SSC Toolbox Social Source Commons Blog

Nonprofit Tech, Tools and Social Media

A program of Aspiration 

Online Accounts Inventory: When Storing It in Your Head No Longer Works

By jessica on June 25, 2012

When I moved recently, I realized just how many companies and agencies there were that I needed to stay in contact with. I needed to contact them to update my information and I had little to use to figure out who those companies and agencies were.

I started the process of updating my contact information for the companies that had recently contacted me, this strategy worked fairly well. But, as I found out in the next 6-9 months through e-mail and from my previous residence continuing to forward mail, there were some fairly important contacts that I missed by not having a definitive list to work from.

“Do we already have an account with ___________?”

Aspiration Online Accounts

As a nonprofit trying to work in the vast online realm, you may find your organization in a similar position as I did. Needing to update contact and login information without knowing for sure where all your online identities are located and maybe not even aware of all the different locations where organizational data is stored.

Knowing where your data is stored is incredibly important because, as Matt explained in an earlier blog post, DATA IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TECH ASSET.

In order to keep track of organizational online real estate and identities, along with what data is stored in those places, Aspiration has developed a simple spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet we list out all of the different places where organizational data is living and record the account information associated with those places.

Benefits of Knowing Where Your Data is Online

Just like knowing who needs to have your updated contact information in order to send you important stuff like bills. Keeping track of our online accounts in this way has really come in handy when:

  • doing regularly scheduled password changes
  • figuring out if previous staff opened accounts on any platform
  • closing online accounts that are no longer used
  • and when educating new staff about what data is stored in what online accounts.

Essential Account Information

In general, we try to keep track of two different kinds of information for our online accounts. First, the basic essential information such as:

  • What is the service or vendor?
  • What URL do we use to access the account?
  • What login information (username) do we need?
  • Who has access to that information? Or Who uses this account regularly?
  • What contact e-mail is associated with the account?
  • Fee for service information


Essential Account Information

Second, we record information about the data that is stored with each online account, including:

  • What kind of data is stored there, hosted data or analytics data?
  • What data are stored there?
  • Is it backed up?
  • How is it backed up?
  • How often is it backed up?

For security, it is NOT a best practice to keep track of where the data is backed up in this document.

Account Data Information

Hosted and Analytics Data

Its may be important to differentiate what kind of data is stored with an online account. In our experience, we can sort these kinds of data in two categories hosted data and analytics data.

Hosted data is information that you put into a platform, such as website content into a content management system or an event desription into eventbrite. Keeping a back up of this information is important because it is data that took time to create. Losing this data would result in a need to recreate it, which means time lost.

Analytics data, is also very important to your organization, as it lets you know how your online efforts are working. This is usually data that the platform reports to you, like when facebook insights lets you know how many visitors your page has had. Its important to know how long the platform will retain this information and to regularly record the analytics data somewhere else, so you can track progress over time.

Try It, You’ll Like It

Now that you have an idea of what an Online Accounts Inventory could look like, and what information is important to keep track of about each account. Try making one for your organization! You may be surprised at how many online accounts your organization has when you take the time to write it all down.

Get started with this template

Example of our Online Accounts Inventory

If you use this template to make an online account inventory for your organization, we would love to hear any feedback you come up with while working through the process.

Do you have another way that you keep track of online accounts? Share it with us!

How Can We Make SSC Toolboxes More Valuable for You?

By Matt on June 8, 2012

Toolboxes on Social Source Commons are great. We love them. Users love them. They’re selling out shows on Wednesday nights. Amazing right? Well, I know that I’ve always had tweaks and changes that I’d like to make to the toolbox interface and I’m thinking that beautiful users like yourself might as well.

We love SSC toolboxes

The current setup for toolboxes on Social Source Commons gives you some great options to talk about the tools you’re using as a nonprofit or an individual.

  • Add tools

    It wouldn’t be a toolbox if you couldn’t add tools! SSC toolboxes allow you to search for tools right inside the toolbox and add the ones that are relevant to the toolbox’s topic.

  • Custom Descriptions

    Once your tools are in the toolbox, you can edit their descriptions (almost) any way you want. These custom descriptions only change the tool’s info within that specific toolbox. Outside of the toolbox, the tool’s description always stays the same. As a result, you can tell your story of using the tools by talking about how you’ve used them and adding links or images.

