SSC Toolbox Social Source Commons Blog

Nonprofit Tech, Tools and Social Media

A program of Aspiration 

Graphic Design Toolbox: Designing the New Aspiration Shirt

By Ruth Miller on November 24, 2014

Less than two weeks into my role at Aspiration, I was granted an enormous challenge: design the 2014 Aspiration t-shirt. From this high-profile task emerged a series of challenges.

The first was simple: how could I support free and open software and produce the kind of visual graphics I’m used to getting with proprietary tools? As a long-time supporter of the philosophy of free and open source, but a newcomer to many of the actual tools, here’s a walkthrough of the tools I explored and ultimately chose. You can also view the toolbox here.

Final t-shirt design

Read more »

Twenty tactics for creating engaging online content

By Javier Kordi on September 4, 2014

Do you ever find yourself asking “What’s the point of it all?” when creating content for the vast universe of the web? Don’t let your content fizzle out. Instead, consider using engagement asks to get your audience involved in the work you’re writing about.

‘Cause its not always about you. Organizing is about encouraging people to find their own passions and contributions in social change work. Next time you draft a newsletter, tweet, or blog, place activists at the center of your online organizing model and ask: “How can I get them involved?”

Here’s a bunch of engagement asks to consider using:

  • Join our community event
  • Click on this registration button
  • Tell us what you think about our program
  • Let us know how we can help you
  • Send in a public comment on a new bill
  • Sign up for webinar/seminar/workshop
  • Spread the word to your friends about this event
  • Send us your pictures from the event
  • Organize a local event in solidarity
  • Sign a petition
  • Pledge support
  • Make a donation
  • Join our art contest
  • Volunteer to help
  • Tell us your story
  • Write a guest blog post
  • Help us out with IT
  • Help us translate stuff into another language
  • Request fliers and pass them out
  • Visit our office to say hello

[Caution: using all 20 asks in one email is not likely to lead to ultimate engagement.]

Remember, behind every computer screen, social media follow, and email subscription is an individual person—not a faceless mass of “people”—who may just be waiting for the chance to help grow the mission of your organization or movement. Give them the option to.

If you want some examples of engaging content, check out and subscribe to these awesome folks. Their communication stuff helped inspire the list (thanks y’all):

What’s been your experience in engaging people online? Any questions or suggestions for this list? Get in touch; I want to hear from you!

More related resources:

  • [ Video] overview of how to be a certified boss in online advocacy and campaigning
  • [Training resources] for building online advocates, including templates and slidedecks

Developing New Tech Projects, Part 2: Test Pages

By Javier Kordi on June 19, 2014

(Check out part one of this project here! )

Training Resources Landing Page

We’re getting closer to launching our webpage for nonprofit learning resources, designed for anyone concerned with using and making decisions about technology for social change. We appreciate all who shared helpful feedback on our digital page mock-ups. Now, we’ve brought these mock-ups to life in a demo page that hosts click-able and interactive test pages.

Sharable and adaptable resources

These nonprofit resources are designed for people to learn and teach with, so we’re uploading them in various file formats (PDF’s, editable tables, templates, and slide shows). We talk a lot about “living documents” at Aspiration— files that continue to change and develop as we use them and as our needs change. We hope that this adaptability encourages people to make these files their own, and better yet, re-share the materials back to an open knowledge community.

Working in a user-centered ecosystem

Collage of Mock-up iterations

We would love for you to be the first to explore these new pages and processes online. Intuitiveness and usability are vital to this one-stop-shop for nonprofit resources. These qualities can only be tested by actual users. We’ve been aspiring to design a page that is informed by the the user’s eyes and expectations, rather than our organization’s assumptions or an internal ‘vision’.

This process of user-centered design starts long before going into web development. From hand-drawn paper prototypes, to digital design, and finally to functional webpages, input and inspiration from potential users is the constant presence in our model of tech development. Like the resources themselves, we hope to continue “hacking” the learning resources pages as new user needs and insights come up.

