, and which should go out on a table and sell for $1. A volunteer can do this by hand by entering an ISBN and seeing current sale prices for used books, or any number of apps will turn your phone into a handheld scanner – Google ‘book scanner app.’ Amazon even has a first-party app for this purpose.
You need those same volunteers to assess condition and list the books. This is fairly site-dependant, so I won’t go into detail, but it’s not brain surgery. When in doubt, unless the cover got ripped off or someone dropped it in the tub, you’re safe with ‘Used – Good.’
You need people to pick, pack and ship. This isn’t cost-free, and it can drag out, HOWEVER it can also happen on your volunteers’ schedule rather than absolutely needing to happen during a weekend when you’re going to be plenty busy with, you know, your book sale. This is also a good opportunity for you to go to Staples and ask them to donate mailers.
I wrote a version of this post that broke down the arithmetic of incremental dollars versus the volunteer time required to do this but I was afraid it would get edited out because no one likes math as much as I do. My main findings were that, conservatively, an online component is going to add 30 percent to 50 percent to the total dollars you take in, and the volunteer time required to get this done is going to have a return of something like $35 - $90 an hour.
The first point says this is real money. The second point says that if you need to cancel Sunday when you’re selling books for $1 an armload and put your volunteers in front of laptops the prior Thursday instead, you cancel Sunday.
There are other benefits of adding online selling to your book sale strategy, too:
  • You’ll be able to attract volunteers whose schedules might not allow for a full weekend day, but who can give you an evening during the prior or subsequent weeks.
  • The nature of the activity offers an opportunity to learn about how online bookselling works, and can attract a slightly techier, younger volunteer population.
  • It enhances your donation solicitation – “You can trust our organization to make the most of your books, because if you give us something of value, we’re not going to sell it for a dollar.”
The arithmetic is clear, which is no surprise – if combing over your book sale weren't worth the trouble, book dealers wouldn't do it. And our professional responsibility to our organizations is equally clear: at a $40 - $50 / hour return on volunteer time, adding an online pricing and selling component to your book sale is a clear win.

I don't hate used book dealers. But given the choice between supporting them and supporting the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, it's a no-brainer. And I suspect ‘subsidizing used book stores’ isn’t in your organization’s mission statement, either. Go get a scanning app, and go make the most out of your book sale.


AskIdealware: Raising Money on Facebook

Kyle and Andrea answer a question we're asked a lot: How can I fundraise using Facebook? (Look for the guest appearance by Idealware's Maine office dog, Jelly.)

Got a question for Idealware? Email us and we'll try to answer it in an AskIdealware video.

Take Aways from NNG's Visual Design for Mobile Devices Seminar

I definitely went to the big city, both literally and figuratively. San Francisco and the Nielsen Norman Group seminar respectively – both felt a bit like Oz. They were exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.

While I was already a bit intimidated by the vast sea of things to learn about designing for mobile/tablet sites and apps, I found things are even more complicated than I knew. So much for a quick one day learning experience. As usual, I have been sucked into researching and reading everything I can get my hands on about this new (to me) area of design.

The presenters (Kara McCain, NNG & Rob Abbott, Egg Haus) were great – well informed, good communicators, with a clear understanding of what it was we had all showed up to learn.  Our printed workbooks were the only real disappointment – as a design nerd and internet geek I just don’t see why this wasn’t online, or at least printed well. Printed out resource URLS are so last century. But I’ve included some of the links here, so you can click right through.

With so many devices, each with their own peculiarities, they compared designing for mobile to the early wild-west days of web design during the browser wars (Netscape!) of the 90′s and early 00′s. What works on one breaks on another and none of them can agree to a standard.  I’d have to say though that the challenges remind me more of the headaches and learning curve to be overcome in the design of (good) HTML emails, which have to deal with even more variables to accommodate so many different methods of access and display.

Some of the general guidelines sound just like best practices for a good donation form – less is more, – make it easy, – get them to do the next thing quickly and without distraction. That applies to any mobile screen and is even ten times as important for forms on a mobile.

Some  Key Take-Aways:

Icons are King

  • Your App Icon *is* your brand on the store and launcher screens
  • Unless you have a good reason, stick with the standard look for Tab bar & Menu icons (top and bottom bars)
  • Don’t use any unneeded icons for list views, they just add noise.

