Laura Quinn's blog

New article: A Few Good Email Discussion List Tools

Rounding out a fair number of email articles from us recently, here's A Few Good Email Discussion List Tools - taking a look at the software that's available to help you facilitate email conversations among your constituents, partners, or staff. Compared the dozens or hundreds of broadcast email tools, the options are surprisingly limited - but we round up the choices recommended by our contributors.

There Ain't No Such Thing As a Free Software Package

If I were to group all the questions I get into categories, one category would be far and away the most numerous. I'll call it the "options for people who can't afford software" category. As in, "Well, those databases for $300 or $20/month sound great, but we can't afford to pay anything - what can we get that's free?"

No question riles me up more. This is a really dangerous mind set. Would you think this way for other types of investments? "That Executive Director candidate seems really great, but who can we get that we don't have to pay?" "That office space seems perfect for us, but $100/month is a lot of money - what can we get for free?" Okay, possibly some nonprofits actually would do this for other things... but it's equally dangerous. Things worth having are worth paying for.

And not paying for them up front almost always means that you're paying in some other way. That free office space is great until it starts raining asbestos on your employees, or you're evicted to make way for a paying tenant. That free software might seem great, but if it doesn't do what you need, or your staff can't use it, or it's full of bugs... then it's useless to you, and it doesn't matter how free it is.

Also, I reject the likelihood that your organization has no money of any sort to devote to software. If you can't raise $300 to purchase a donor database that will help you solicit donations more effectively, you need donors much more than you need a database. I'm not saying that you should spend tens of thousands. I'm saying that you should decide the priority of having effective software and assign a budget to it accordingly. Yes, that might mean you'll have to fund raise for it.

Don't get me wrong. Free stuff is nice. I use some free software myself. But it's a BONUS that it's free. You can't start with that as a requirement and expect to end up in a good place. If a software package will help you save time or money, or earn more money, then it's worth paying for....and if it won't, you shouldn't waste your time with it.

New article: Online Fundraising for Year End Procrastinators

Ack! Forgot to link to this one! In the Nonprofit Times, I talk through a some steps and tools for Online Fundraising for Year-End Procrastinators. At this point, you've probably procrastinated too long for even this process (which is likely to take about two weeks to get up and running), but maybe you can get some good tips for next year.

New article: Selecting Software on a Shoestring

Here's a new article that I'm really proud of: Selecting Software on a Shoestring. I know it's not the sexiest topic, but this is the type of thing that we often overlook as technology consultants and service providers - sometimes you don't need that huge, all consuming process to pick a software package. In fact, sometimes that huge, all-consuming process is really silly, and all your really need just a simple set of question that work.

New article: A Few Good Association Management Systems

It's another new article! This one takes a look at Association Management Systems - the fairly complex systems that can help membership organizations track their members, events, gifts, payments and more. There's a number of different options available at different price levels, and Eric Leland rounds them up, with the help of a number of intrepid contributors.

A Pyramid of Online Communication Methods

I've been thinking a lot recently about how nonprofits should divide their time spent in online communications. We all in the nonprofit tech space tend to focus on how nonprofits can get rewards by effectively investing more time and energy into specific types of communications - email, social media, or websites, for instance. . But for most nonprofits, especially smaller ones, doing more of one method means doing less of another, meaning that the decision as to what you do, and not just how you do it, is a critical one

I would propose the following "Online Communications Pyramid" (this is from a slide that's in both our Online Communications on a Shoestring and our Considering Social Media seminars). The idea here is that you should have relative comfort at each step before moving to the next.

Until your computers are networked and backed up, for instance, you should concentrate on that before looking at other things. Until you have at least a basic website presence, there's no point in devoting a lot of energy to email or social media techniques.

Perhaps more controversially, I would also say that about email vs. social media. I think that until you're making solid use of email, it makes more sense to focus on developing a strong strategy there than to look at things like social networks or viral techniques. Email has proven itself as a high bang-for-the-buck method - most social media methods are still considerably more of a gamble.

What do you think of the pyramid?

Happy Birthday to Idealware!

It's the third anniversary of the founding of Idealware - man, time flies, huh? Three years ago, Idealware wasn't much more than a dream and a really darn expensive hobby for me. It's pretty thrilling to see how we've grown - these days, we're a vibrant and sustainable community of folks committed to effective nonprofit software.

And 2008 has been a big year for us. We've published 26 articles and three reports - our Consumers Guide to Grants Management Software for grantmakers, Get Your Systems Talking: A Framework to Evaluate APIs and Data Exchange Features, and Comparing Lower-Cost Online Integrated Applications. Well more than a hundred people have contributed their time and expertise to make them happen, and more than 180,000 different people viewed the information on our site. Our workshops continue to be very popular - we've trained more than 500 people through our online seminars, and hundreds more in person.

And we've done all this on an annual budget of less than $100,000.

We have tons of great things in the works for 2009. We've already begun work on three reports planned for the first half of 2009 - Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and Plone; A Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems; and A Guide to Data Visualization Software on A Shoestring. We have four brand new workshops planned. And of course, we'll continue to keep the smaller articles rolling as well.

Thanks to all of you - our board members, our bloggers, our donors, our article contributors, and all of you who read Idealware resources and pass them on. I'm humbled by your support. Here's to many more years to come.

More New Articles: Open Source, and Broadcast Emails

It's an orgy of new articles! First up, we have Open Source vs. Vendor-Provided Software: Comparing Them Side by Side. Jeff Walpole of Phase 2 Technology looks at some of the ways that open source and vendor provided commercial software differ, and how they're similar. This turned out to be a really hard topic (while there are important differences, it's difficult to talk about them without turning to generalities). Let me know what you think!

And then, an old standby - we've updated our A Few Good Broadcast Email Tools article (formerly eNews Tools), which is one of the most popular articles on the site. There's been a number of new developments in this area, so we've added some discussion of VerticalResponse's free offer for nonprofits, and Network for Good's new partnership with Emma, among other updates.


Resource Roundup 11/17

How To Secure Your E-mail (Small Business Computing)
Great overview of why you need to secure your email clients, and how to go about it

Cloud computing - Ellison rants, Others Reap (CMS Watch)
A quick look at "cloud computing" - the idea of accessing computer storage and processing power over the internet - that provides a useful overview of this complicated area.

The swag they carried (Beaconfire Wire)
Detailed look at the role merchandise and premiums played in Obama's campaign

Implementing Social Media: A Tale of Two Case Studies (The Bamboo Project Blog)
Interesting comparison of the cultural factors at work for an organization implmenting a wiki internet, and then later an internal microblogging platform.

Use Facebook Groups, Pages, Events, and Causes for Activism (Wired How-To Wiki)
A nice, clear and simple overview of the differences between groups, fan pages, events, and causes in facebook.

Tech Quick Take: MS Search Server 2008 vs Google Mini (Beaconfire Wire)
Considering implementing an external search engine for your website? Beaconfire technical lead Alan Gallauresi provides a detailed comparison of Google Mini vs Microsoft Search Server 2008.

Choosing Print Management Software (TechSoup Blog)
Terrific overview of the software products that allow you to control your printing destiny, by printing just what you need rather than an entire document

New article: The Truth About Hosted Software Packages

We have several new articles going up fast and furiously over the next few days, but the first is up now: The Truth About Hosted Software Packages. There's a lot of hype and misconceptions about Software as a Service products (they're not secure! they're evil! they'll solve all your IT problems and replace your IT staff!). In this article, we round up the pros and the cons to consider as you evaluate different options for your own organization.
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