  • Custom Descriptions


  • Add Resources & Documentation

    Other than tools, SSC Toolboxes let you link to relevant Documentation, Training, Community and Learning Resources so that people checking out your tools can get extra info that may be relevant to the toolbox’s function.

  • Add Feeds

    In addition, you can throw relevant RSS feeds into your toolbox as well to automatically pull in blog updates, Twitter Tweets, Facebook Page updates or anything else that may be of interest or attached to the theme of the toolbox.

  • Toolbox Share


  • Share it with the world

    Finally, what’s the use of a toolbox if no one knows it exists? SSC toolboxes give you a few ways to share toolboxes out with your social networks and existing audiences. With the Twitter Tweet and Share buttons, you can post a link to the toolbox to your stream for your followers to check out. In addition, each toolbox automatically comes with “Embed Code” so that you can embed your toolbox into the HTML of your blog, web site or online real estate.


My motivation for changing SSC toolboxes was largely due to the layout and structure. Not satisfied with the current tab structure and other design-y issues that I think could be improved, I wanted to throw it out to all of you in the SSC Family to see if you had thoughts about the SSC toolbox, design or otherwise. Features that you would like to see, things you wish weren’t so hidden, help when implementing a toolbox… What would make SSC toolboxes more valuable for you?

What would YOU like to see in an SSC Toolbox redesign?


Data: Your Most Important Tech Asset

By Matt on June 1, 2012

As much as we love tools here at SSC, we find that many nonprofits focus too much on them when thinking about their technology strategy and infrastructure. While tools are an important and necessary piece, it’s important that an organization focus on the more crucial piece of the technological equation: the data. When thinking about organizational technology infrastructure, data, or “the stuff” that an organization puts into tools to make them relevant, should be the focal point. Where does it live? How does it interact with other tools? How can you use it? Let’s talk a bit about why it’s more important than tools.

Data are Your Organization’s Lifeblood

When someone says “data”, many people think of technical stuff like code, 1s and 0s, mathematical formulas and things that happen behind the scenes. Well I’m here to say Pish Posh. PISH. POSH.

Data, my friends, are the contents of the work that you do at your organization. Everything from the web pages that you create to the contacts you make at networking events to the conversations you have with your boss through email. If you dig deep enough, many of these things are, yes, code-y and technical at a deeper level, but as an organization you can think of these data as the information that informs, defines and fuels your work.


Data are the raw materials that tools (e.g. CRM, web site CMSes, Facebook, email clients) use to be effective. Think of your email client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) without your emails or contacts. Pretty useless, eh? Or think of your web site without the page text, pictures and customizations you’ve made. It would just be an empty skeleton of a web site, right?

Data are the real organizational assets.

Your organization’s data are what makes it do what it does. Tools act as containers that hold that data. The containers can change but the data are what stays the same. As a result, we advocate for organizations to take a data-centric approach to their organizational technology rather than a tool-centric approach.


Have a Data-Centric Technology Policy NOT Tool-Centric

Remember that tools change, break and developers stop working on them all of the time, whereas the data that your organization uses will continue to exist and grow. By prioritizing your data rather than tools, you’ll be focusing on the stuff that really matters rather than the container (tool) it’s currently sitting in.

Many organization have budget line items for tools but few if any have budget line items for the amount of time, energy and money that goes into data creation and maintenance. Unfortunately, “data” can be an abstract and vague concept especially for budgets. But however vague it is, because it is the real asset, “nonprofits should center their technology strategy and resource allocation around the creation and curation of data, instead of fixating on the cost of applications and processors that edit and store that data.”

Think about Data When Choosing a New Tool

Ideally, all of this talk and stress about the importance of data is happening when you begin a relationship with a new tool (rather than figuring out what the situation is for an existing tool in your infrastructure). When looking at new tools to take on some type of function at your organization, here are a few things to consider as you prepare to send your data off into the big scary world:

  • Plan for the day when you need to switch tools or the tool you’re using breaks

    Can you get your data out (in other words, what are the “export” options)? How? What if Facebook accidentally deletes your page? What if your email blasting program breaks? Are you able to prepare for those eventualities by making a data backup?