Don’t Add Anything (you don’t need)

  • As in – think twice about big images and graphics, users don’t have patience and connections can flake out
  • Same goes for fancy fonts. Use what’s native.
  • And content too. Fight back internally to keep things streamlined. Only top priority items on the screen (its small)

Tap Area (links & buttons) Design is Critical

  • Make tap areas as big as you can (especially if they are important)
  • Don’t put tap areas close together, which leads to accidents. More padding is better.
  • Placement is crucial to avoid accidents too (Big actions like Send need to be away from the space bar for example)

Motion is More Important on Mobile

  • People not only will horizontal swipe to navigate, they expect it
  • Good transitions reinforce user confidence, bad ones make them avoid your app
  • Remember user Feedback (visual changes that show actions or states) -  test to make sure its still visible from under the user’s finger

Design & Details Do Matter

  • People *do* notice good and bad design on mobile and act accordingly
  • Never put text in images, they look fuzzy at best, unreadable at worst
  • Always check your design on real devices in the real world

It really all came down to KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Sadly, simple is not exactly easy.

Some links:

HIG (Human Interface Guidelines – handy!)

General Reference


And Some Questions:

  • Do you have a mobile device?
  • What do you do with it?
  • Any great sites and Apps you love or examples of really awful ones?
  • Know of any resources I shouldn’t miss?

I really hope you’ll leave some new trails for me to follow in the comments.

Free Video Editing for Nonprofits, Not for Cats

While making a new batch of AskIdealware videos, I've had to muck about in YouTube a fair amount lately. Maybe it's because I had been busy dealing with more important things, but I didn't really notice the editing features until today. Unlike many nonprofits, I have access to higher-end software on my computer, which is dedicated to full-time video editing--so these could be great for a small nonprofit.
But how many YouTube users will really benefit from this feature? Maybe I'm just a snob, or an A/V geek, but do people need to add color filters or gimmicky wipes and effects to their cat videos? I don't expect those short, spontaneous videos some teenager made of their friends or pets doing something stupid to be edited, or high quality, or have any artistic trappings to them. A cat chasing a laser pointer and running into the wall or a kid falling off his skateboard isn't supposed to be edited or polished, it's just supposed to be a quick little video that gets a quick little laugh. I mean, you wouldn't expect some fancy editing on something you watch on America's Funniest Home Videos, would you?
I guess there's a good side to this. People who can't afford editing software are finally able to make their rough videos look presentable. It's not going to work miracles, or do all the work you could even expect of iMovie, but it's enough to motivate people (and nonprofits) to finally make that video they wanted to but didn't have the means. They’re certainly enough if you only make one or two videos ever.
And hey, maybe just by YouTube having these editing tools, more people will realize that they can make their videos better--or make videos at all. 
PS: If you're going to use YouTube's editing tools, use them right. Our Guerilla Video cartoon should get you started.



Launch Day! Consumers Guide to Grants Management Software Released

Today is Launch Day at Idealware. Such celebratory days used to be somewhat rare, but as we've grown, we've dramatically increased the number of reports, articles and other publications we release each year. Which is not to take away from the moment--it's important to acknowledge accomplishments and celebrate wins, though we tend do so fleetlingly because we're already moving on the next big thing... or two, or three. 

The release of our Consumers Guide to Grants Management Software marks the end of an extended effort of planning, exhaustive research, scores of system demos and interviews, and detailed reviews--not to mention writing, editing, layout and fact-checking. A number of people were involved, from Idealware staff to vendors to grantmaking organizations and our partners at the Grants Managers Network and Technology Affinity Group.

This 169-page report--free to download--helps grantmakers understand and compare the features and processes used by 20 grants management systems that help private foundations accept and review applications and track grants throughout their life cycles. It shows how each system stacks up against 17 high-level categories, and details the functionality of each against more than 125 specific critieria.  

Did I say this marked the end of the effort? Well, that's not entirely true. This guide is designed for private foundations--a followup guide comparing the grants management systems and processes used by community foundations is already under way. 

Download the report here. Let us know what you think of it in the comments. 

And thanks, as always, for your support of Idealware, and for all the work you do to make the nonprofit sector--and the world--a better place.