Be the first to test our pages

The test pages hosted on the demo reflect weeks of user input and feedback. We hope that continued testing brings us closer to an optimal user experience.

If you’re interested in being one of our test drivers, visit our test page. Please get in touch to let us know what works and what sucks. Be candid, we’d love to hear from you.

Click Here For Nonprofit Learning Resources Test Page

Here are a few questions we’re curious about:

1. Does the slide show viewer at the center of the page take up too much room? Is it something that you would actually use?

2. Are there too many links to resources? Are the different versions clear and easily accessible?

3. Do the resource descriptions clearly indicate what you are clicking on?

4. Was the webinar link easy to find?

We’re very thankful for everyone who has given us feedback so far, and look forward to hearing more!

Resources: How to Protect your Email

By misty on June 17, 2014

With great honor, Aspiration gets to join Jack and Jamila from Palante Technology Cooperative for a session on “PGP Encryption for Our Movements” at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit on June 19-22, 2014. The AMC is a “collaborative labratory” where activists, techies, artists, and educators create and share transformative media. We always have a great time!

To start, we’re making a resource list to provide additional places where folks can learn about email encryption. Below are lots of links for further reading to help demystify the world of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), and the tools you need to get started. We’ll post more on session take aways after the conference.

AMC Session: “PGP Encryption for Our Movements”

Description: In the face of rampant surveillance by powerful forces, how can we protect ourselves while communicating online? OpenPGP is open source software lets users encrypt data and verify the source of an email or file. In this workshop we’ll cover the basics of what activists and organizers need to know about OpenPGP: what it’s for, how it’s used, and the benefits it offers to our movements. Participants will leave with an understanding of how they can use encryption for increased privacy and security in their day-to-day work and next steps for starting to use OpenPGP themselves.

Resources: What to read

Next Steps: How to get started

Here are the current tools we use to set up and use PGP Encryption for email. Download the tools from the Social Source Commons Toolbox below.

Tools based on Operating System

Each operating system may require a different set of tools to get things working. Here’s the right combination for you if you are using an Apple, Microsoft, or Linux machine.

Share your resources

We hope you find these useful. Please share your resources and we will add them to the list.

What do you use to learn encryption, especially for grassroots activists and nonprofits?

Thank you Jamila Khan, Jack Aponte, Josh Levinger, Joshua Black and Jessica Steimer for helping to find PGP resources and providing extremely useful information on our PGP journey!

Happy encrypting!


Developing New Tech Projects, Part I: User Testing

By Javier Kordi on June 6, 2014

We’ve been working on something that we’re pretty excited about—a new part of our website that gathers all of our training resources in one place. It hasn’t gone live yet, but we’d love to share our progress and get your feedback on this page mock up as we move forward!
Aspiration Learning Resources Page Mock Up
For years, Aspiration has been developing and delivering trainings to organizations. We’ve always created resources (e.g., slides, templates) to complement these trainings. While we’ve tried our best to make these resources available on our website for future use, they are sadly scattered in the dark corners of Our web traffic reports show this lack of accessibility and use.

We’re working to fix that, in hopes that you’ll find value and versatility in these resources. In addition to migrating them to an accessible place, we’ll be providing the resources in various formats, such as editable versions of slides, templates and webinars. We hope that others will build on the lessons and resources and make them relevant to their own intended audiences. We’re also going to place everything associated with each training in one place, in order to guide people to complementary trainings that’ll boost tech capacity.



Imagining our audiences

This is where you wonderful people come into the process. We’ve learned from experience that when developing new technology projects, you need to get the potential users involved early. There’s no better way to gauge usability than direct user feedback. Bearing this in mind, we advocate for developing technology in a user-centered way which anticipates users’ needs and gets their feedback early and often. Like any nonprofit project built for the community, it should be created with the community, incorporating the insight of the people who will benefit most from the project.

Naturally, we began our development process by thinking about who might benefit from a library of self-serve learning resources.