    What about if a tool choice you made turns out to be bad? How do you move your data from one tool to another?



  • Make sure the backup of essential data is a well-defined process

    If you are able to get your data out of the tool, do you know what you need to do to use it again in another tool? Is it using a universal filetype like .CSV or something that wouldn’t be intelligible even if you are able to get it out?

  • Know the security and privacy implications for your data, your org AND more importantly your constituents

    What does the tool’s Terms of Service say about its use of your data? Are the data secure, private, encryptable? Who else is allowed to look at your data? In what legal jurisdiction are your data being stored? As a nonprofit with constituents, you have an obligation to keep their data safe and secure.

  • Find out ownership terms for you data

    Are your data really yours? What do the Terms of Service say about ownership?

Open Source Tools are a Data-Centric Org’s Best Friend

Choosing tools that are good to you and your data can be tricky. You have to do your due diligence in making sure the container (the tool) for your data is going to treat it all right and let you have all the access you need. While you need to evaluate what your different tools are doing with your data no matter what, Open Source tools generally put you on much, MUCH more steady of a foundation.

  • Open means transparent
    OpenSource The nature of open source technology is that anyone can see how it works.

    This means that every aspect of an open source tool is out in the open for the entire world to see.

    No backdoors installed for the government to snoop and no software developers coding secret pieces to gather data on your use.

  • Not tied to one person

    Because anyone can dig around in an open source tool and learn how it works, there are many open source tools with very large communities of developers and users who are super familiar with it and can help you out. This, in contrast to a custom-built tool that may do exactly what you want but if the relationship with the developer goes sour, you’re trapped with its functionality, price hikes for services and schedule because no one else knows the tool but the person who made it.

  • No profit motive

    When you buy a proprietary tool like Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office, those companies are making money. They’re in the business of selling software. Money is their bottom line and motivation. With open source tools, on the other hand, because anyone can see how the tools work, most of the developers aren’t are out to make money, they’re more about supporting users with functions that they need to get real work done.

All of these factors (and many others) lend more transparency how tools are manipulating your data and give you more freedom in terms of how you can get it out. We strongly recommend whenever possible, especially as a nonprofit to choose open source tools.

How Can Our Organization Get On Top of Our Data Management?

Ok, so now we’re all freaked out about tools throwing our data around.

What do we do about it?

  • Put together a “data inventory”

    Open a spreadsheet and start listing all of the places that your organization has data. Think of communications tools, project management tools, online real estate, white boards, photo albums… Have the spreadsheet account for the following:

    • Where are all the places your organization has data living?
    • What data are stored there?
    • Who has access?
    • Is it backed up?
    • How is it backed up?
    • How often is it backed up?
  • Back up your data!
  • Make sure that with each new tool adoption, you have a sense of how to get your data out of the tool

Need a template? Here is deeper look into Creating an Online Accounts Inventory.

Data Trumps Tools Every Time

In a nutshell, try to prioritize data as the true technology assets at your organization. That way you’ll be able to manage tool shakeups, breakages and switches that are inevitable while protecting the real information that your organization needs to keep saving the world.

How do you prioritize data at your organization?


Wall Street Journal Data Transparency Weekend Tools

By Matt on May 2, 2012

Recently, a group of coders gathered together in Greenwich Village to put together tools to promote privacy, security and data transparency. This was the The Wall Street Journal Data Transparency Weekend.

Aspiration was excited to be involved in such an important movement happening in tool development. You can see photos from the weekend on Flickr with the tag wsjdata. I wanted to highlight some of the amazing tools being put together from this weekend.

From tools that show you which sites are blocked on your current network to tools that allow you to have encrypted telephone calls and even encrypted Facebook instant messaging, these tools are on the bleeding edge of privacy and security.

Check out the tools that have been put together over the weekend in the toolbox below. Note: These tools are all in varying levels of progress so don’t dive in assuming they’re “ready for primetime.”

What tools would you like to see that support your privacy online?


