Quality tools can do amazing things, from piecing together the most intricate watch to building the tallest skyscrapers. The software you provide to your nonprofit team is an essential part of your tool belt — it makes it easier for your organization to achieve its goals.
Research software helps you plan your programs and services more effectively. Presentation software lets you convey the importance of what you’re doing. And design tools help you create newsletters, flyers, posters, and other materials that help your organization stand out from the crowd.
So doesn’t it make sense to use the best software you can afford?
It’s tempting to stick with the applications you have. It’s paid for, and you know how it works. But the software world is constantly changing. If you haven’t checked the competition recently, you might be missing out on features that could help your nonprofit grow.
This week, we look at five applications that your organization is probably using, and four amazing alternatives that you need to consider.
Two of these applications offer substantial nonprofit discounts. All but one provide free tiers, so you can see how they work without having to pay a subscription fee. (The one that doesn’t — Adobe InDesign — is offered as part of a free trial.)
So without further adieu, here’s our tech roundup:
Online Surveys / Research / Forms
If You’re Using: SurveyMonkey or Google Forms
You Should Try: Typeform (free)
When it comes to gathering information from a large number of people, SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are old standbys. They simplify the job of conducting surveys by managing responses and automatically tabulating results.
If you’ve used either application, you already know the downsides.
SurveyMonkey’s free plan limits you to just 10 questions per survey and 100 total responses. Adding more questions (or more responses) requires upgrading to a $300 / year plan. Google Forms has a powerful, but time-consuming, interface that requires a lot of customization to achieve a good result.
Your organization needs Typeform — a versatile web application that will change the way you collect information.
The first thing you’ll notice about Typeform is how modern it looks. Straight out of the box, you have access to dozens of elegant templates. The easy-to-use design options allow you to create your own layouts. Surveys created in Typeform look just as good on mobile devices as they do on desktop computers.
There are no limits on how many questions you can ask, or how many responses you can get. Typeform can build reports and perform basic percentage-based analyses on the answers you receive.
Of course, surveys are only one of Typeform’s many uses. It’s a great tool for replacing any pen-and-paper form. Typeform has been used to create patient intakes, job applications, educational tests, donation forms, and much, much more.
What if you deal with protected health information? Like SurveyMonkey, Typeform is HIPAA compliant. All user responses are handled with 128-bit SSL encryption. You can request a Business Associate Agreement for an additional fee.
Typeform includes all of the essential features in their free plan. For larger organizations, the $240 / year PRO plan allows you to build payments, automatic e-mail responses, and conditional logic into your forms. Note that a PRO plan is required if you need to certify HIPAA compliance.
If You’re Using: Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides
You Should Try: Prezi (free)
One piece of presentation software is so dominant that its name has become a generic word to refer to any type of slideshow. We’re speaking of Microsoft PowerPoint, of course.
PowerPoint has been virtually unrivaled for 25 years. The last few PowerPoint releases have added new templates, better support for embedded content (like videos and music), prettier transitions, and the ability to collaborate with other people.
Google Slides is a popular alternative, mainly because it’s packaged with Google Apps. Its interface and feature list, however, have tended to lag behind its biggest rival.
Over the last few years, a competitor — Prezi — has been quietly converting scores of long-time PowerPoint and Google Slides users. Depending on your organization’s needs, switching could make sense for you, too.
Prezi’s biggest strength is the ability to make non-linear presentations. With PowerPoint and Google Slides, you advance through your slide deck sequentially. Prezi uses a hub-and-spoke model.
A slide explaining a big concept — like water conservation — might include transitions to three or five mini-slides explaining sub-topics (like low-flow shower heads and drip irrigation). You can jump from idea to idea without being tied to your slide order. It’s an effective tool in the hands of a skilled presenter, especially if you like to speak off-the-cuff.
Prezi also lets you embed your presentations on web pages — a useful feature if you’re hosting a conference or training seminar, and want to share slides with people who couldn’t make it.
The editing tools that Prezi gives you rival PowerPoint’s. You can customize a pre-made template or build one yourself. You can also explore millions of slide decks that other Prezi users have created, make your own copy, and re-use elements in your own slides.
If you don’t mind letting others view and reuse your slides too, you can sign up for a free public account. Prezi’s paid plans give you private slide decks, cloud storage, and access to image editing tools. The $59.04 / year Enjoy plan is sufficient for most people, unless presentations are your primary job responsibility (e.g., community organizing, neighborhood outreach)..
Regardless of which software title you use, the key to an effective presentation is to make your audience focus on what you’re saying, not what you’re displaying. If you often find yourself long on slides and short on words, consider taking a course or workshop to strengthen your skills.
Fundraising and Marketing Materials / Flyers / Graphic Design
If You’re Using: Microsoft Publisher
Microsoft Publisher is ubiquitous in the nonprofit world. From the smallest community orgs to the biggest foundations, everyone seems to be using it. And with good reason: it’s easy-to-use, and it’s packaged with Microsoft Office.
Publisher is great for making quick and simple document designs. That also happens to be its downside. Documents created in Publisher tend to look dull and formulaic. They are designed to be printed on your own inkjet or laser printer, and even though Publisher now lets you export your documents as PDF files (which most copy shops can accept), the results can sometimes be disappointing.
For anything more serious than simple flyers, you need a professional solution. There are two main applications vying for your business: Lucidpress and Adobe InDesign.
Lucidpress is a web application that can be used anywhere. Its editing interface is simple but powerful enough for most tasks.
Lucidpress lets you pull images from your Facebook, Flickr, and Dropbox accounts without having to open a new browser tab. You can save your creations as PDF files, or as PNG or JPEG images. When saving, Lucidpress offers you a choice between optimizing for print (physical copies) or screen (documents that will primarily be viewed on a computer).
Lucidpress offers four subscription levels. The free tier is very limited. Smaller organizations will find the basic package ($7.95 / mo) more than adequate for their needs.
If several people in your organization need access to Lucidpress, consider getting a team membership, which also gives you additional storage and the ability to share templates and images. LucidPress offers a 50% nonprofit discount on team memberships; a five-user license would cost you just $20 per month.
Adobe InDesign is professional-grade software that’s used by millions of graphic designers, publishing houses, print shops, and marketing people around the world. And it boasts some pretty impressive features that Publisher just can’t give you:
- Work with vector art illustrations that can be re-sized to any dimensions.
- Easily set up documents that require complex folding (like booklets).
- Work seamlessly between Photoshop and other Adobe software titles.
- Save documents in a format that all graphic designers and print shops work with.
InDesign’s additional features come with a slight learning curve. It’s best used by a dedicated fundraising or marketing staff person, or a tech-savvy volunteer. Because it’s such a popular title, there’s no shortage of tutorials available, either for free on YouTube or by subscription on sites like Lynda.com.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you have access to Adobe’s special educational pricing — even if your organization’s programs aren’t educational in nature. A one-year InDesign subscription costs between $13 and $15 / month (paid in a $156 or $180 lump sum) through re-sellers like Studica, depending on the license options you choose.
You can also get InDesign as part of the full Creative Cloud collection, which includes Photoshop, Premiere Pro (video editing), Audition (sound editing) and a host of other applications for between $300 – $420 / year.
Comments? Thoughts? Ideas for the next Glaance Tech Roundup? Leave us a comment below, or let us know on social media.