Laura Quinn's blog

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.

This Week's Online Seminars: Bulk Emailing Tools, and Online Conferencing

We have two of our most popular seminars coming up this week! First off, on Wednesday11/12, from 1-2:30 Eastern, we have Choosing Bulk Email Software. We'll talk a little about email strategies, take a whirlwind tour through some of the features you might want, and then get down to the tools, with demos of VerticalResponse and EmailNow, and discussion of a number more.

And then, on Thursday 11/13, from 1-2:30, we have my favorite meta-seminar: an online seminar about online seminar tools. In Getting Started with Online Conferencing and Seminar Tools, we'll talk through useful features, pricing, and the available tools. And then we'll close with some online seminar best practices based on the dozens of sessions Idealware has done.

Old School Social Media: The Art of the Yardsign

Just in case anyone was beginning to feel that online media had a monopoly on supporters willing to create stuff for a good cause, or they doubted that passionate supporters are willing to dedicate a lot of time and creativity, here's a montage of homemade election yard signs. These were all taken today, within three blocks of my house (also, interestingly, within two blocks of the Portland Obama headquarters, which has been aggressively giving away official yard signs).

It's also interesting to look at these with an eye towards what it means to loosen control of your message. Are they on message? Does it matter?

Unfortunately, someone took down the giant "Captain Bill for State Senate" sign, complete with an actual oar and buoy painted florescent orange, before I got there.

Resource Roundup 11/3

Messaging in-a-Box (Tactical Tech)
A set of resource sheets, tips, and software recommendations to help nonprofits effectively use open source tools to communicate their message with the outside world

iCharts: YouTube for Interactive Charts (Information Aesthetics)
Quick list of products that can be used to create interactive online charts

How To Buy a Hosted PBX Phone System (Small Business Computing)
Useful and fairly detailed overview of when and how to buy a hosted PBX service to provide office phone services like voice mail, call routing, etc

A Case Study of Drip Campaigns (ONE/Northwest)
A short but interesting case study of an email "drip campaign" as series of emails that are setup in advance and defined to go out in a specific order

Texts you can believe in—Obama's text messages are this campaign's secret weapon (Slate Magazine)
Great, research based look at how people react to text messaging - favorably, apparently

Generating Buzz: Using Social Media to Drive Website Traffic (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
A case study about how the National Wildlife Federation uses social news and bookmarking sites to drive traffic to their site

Got Your Ears On? How to Listen to Your Audience Using Social Media (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
Useful overview of the tools you can use to be notified of what folks are saying about you on the web

Negative Online Behavior is a Product of Culture, Not Your Social Media Tools (The Bamboo Project Blog)
Terrific look at the potential issues around negative and inappropriate comments in social media - and why it's not as much of an issue as many are concerned about

Which Online Video Sharing Site Should You Use?

In a recent conversation on Progressive Exchange, Michael Hoffman of See3 shared some thoughts about considerations when choosing a video sharing site. With his permission, I wanted to share them here, as I think they're really useful. Michael said:
You need to look at video sites in two ways. One is as a host -- a free host -- for your video. The other is as a social network, a community of video viewers.

YouTube is both a free host and a social network. As a host, it's OK, but not great. There are limits on format, the quality is OK, not great (as the default).

YouTube is also a huge social network, where people are browsing video, making comments, and -- IF this is your goal and you do the right things -- there are ways to get your video to a community who otherwise wouldn't see it.

I actually think for most nonprofits the overall size of YouTube's community is not really that essential a point. You will only get a tiny fraction of that audience and could potentially get more elsewhere, even though the overall audience is less.

For our Guide To Online Video, we used Vimeo on our site because we love the quality and format options. So in this case, our main interest was using it as a host. Blip is another good choice when the host issue is the main thing. We don't expect to get views of our videos from the Vimeo community.

But we also put the first video on YouTube, so get it out to our YouTube friends but also to be able to embed it in Ning and other communities easily.

In terms of using video for outreach there are two basic camps on this question. One says, put it everywhere. For this, go to TubeMogul. One upload, then you get on dozens of sites. Those in this camp say, why not? With your video on many sites, many more people will see it and you can have communities of supporters among the people who make those communities their home.

Then we have the YouTube only folks. Like Brave New Films. They say, we don't want to "dilute" the views, because if we get enough views on YouTube the video goes into rotation in other places on the site -- like most viewed or most commented, etc... where it can get exposed to many more people. (it is also impressive to have videos with huge numbers of views and helps with PR and other things.)

It's a good point, but 99% of nonprofit videos never reach the threshold to get into this additional rotation anyway and most of their views are ones they sent through email and embeds.
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