Facebook Page vs. Group Post Updated

By Matt on April 27, 2012

Hi Folks, just wanted to let you know that we’ve updated our Facebook Page vs. Group blog post to match current, April 2012 reality, knowing full well that it will change after I hit “Publish” :)

Take a look at our updated chart below and click on it to get more details from the post

Facebook vs. Group Chart

Matt’s Tools for Putting Together an HTML Email Newsletter

By Matt on April 18, 2012
Email Newsletter

Continuing the email newsletter support that started with Why HTML Email Newsletter Editors Suck, I put together a toolbox on Social Source Commons of tools that I use at Aspiration to create our HTML email newsletters.

The Custom Description Text of each tool tells you a little bit about why I use the tool and why you should care. Check ‘em out below!

What tools do you use to stay on top of HTML email newsletters?

Why HTML Email Newsletter Editors Suck

By Matt on April 5, 2012

One of the biggest complaints we get from nonprofits as they mature in their online communications is that creating properly-functioning formatted (i.e. HTML) emails in their email blaster is a pain in the @$$. The trouble is that having regular email blasts as an organization is seen as a baseline measure of organizational online competancy after having a web site. So it’s important to at least know what’s going on and what’s going wrong when you’re sending out your email blasts.


When you’re putting together an email in your email blaster with images, links and formatting, you’re really writing a piece of HTML code (*gasps*).

Editors in blasters like VerticalResponse or MailChimp use what are known as “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) editors so that instead of having to know how to code something to, say, look bold in HTML, they can just highlight some text and click a bold button. Anytime you see buttons like “bold” “italic” “left align” font size, etc. like you would in Microsoft Word or Open Office, you’re most likely using a WYSIWYG editor. So why is this even an issue to bring up?

WYSIWYG Screenshot


The long and the short of it is that WYSIWYG editors almost universally suck. And the problem is that, unless you know how to code HTML, you’re stuck with them to build your HTML email. Let’s take a look at why WYSIWYGs by nature are problematic and give you some tips around how to work with them so that you’re not pulling out your hair.

Many Ways to Do the Same Thing in HTML

The first thing to know about HTML is that there are many ways to do the same thing. For instance, let’s say that I want to add space around an image so that the text isn’t butting right up against it. In HTML, I could increase the “margin” around the image OR
Increase the margin around the text OR add some non-breaking spaces OR put it in a table and increase the “cellspacing” OR a whole host of other things to give that image some breathing room from the text. When I’m using a WYSIWYG editor, though, all I see is space between the image and the text. It has to guess which technique I want to use.

Issues with margin

This can cause problems down the line.

For example, in the WYSIWYG, I’m just visually separating the image from the text probably with my mouse.

The WYSIWYG interprets this as adding margin around the text.

Later, let’s say I decide I don’t need that image after all. I delete it.

Because the WYSIWYG added margin around the text rather than the image, the margin stays because the text is still there and now the edge of my text has extra white space and doesn’t line up with my other text.

Argh. Because WYSIWIG editors have to guess which of many HTML techniques you want, your email suffers.

Formatting Invisible Containers

Another basic point to understand about HTML is that it is a language built of containers. In HTML, you define containers and put containers inside other containers. Like tupperware, HTML containers (ideally) fit nicely into one another.

Most of the time, these containers aren’t visible when a browser or email client is displaying the email. The contents of the containers are visible.

In code, to make the contents of the container look a certain way (font size, family and color), you format the container. The problem with this is that when you’re using a WYSIWYG, all you see is the contents because the containers are usually invisible. So if you select some text and click the “bold” button, the WYSIWYG has to guess which container you’re trying to format.


HTML Containers


Because WYSIWYGs don’t show the containers that are being formatted only the contents, deleting content in WYSIWYGs, many times, leaves HTML “crumbs” behind. In other words, deleting content in WYSIWYG editors many times leaves empty, previously-used containers that may be formatted a certain way. With all of these invisible, empty, formatted containers lying around your email template, it’s only a matter of time until you place content into one of them without knowing and the format of your text is completely different.

Because of this reality, it’s important to use a fresh, empty template every time you send an email instead of taking a previously-sent email, deleting its contents and inputting new content. Templates provided with email programs are specifically designed to work with that particular program’s editor and quirks. So remember that when you upload or input a new branded template that you have created outside the program, it may not work as well as the templates that the email blaster automatically provides.