Brainstorming Our User Stories

We identified a few primary audiences:

1. Self learners—people who work or volunteer with social justice, grassroots, and community organizations.

2. Tech decision makers—people who work at or consult with organizations that are tasked with making decisions about technology around strategy, budget, and even personnel.

3. Trainers and capacity builders—people, like us, that work to support and inform nonprofits’ capacities to achieve their missions.

Envisioning how people use the site

After envisioning the potential audiences, we brainstormed ways that each unique group would engage with these learning resources on a web platform. This step takes some imagination; we created “user stories” to detail how people will interact with the site. User stories are short statements written in non-technical language that define how the website will provide value to users. These user stories served as guides for building the first project mock-up.

Hand-drawn Mock Up of Learning Resources Page

Give us your insight

The mock-ups started as hand drawings, and were eventually built out in a digital draft. As soon as we had something tangible (i.e., right now), we started asking folks for feedback. It’s best to start getting feedback at this early stage. When something comes up, it makes “going back to the drawing board” a less tedious trip. Most importantly, it incorporates the needs of the people.

Your participation is essential to the process; we’d love to get feedback from you as we move forward. If you’d like to walk through the mock-ups with us, please email

You can also leave comments below, or email us with your thoughts on this mock-up of one of the upcoming pages. We’d very much appreciate your insight.

(Part two of this blog is now live! Check out the next step of our tech project process.)

Special thanks

Special thanks to everyone who has so generously offered feedback and guidance so far.

We’re currently in touch with our amazing web developer Courtney at Floatleft, and she is patiently working with us to build the pages on our web site. We started working on web development only after we gathered a clear vision of our goals and priorities. Courtney’s understanding of website building informed how to best implement our vision. We thank her for the continued support.

Finally, thank you Jessica Steimer for co-writing this blog post and continuing to drive this learning resources project.

Check out these resources if you’re still curious about our process for developing new projects:


The Listening Cycle, Part II

By jessica on February 25, 2014

The listening cycle series has been co-written by Dirk Slater from Fabriders. Dirk has two decades of experience supporting social justice movements and is a nice guy to boot. You can find him on Twitter @fabrider. You can also find the version of this article on the Fabriders site here.

Listening Live

As we outlined in Part I of this Listening Cycle series, listening can give you an idea of what conversations are happening around different terms used to describe your issue. You can learn a good deal about the people, issues, and conversations that you are interested in by conducting simple searches. However, this method makes it almost impossible to keep up, and for most of us, listening and communications is only one small part of the work we do as social change agents.

We call it a “cycle” because listening isn’t something we should only do at specific points in a campaign. The campaign will evolve as conversations morph over time, through highlights and even lulls. Stories may go viral within different groups, and you’ll want to do your best to keep up. If you are trying to stay on top of – or even change – the conversation about your issue, then real-time tracking or automated listening becomes especially important.

Now that you’ve identified your search terms, such as key stakeholders, influencers, and vocabulary in Part I, let’s talk about tools that you can use to make listening and monitoring conversations about your campaign easier.

The Right Tool for the Job

For this blog post we focused on no-cost tools that organizations use to monitor people and conversations they are interested in. There are plenty of tools out there that you can pay for, and some of the options below have services for pay, but we feel strongly that most of the tools and services you can get for free can meet most of an organizations needs around monitoring. And you should certainly use free services before investing any resources in something you have to pay for. It’s also worth noting that monitoring social media is a highly dynmamic and rapidly changing field; new tools are constantly emerging.

We have left out analytic tools like Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and website analytics tools. Monitoring how your audience is interacting and responding to your messaging is an important part of a healthy breakfast… or, a strategic communications plan. However, knowing how people are responding to your content is different from trying to learn about what conversations you might nit yet be a part of or how to connect with audiences you are not yet engaging.

That is what listening is all about. In other words, monitoring analytics and metrics around your web and social media content is an important conversation, just not one that we are addressing in this blog post.

