Laura Quinn's blog

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.

Virtual Phones for Virtual (and Physical) Orgs

I'm looking into phone options for Idealware's own use, and in the process really clarified my own understanding of how this whole thing works. There's two major components: phone service, and PBX services, and once you start to thing about things beyond traditional hardware options, they're quite separate.

So there's a couple options for phone lines - to get your staff members the ability to call in and out:
  • POTS, which sounds all technical, until you realize that it's an acronym for Plain Old Telephone Service. It's just like it sounds - you call up your local telephone service provider and get your service connected.
  • You can also use VOIP services - Voice Over IP, through someone like Vonage (Vonage primarily serves residential customers- I assume there's business focused ones too? Anyone know the main players?). VOIP lines function like regular phones (and in fact, you just use a regular physical phone), but they rely on your internet connection to make and receive calls. This can have important ramifications for the reliability of your phone service, as Ron Zucker's written about here before.
  • Or you could use cell phones, if you wanted. Obviously, that's likely to be a better option for folks who work in more than one location.
With the phone service, your staff has phone numbers, and the ability to get and receive calls. But you may or may not have niceties like voicemail, and you're unlikely to have anything that really feels like an business phone infrastucture. So for instance, you won't be able to let people hear a greeting and choose an extension, or let your staff transfer from one extension to another. That's where a PBX comes in. PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange, but no one calls it that (in fact, I only know it because I just looked it up). It's the hardware or service that links all your phone lines together. You could use a traditional PBX, or a hosted one.
  • A traditional PBX is a piece of hardware, installed locally with the phones physically wired to it. This will work for POTS or VOIP phones, but it won't help with cell phones. As a piece of hardware, you typically pay up front - like $5000 for a used one - and then have no more fees.
  • There's also Hosted PBXs like "Virtual PBX" or "OneBox". These are online services that help you stitch together your existing phones with things like a call-in menu and the ability to it to then ring multiple phone to find you. It doesn't care what type of phone line you're using - so for instance, someone's extension could always ring their cell phone. For this type of service, you typically pay a monthly fee (starting at about a $50/month level). But that doesn't include the actual phone lines - you'll need both actual phones and phone service for all your staff to use it. Many of these service have a cap on the number of minutes of incoming calls and if you exceed it, you could need to pay more.
At least, I think I've got that all down! Did I get anything wrong?

Free Software to Get Photos Ready for the Web

I did a little research of late looking for photo manipulation software that lets you quickly and easily do a lot of the standard manipulations needed to add a photo to your website. In addition to letting you crop and adjust colors and optimize file size for the web, I particularly wanted something that will let you crop to a specific size - say, 128 pixels by 324 pixels. That one was a killer requirement - it seems like an obvious need to me for almost any designed website, but very few tools let you do it.

But I found two great tools that really impressed me - and they're both free!

Picnik is an online photo manipulation tool that's impressively easy to use. It's very friendly and polished, and has a terrific cropping tool that not only lets you crop to a specific size, but gives you really nice "rule-of-thirds" cross-hairs, to help you create a composition that follows the typical advice to align it into thirds. You can easily add text or borders, and then save it off with useful optimizing functionality. It doesn't do vastly more than that - but that's a strength for folks who just want something simple and easy.

Paint.NET, a windows-only installed software package - is kind of a slimmed down Photoshop. Only free. It's suprisingly feature rich - it not only does all of the above, but has some nice features for controling layers and selections in a Photoshop-ish way. But without quite all of the bloat and confusion of Photoshop for those who need to just do simple things (don't get me wrong: I love Photoshop. But it can be baffling to those who aren't familiar with it).

Great Deal for the Grassroots Fundraising Journal!

Do you know about the Grassroots Fundraising Journal? If you fundraise for small organizations, or work with people who do, you really should. It's a great, tactical magazine, full of practical advice on how to raise money without huge budgets or a ton of staff. (by the way, they're not paying or incenting us to say these things - I'm just a big fan personally).

They're in the midst of a big subscription push at the moment, with a great deal available to friends of current subscribers (and to you, by permission): just $20 for a full years' subscription to the Journal, plus an invitation to a free conference call with Kim Klein, grassroots fundraiser extraordinaire, on Thriving On Uncertainty.