Common HTML Email Editor Problems:

Let’s look at some other common problems that people encounter when working in an WYSIWYG editor and why they’re happening:

  • Tables and bulleted lists (sometimes known as “unordered lists” or UL) automatically changing the font family and font size

    This is because when you insert a table or bulleted list, you’re actually creating a new container. Depending on your editor, these containers may have specific formatting that is different from the rest of your email.

  • Small images take forever to load when someone looks at the email

    When you upload a large photo (think high-res photos from a digital camera) and then resize them in the WYSIWYG, the email will actually load the big picture (and its huge size) inside the smaller frame that you set for it when someone looks at it. Best practice (and courtesy to your constituents) is to resize photos and images before uploading them into your email blaster.

  • Copying from Microsoft Word or “Rich text”

    Whenever you’re working in code, whether it’s HTML or CSS or whatever, you don’t want to be copying from Microsoft Word or any other “Rich Text” editor. “Rich Text” as opposed to “Plain Text”. Rich Text allows you to format your text (bold, left align, font family) while Plain Text is just text. The extension for plain text files is .txt while Rich Text is .rtf and Microsoft Word is .doc.

    Any text editor that allows you to format text will insert its own invisible code around the text so that the computer knows that it should show it a certain way. When you copy this extra code and paste it into your HTML email editor, it can cause a slew of errors because the editor is expecting only HTML code not rich text or Microsoft Word code. Plain text doesn’t have any of this extra code. It’s simply text. Nothing more.

    Before you copy any text into your HTML editor, make sure you first paste it into a plain text editor and see if there’s any extra invisible code floating around. A plain text editor will only show text so you’ll immediately see anything that isn’t the text of your email. Remember that even if the code looks unformatted, it might still have rich text or Microsoft Word formatting code around it.

  • Weird codes like “ show up where there’s supposed to be a character

    Smart Quotes are Bad for HTML

    Sometimes Rich Text or Microsoft Word will change certain characters to look more fancy. The most common two examples are quotation marks and ampersands. Some rich text editors will automatically change quotation marks to what are called “smart quotes”. Smart quotes curve depending on whether they are to the left or right of the text. These “smart quotes” replace the plain text ” with a bit of code to make them “smart” so that when you paste the code into HTML, they get pasted as a string of code instead of a quotation mark. This is a big deal because quotation marks are a critical piece of HTML code so that if they are switching to “smart” mode because of your editor, a whole host of things can go to hell because of it.

  • My editor says my file is too big!

    Sometimes you may try to send your email and your editor says that your email file size is much too large. This can be caused by many things but one thing that happens often is that an email created in a WYSIWYG editor creates a new container for every new type of formatting. In regular non-WYSIWYG HTML editing, you can apply multiple formats to a single container.

    For instance, if you wanted to make a paragraph have orange, bolded, underlined and italic text that was 20pt in size you would format the paragraph container orange, bold, underline, italic and 20pt font. In WYSIWYGs, many times instead of formatting the same container in multiple ways, it creates a new container for each format. So in our orange text example, it would make a new container around the paragraph and style the new container with underline text and then enclose that container in another container and style it with orange text and then another enclosing those two styled as bold and so on. All this extra, unnecessary code means the file size of your email increases and looks more and more like spam or a virus.
    Code Bloat

Things you can’t do in email because it looks like viruses

  • Embed videos

    Alternative: have a screenshot linked to the video page

  • Embed surveys

    Alternative: Link to the survey with a screenshot

  • Flash animations

    Alternative: Create an animated GIF


  • Use a plain text editor (Notepad in Windows, TextEdit in Mac (make sure in the preferences that you’re editing in TXT and NOT RTF)
  • Use a fresh template for every new email. Don’t copy a previously-sent email and delete its contents.
  • Resize your images before you upload them

What are your experiences using WYSIWYGs for HTML Emails?


Tips to Manage Your Online Identity Through Your Gmail Account

By jessica on February 1, 2012

Tucker filters junkmail

As an Americorps VISTA, I am forbidden from taking a second job while serving my year here with Aspiration. In an effort to possibly win some money or other free things, I have found myself registering with a few online survey companies. Understanding that their legitimacy and security may not be utmost and weary of the spam that I have to deal with – I’m pleased that I know a few tricks to adjust my Gmail address to better manage my online identity. Let’s check out a couple to tricks that you can use to manage your own email intake.