Online Listening Tools

Listening Dashboards

A tool to use to stay on top of social mentions by creating and customizing with your keywords, searches, and other data, so that you have one place to check for notifications.

Sparkwise Listening Dashboard
  • Netvibes – a dashboard that you can create to pull RSS and other new content feeds. Information can be organized into tabs and widgets for easier browsing.
  • – a powerful open-source tool designed with civil society organizations in mind that can be used as a listening dashboard, as well as a place to create visualizations, and as a storytelling platform.
    Note that it is still in Beta, but there are lots of widgets offering a variety of monitoring options.
  • Storify – functions as a dashboard as it is a place to check for notifications and new content. Storify works well with social networks that do not work so well in Netvibes right now like Instagram. You can collect and save social network posts from the searches that you’ve created into stories to keep track of conversations over time.
Storify Listening Dashboard

New Content Feed

Places to grab RSS feeds for listening. RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a feed that you subscribe to in order to be notified whenever new content is published.

New Content Feeds
  • RSS feeds are available from many blogs, websites, news sites – look for this to subscribe.
  • Google blog search – search for blog posts and pull an RSS feed from the bottom of the results page.
  • Google AlertsGoogle Account Required, you can have alerts delivered via RSS feed when new content is published that is relevant to your search terms.
  • Bing Search – pull an RSS feed from Bing Search results page by adding “&format=rss” to the end of the results page URL.

Pro Tip:Check out this blog post for more information on adding an RSS feed to a Netvibes dashboard.

Twitter Listening

Tools to use for deeper analysis of stakeholders, followers, topics, and issues on Twitter.

Twitter Listening Tools
  • Hootsuite – set up an account to listen on Twitter through saved lists and searches. Also used for scheduling posts ahead of time.
  • Topsy – a search engine powered by tweets. It can be useful for analytics and trends as well.
  • Followerwonk – a Twitter analytics tool that lets you explore your social graph.
  • – analyzes your Twitter community to help you better understand relationships such as influencers and suggests who to follow/unfollow.
  • Twopcharts – can be used to find the most influential active Twitter users for cities around the world, as well as for widely spoken languages.
  • Tweetlevel – can be used to search and analyze Twitter data around topics, hashtags, links, and users.

    This can be especialy useful when digging into web traffic analytics because it can be hard to know what link people follow to get to your site from social media.


  • Facebook – search allows you to use hashtags, similar to Twitter, but it will also let you search for keyword searches and also for people. One thing to keep in mind when searching on Facebook, however, is that people’s personal privacy settings trump everything else. So, searching on Facebook may not produce the most robust or accurate results.

Putting it all Together

Once you’ve tested out some of these tools and see how they might work for you, provide insight, and answer questions about the people and conversations you are trying to connect with online, then the real fun begins.


  1. Listen online to the keywords, people and issues you’ve identified
  2. Identify opportunities
    • What topics are people talking about along with your issue?
    • What are people saying about your organization? Your People? Your Issue?
    • What vocabulary are people using?
    • How does it differ?
    • Who is talking about your issue?
    • Who is connecting with you?
    • Who is a big influence on the conversation that you want to be a part of?
  3. Incorporate into you communications strategy
    • Some ways to incorporate what you learn from listening include:

    • Connect with influencers
    • Share the other’s work and thoughts, crediting them of course
    • Use language, style, and frequency of messaging that seems to work to engage your stakeholders.
  4. Keep listening to see how it is working
  5. Practice and improve

Special Thanks

A very heartfelt and special thanks to the community of online listeners who have shared their tools and best practices with us in order for us to share with you. We are especially grateful to Matt Fitzgerald and the team at Upwell, as well as to Susan Tenby, the Online Community and Social Media guru at Caravan Studios, for their commitment to listening and sharing best practices with the community.

Have a favorite social media monitoring tool or tip you’d like to share? Leave a comment or send us a tweet! We’ll be listening!