Affirmative Action for Open Source Applications

I love the tenants of open source software. What's not to like about software that's open to customization or modification, and (typically) costs nothing to download? And I fully support anyone's right to advocate for open source - there's certainly plenty of room to provide education and support to nonprofits, and to lobby organizations that publish information (yes, like Idealware) to balance out vendor's lobbying influence.

But these days I seem to be getting more and disappointed and angry emails from open source advocates who feel that Idealware has a systematic bias against open source software - that our reviews don't do justice to open source software. Given that our methodology is to interview representative folks in the field to understand the key factors that are important to them in choosing software, and then round up software based on those factors... wouldn't that mean that many open source tools don't do justice to THEMSELVES?

Customization, ability to exchange data, and price are all critical aspects where open source tools shine, and these areas play a big part in many of our reports and articles. But they aren't the only areas that are important. All too often, open source communities seem to disregard the functionalities that are often critical to small nonprofits - reporting, easy mail merging, and straightforward setup, for instance.

We cover open source software in all of the areas we review. We in fact go out of our way to include the open source software that's qualified, in a kind of "affirmative action" program for open source. I think that's as it should be, given the likely benefits for the sector as a whole if there's solid open source options.

But some open source advocates seem to be asking for a whole different set of qualifications for open source software, as if simply being open source should be enough. Or that every Idealware article should give "equal time" to open source, as if open source vs. proprietary should be the key framing concept for everyone software decision any nonprofit makes, rather than basing decisions around features and needs.

There's huge promise in both the tenants of open source and specific open source applications. But it doesn't serve the nonprofit sector to tell them a piece of software is likely to meet their needs if it won't, or to tell them their needs should be different than what they are. And it doesn't serve the cause of open source software to pretend that there's a different set of market realities for open source software than there is for every other kind.

Buying Software Before You'll Use It

Want to save thousands on your software implementation? A guest blogger who prefers to remain anonymous (let's call him or her the Masked Adviser!) had a great suggestion:
Organizations often go through the process of deciding on software, finally make a decision, and get so excited that they sign contracts immediately. Many, many times, they aren’t able to use it for months while they are transitioning from other systems or don’t have capacity to manage or get trained on the new system. The whole time they are paying for it.

I see many groups paying for expensive systems like Convio or Kintera spending thousands or tens-of-thousands on systems that are laying fallow while they get up to speed. Even if they are migrating, they often don't need services while they're doing discovery and design, and they may not need, for instance, email delivery and fundraising services until right before switch over. I know one organization who paid for nearly 6 months, and could have saved well over 25k had they waited.
Thanks, Masked Adviser!

Resource Roundup 6/12

The Million Dollar Email (Global Health Magazine)
Terrific case study about how Nothing But Nets is using email, their website, blogs, and social media together to raise money.

Introduction to Data (ONE/Northwest)
Great primer on data and databases

My (FREE) iGoogle Brand Monitoring Dashboard (Carie Lewis)
A look at the Humane Societies tools and process for monitoring what others are saying about them

Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups: What's the Difference? (Mashable)
Great rundown on the difference between pages and groups in Facebook

Enterprise PBX Comparison Guide (Web Buyer's Guide)
Matrix comparing high end PBX software (to support large organizations' phone systems)

URL shorteners: how to stay out of trouble (Beaconfire)
Pros and cons of URL shorteners, like TinyURL

Easy Step by Step Video Training for Non Profits (Charity How To)
Interesting site with videos for sale (for low prices, like $8) to help you navigate basic areas, like how to use photographs online, and mapping

Nonprofit Organizing in 140 Characters or Less (M+R Strategic Services)
Incredibly useful article on how to use Twitter to meet organizational goals

Teens 4 Planet Earth Moves to Ning (Beaconfire Wire)
Tiny case study of why Teens 4 Planet Earth chose Ning for their custom online community, with a list of other tools they considered.

Is Drupal Over-hyped? (CMS Watch)
Useful article looking not so much about Drupal (takeaway: it has strengths and weaknesses like any other CMS), but about how to protect yourself from hype.

Managing Multiple Twitter Accounts for Your Nonprofit (Beth's Blog)
Nice look at tools and process to manage multiple twitter accounts

Data Visualization Tools - An Early Preview

Here at Idealware world headquarters, we're working on a report on Tools to Graphically Depict Data on a Shoestring (I know, the title needs some work). We're still very much doing research and writing, but we've mapped out a pretty decent view of the tools that are available in this space, so I thought I'd share and see if you know of any I'm missing.