Using “+” in a Gmail address

In your Gmail address, you can insert a “+” after your username and then add any words or numbers between your username and the “@” to create alternate email addresses that are still delivered to your inbox. Whatever you add between the “+” and the “@” is ignored by Gmail and all mail will still be delivered to your account inbox. =
For example:

When I sign up for Aspiration’s eNewsletter, I give them my email address that looks like this:

“Aspirationtech” is ignored by gmail, because it is between the “+” and the “@” and the eNewsletter is delivered to However, in the inbox, you’ll be able to see that it was sent to

There are many different ways that one could use this trick:

  • Create multiple accounts with services that require you to have a unique address.
  • Set up filters, using the “To” line as a qualifier so that messages from services you sign up for don’t clutter your inbox (e.g. Set up a filter for all emails that were sent to to be labeled “Aspiration”)
  • Know what sites are passing your email address along to others. (e.g. If you get prescription drug spam being sent to, you’ll know somebody sold your email address)

Using “.” in a Gmail address

Another trick that Gmail users and their friends may not be aware of is that Gmail does not recognize “.” as a character within a username. So, adding, moving or removing a “.” from a Gmail address won’t change the actual destination address. = a.j.s.a.m.p.l.e.@gmail.comYou can use this trick in many of the same ways as the “+” sign.

This is also good for people who are emailing Gmail addresses to remember: Can’t remember where to put the “.” in your friend AJ’s email address? Good news! It doesn’t matter! = = =

However, if you are part of an organization that uses Google for their domain, this will not work for those email addresses.

Here are a few other posts that can help you manage your online identity:

Do you have any tips or tricks for managing your online identity?


Managing Multiple People Doing Online Communications

By Matt on January 13, 2012

Social networks were not invented for ease of organizational use. Individual accounts… Attached to personal networks… New Year’s Photos seen by all… Cats and Dogs LIVING TOGETHER. Many a sticky situation has arisen from the organization using tools designed for individuals to try to get actual work done. Then trying to add a couple more people into that mix to have multiple online communicators at a single organization? Gag me with your preferred food intake device. Managing more than one person speaking for the organization can be pretty tricky in this distributed online identity world we live in. However, there are some things an organization can do to start getting organized. Let’s check ‘em out.

Have a Point Person and Regular Meetings

Point Person

However your organization slices up its communications pie, it’s important and many times necessary to have someone overseeing Communications as a whole. Usually this is a Communications Manager but it could be an Executive Director or anyone else who can be the final word. This point person acts as the gatherer, the organizer, the tie-breaker and the straightener-outer (it’s a word, I swear). Having someone whose responsibility it is to make final decisions and keep different communications streams going smoothly is essential for having a functioning communications team.

In addition to having a point person, it is also important to set up a regular check in for those people who are communicating for the organization. If there are many messages going out, a weekly meeting to check in about communications for the coming week is a great way to get everyone on the same page, update shared documents and untangle any snags before they happen in realtime. If weekly doesn’t make sense at your organization, find some timeframe (and keep it regular) to check in with all communicators. It not only acts as an organizer for your communications but also gives communicators a resource in the form of bouncing ideas off each other and receiving support and encouragement.

Have a Shared Message Calendar

An important part to any communications plan is a calendar to make sure everyone is aware when and how much content is being pushed out to whom. With multiple communicators and streams, the name of the game is “Avoiding Spamming your Constituents”. Following a message calendar and tracking your email statistics (e.g. open rates, unsubscribe rates) can help you prevent this from occurring. A message calendar can also serve as a place to plot out communications for different programs and people so everyone is on the same page in terms of who is pushing out the content for what.

For more information about putting together a message calendar, including a couple templates to get your started, check out:

Have an Agreed-Upon Publishing Matrix

Publishing Matrix

Publishing Matrices can be an effective way to have a skeleton communications plan at your organization. The simple grid dictates to what communications channels different messages go. For instance, when there is a new blog post, do you tweet it? Post it on Facebook? Call up your members on the phone and tell them to read it? What is in bounds for each type of content that you’re trying to push out? Agreeing upon these standard procedures can give multiple communicators more freedom in the content that they need to push out to their individual communities.