The Listening Cycle, Part I

By jessica on February 14, 2014

Beyonce wants you to listen

Beyonce says Listen


The listening cycle has been co-written by Dirk Slater from Fabriders. Dirk has two decades of experience supporting social justice movements and is a nice guy to boot. You can find him on Twitter @fabrider. You can also find the version of this article on the Fabriders site here.

Social media has changed the way we consume information. Most people will learn about world news or major events on social media before they learn about it from anywhere else. For advocacy and activist organizations it provides huge value as it allows them to get messaging out without having to get it noticed and vetted by major media outlets. However, the real power in social media is not about broadcasting but in its ability to allow advocates and activists to listen and understand campaign stakeholders and key audiences. This allows them to craft messaging that meets them where they are at.

We’ve been huge fans of the ‘Big Listening’ techniques shared by Upwell and have talked about them extensively in webinars and trainings that we’ve produced on social media. What we wanted to do in this post is present a ‘how-to’ on listening within the context of an advocacy campaign.

This blog post will teach you how to:
  • Identify key stakeholders in your campaign and where you can find them online.
  • Look for discussions either directly about or related to your issue.
  • Learn the vocabulary being used so that you can craft messaging that will engage stakeholders rather than alienate them.
  • How to get started:

    Before using any technology it’s critical to know who your key stakeholders are in your campaign and what you would like them to do. To be clear, when we use the term ‘stakeholder,’ we are talking about the people who are impacted and/or involved in your campaign. Use the Pyramid and Half Wheel Exercise to understand who your stakeholders are and what tactics you want to use to engage them. Once you’ve identified the key stakeholders in your campaign, you know who you want to listen to online.

    Next, you will need to identify what you are listening for. For this you will need to start with some brainstorming and then do some online detective work.

    Using this Campaign Listening Template to capture what you find, list out the different keywords and people associated with your organization or campaign. Try to make a list of anything that someone might mention when talking about you, your organization, issue, or campaign.

    Keywords to listen to may include:
    Organization(s) involved Spokespeople for or against the issue
    Executive Director or CEO Names of campaigns, propositions, or programs that you support
    Key leader(s) of the campaign Events, protests, or actions that you’ve been a part of
    Any #hashtags you’ve created or used frequently to contribute to online dialogue about your cause.

    The Campaign Listening Matrix Template was developed as a collaboration between Aspiration and Fabriders. We used our combined past experience of working with campaigners and listening online to inform the development of this document. That said, it has not yet been tested in the wild. Try it out and let us know how it is useful to you or how you have tweaked it to work better for your campaign.

    We’ve put together this Example Campaign Listening Matrix to help show how you might fill the template out for your own campaign.

    You may have keywords you want to listen to online that don’t quite fit into the categories on the template we’ve provided. That’s okay, list them out anyway. Each organization and campaign is different, trust your instincts.

    After you’ve figured out what keywords you are listening for, look at where your stakeholders are online and notice how they are talking about your issue. You’ll want to visit and listen to stakeholders in all three groups from the half wheel exercise, allies, neutral, and opposition. Go to their websites, blogs, social media accounts, interviews, articles, and papers published online, and use the template to list out the terms they are using to talk about your issue.

    As you list these out, look for the most common terms that they use. These terms are keywords, or the words that have the most significance in how they talk about things. Some organizations may need to create two keyword columns, one that lists the current vocabulary terms and the other that lists the desired terms you’d like each group to use.

    Testing… testing

    Now that you have some search terms, it’s worth using google on them to test out your assumptions. As you search each of the keywords, look for clues that let you know how different stakeholder groups are talking about your issue or campaign. Do the results support your assumptions? Whether yes or no, this should inform how you use the vocabulary terms in your messaging to connect with different conversations happening online.

    Let’s walk through an example

    If you are a sex worker advocate, and are actively promoting sex work as ‘work,’ then you would know that your allies are probably using the term “sex worker” and opposition tend to use the word “prostitute”. Neutral parties who are less clear about the terms would be using both “sex workers” or “prostitute”, interchangeably.