Here's what I've got, for tools that will help you display quantitative data in a visual form without a lot of time, money, or specific skills:
  • Excel: the obvious one. It's quite a flexible and complex tool compared to the others (though those go together -- it's flexibility is so obscure and complicated that many don't know it's there), but it doesn't make it easy to publish graphs online or even in polished printed form.
  • Google Docs: nice features for both simple and more interactive graphs, and pretty polished graphs, though very little control over the look of them (check out both the Charts and the Widgets features). All can be easily embedded. Free.
  • ManyEyes: the best known of the online visualization tools, with a lot of great format options, and pretty professional looking (though again, very little control over the look). You must publically publish your data with ManyEyes in order to use the tool. Free.
  • DabbleDB: lets you create nice, simple graphics from data; simple and easy. Free if you share your data; $8/user/ month otherwise
  • Swivel, iCharts, WidGenie: all online tools that let you easily create charts from data, and then publish them. We're still researching them, so I don't know as much about them.
Those are ones you don't need a programmer to use; if you've got a programmer, consider FusionCharts or Chart Director as coding language plug-in libraries, or the Google Visualization API, Yahoo Charting API or Open Flash Charts. Or if this is going to be a big part of what you do, consider R or Processing as visualization/ stats specific programming languages. (tip 'o the hat to Chris Mulligan at YouGov for the Yahoo API and Open Flash Chart)

What else is out there? What have I missed?

"Listening" vs. "Asking" to Find Out What People Think

I'm doing a bit of research of late about using online tools to find out what people think about your organization. It's an interesting area - there's a vast number of tools (many very similar to each other) that can help you monitor and listen to what people have to say online and a big body of useful best practices and case studies about how to use them. (By the way, Beth Kanter's information in this area is even more useful than her usually very useful stuff!)

I have a substantial background in research - traditional ways to find out what people think, like surveys and interviews - and I can't help but notice that there's almost nothing that I can find connecting the "online listening" area to more formal research techniques. There's got to be overlap there, right? There's likely good lessons to be shared between them in both directions.

A couple that jump to mind: I think that often formal research overlooks the idea of listening to what people say on their own without the presence of a researcher (the online world makes this so much easier), which is certainly a useful thing to do. In the other direction, I think there's too little discussion in the writings and posts in the "online listening" world of what it means that people are saying things without being asked. The stuff that they say is certainly worth hearing (and you certainly can't ignore it), but you also need to keep in mind that you're likely not getting the full picture that way. The people talking on their own are going to be the ones with strong opinions, so they're unlikely to be typical of your average constituent... if that's what you want to know.

I think this spectrum of "listening" to "asking" is a pretty useful one to consider. Both are important to find out what people think about you. In fact, add in an "informal" to "formal" axis, and you've got a nifty chart:



(By the way, this is not intended to imply that research is "best" because it sits in the typically best upper right quadrant.... this is simply the order that makes the most conceptual sense, I think)

Resource Roundup 5/21

Lots of terrific resources released recently...

eNonprofit Benchmarks Study 2009
If you're not familiar with the eNonprofit Benchmarks reports, you should be. They're fabulous, with a ton of useful benchmarks as to what you can expect in terms of email, online fundraising, and other online metrics based on actual research. They've just released the 2009 version, which has a number of new areas of exploration as well as updates on the old.

Online Seminar Series: Client and Service Management Software for Human Service Organizations
NPower Oregon is doing a really interesting series of online seminars about Client/ Service/ Case Management systems. In a five seminar series, one per week starting on June 3rd, the terrific Shawn Michael will help you identify your needs, evaluate software choices, and plan for implementation - including substantial demos of Service Point by Bowman, Client Track by DSI and Social Solutions by ETO.

Should you drop your membership amount?
As always, it depends. But M&R; will tell you what it depends on in their new whitepaper.

Social Networks for Nonprofits: Why You Should Grow Your Own
I'm leery of telling nonprofits they should develop their own social netoworks, as in my experience far more build them than succeed with them. But if you're planning on it, this report has some interesting insight and tips.
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