For more information about setting up a Publishing Matrix check out:

Have an Organizational Online Communications Policy

Agreed-Upon Plan

What is in-bounds and what is out of bounds for the content of the communications at your organization? Do your fellow staff know? Do you know? Having agreed-upon standards for what your organization comments on, the language that is ok to use and the process to get it done is essential to have a fully functional communications team at your organization.

Consider Scheduling Content to Post Automatically

Many communications tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, VerticalResponse and WordPress allow you to set up content to go out automatically in the future. This can be useful if you’re working with another person on content. Communicators, at their weekly meeting, can agree on content AND publish dates while everyone is present. These messages can be added to the message calendar and then set up to go out automatically thereby getting group buy-in for communications.

Consider Multiple Accounts

Multiple Accounts

For most small nonprofits, having one Facebook page is enough of a committment. Building up a community, engaging allies in conversation and providing collaborative space can take time. The thought of doubling that committment to have two Facebook pages? Yikes. Bite off only as much as you can chew. Start with one social media account, work with it a while and see how it goes. If your organization has got that account down pat, think about adding another if there is an organic reason to (e.g. a separate community within the work that you do, a specific news stream that isn’t relevant to your general audience, etc.) AND if you have staff capacity to do so. Hopefully, if and when you do decide that you want to have more than one Twitter or Facebook account, you will have the other tips above in place (e.g. regular comms mtg, shared strategy docs) so the account addition is logical and makes sense for the organization.

If you do have multiple accounts here are some general tips in addition to those above:

  • Some orgs find it useful to “sign” their posts so people know which communicator is posting. One convention (on Twitter) is to use a karat with your initials:

    Check out this new article from @aspirationtech: ^MG

  • Use the main organizational account to repost content from the the other accounts. For example, selectively retweet tweets from program-specific Twitter accounts through the main org account to highlight the different programs and issue areas.

To wrap up, remember a few things as you embark on your merry multiple-communicators strategy at your organization:

  • Share documents
  • Check-in regularly
  • Have a point person for communications as a whole
  • Take small steps

What are your tips for managing communicators at your org?


Using Closed vs. Open Web Site Tools as a Nonprofit

By Matt on December 2, 2011

Recently, we had a conversation with an organization who was getting pressure to use a closed tool called Jimdo rather than the open-source tool, WordPress for their web site. Jimdo seemed easier and quicker and they wanted to know what we thought about it. Here’s a couple points that we brought up with them:

  • Using solutions like Jimdo, they basically control your destiny:
    • Your data is on their servers, meaning they “host” your web site.
    • Your online identity routes through their domain name, meaning your domain will be something like unless you pay for JimdoPro or a Business plan which still leaves your data in their control
    • You can only use the features they choose and extend the platform in ways they enable.
  • Using a solution like WordPress, you have more control of your data (your actual asset)
    • WordPress is freely installable on your own server or any host you choose, meaning that you can choose where your data (web site) lives.
    • You can route your online identity through any domain registrar you choose, meaning you can choose with whom you register your domain (
    • Because WordPress is open source, it is being improved by a large network of contributors, meaning anyone can take WordPress, improve it, add onto it, create themes, plugins, additional functionality, resources, etc.

    The gains in ease of use have been dramatic over the past few years, and we believe that they will continue.

  • is a solid and simple alternative to Jimdo. I’m sure it is not as plug-and-play, but I liken it to eating well. Jimdo is fast food, tasty and easy now, but not healthy in the long run. WordPress is healthy food – less sexy, and more attention and work to use/consume, but much healthier and beneficial in the long term.

In short, we recommend things like WordPress because we recommend modeling for success and long-term sustainability.

While solutions like Jimdo (and there are many) enable short-term success through ease-of-use and good features, they are not suitable vehicles for long-term publishing strategies. They are technological cul-de-sac’s that we actively encourage people not to drive down, unless you don’t mind abandoning your vehicle parked there at the end.

Remember BEFORE committing to ANY technology or tool, it is critical to examine what the “divorce strategy” would be for that particular tool. In other words, if it turns out that the tool is horrible after you’ve already input data and invested time, how will you get your data out? What options are available so that you retain control of your data?

What do you see as the value in using open source tools rather than closed tools?

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