    Words that people use to describe sex workers give insight into their attitude, feeling, respect for the people.
      Allies Neutral Opponents
    Search Terms “sex worker” Both, “Sex worker”
    or “prostitute”

    Pro Tip: If I use advanced search function, then I can specify if I want to search for results with both terms or one without the other.

      What I can learn from listening:

      Listen. Understand. Act.

      Image source: highersights, flickr

    • If I’m searching on google for references to “sex work” I want to think about using either of those two terms depending on the what stakeholders I want to learn more about.
    • Are there surprises or challenges to my assumptions? Who are the loudest voices of support or opposition? Any new stakeholders that I should consider?
    • What other terms or issues are people using when they talk about “sex workers”? How about when they use “prostitute”? How can I incorporate those terms and issues into my messaging to be a greater part of the conversations already happening online?

    In this example, if we look at both “sex worker” and prostitute – we get a huge number of results. If we wanted to find results for “sex worker” but without any use of “prostitution” that number is far lower. And if we look for “prostitute” without “sex worker” the number is way bigger. So clearly there’s a lot more work to be done on getting people to respect sex work as work – but this gives us a picture of how often the language is used on the internet.

    As you learn words that your stakeholders use you can use and adjust the Campaign Listening Template to keep track of them.

    Who? What? Now, Where?

    The other side of the coin is to keep track of where these discussions are happening and where these stakeholders are actually talking about your issue. So once you have identified who they are in the half-wheel and pyramid exercise you can look to see where they are online.

    Organizers review keywords

    Image source: dirkslater, flickr

    So if you have identified new stakeholders, you’ll want to do more detective work about where they are online, and again look to see:

    • Do they have a Twitter feed?
    • Are they a Facebook user?
    • Do they use blogs or online forums?

    It’s also helpful to think about who influences your stakeholders and who they follow online.

    • Where do they get their news and information from?
    • Whose information are they sharing?
    • What #hashtags are they using and responding to?

    Update your tracking documents by keeping track of their online presence. Writing things like each group’s Twitter username down now will save you time later when from you are using different tools to listen online.

    By first identifying your key stakeholders, then identifying the vocabulary they are using online to talk about your issues you are better able to keep up with the conversations that you need to be a part of. All of this better informs your ability to influence the dialog and encourage allies to engage deeper with your cause and neutral parties to become supporters. It may even inform your tactics and strategies of neutralizing the influence of people in opposition to your cause.

    Where from here?

    For some of the tips to engage in conversations online after you’ve been listening, check out these Social Source Commons blog posts “I’m Monitoring Social Media… Now what?” and “Pain, Passion, Fame, Fun”.

    Next week we will release part 2 of the listening cycle, containing key tools you can use to make ‘listening’ easier.

    We’d love to hear how listening online has helped you learn and engage your stakeholders more effectively?

    Text Messaging for Grassroots Community Organizing

    By Jordan Ramos on January 30, 2014
    Text messaging is more accessible than ever and can be a powerful tool in direct community organizing.

    Text messaging can have a huge impact on movements by enabling always-ready access to information

    Is Text Messaging Right for Your Work?

    Short Message Service (SMS) can be an effective method for communicating and interacting with a relatively large audience of supporters in a direct and engaging way. Despite their reputation for being exclusively the domain of large-scale fundraising – or even Stupid, Pointless, and Annoying Messages (SPAM) – mass text messaging services have great potential to be used in grassroots community organizing in a way that can greatly benefit your mission (and your community) in the long run.

    Text messaging technology is old, simple, and cheap enough for it to have become by far the most widely adopted form of electronic communication, even in rural regions without internet connectivity. Even where coverage is too spotty for a phone call, a text message will always come through as soon as coverage becomes available. Because it requires only the most basic infrastructure, SMS is often the tool of choice for low-capacity and community-organized projects such as citizen reporting and journalism, connecting people with doctors and educators, allowing lending and payments over long distances, and providing farmers with agricultural price updates.

    Just a few use-cases:

         Harassment reporting and map

         FrontlineSMS Projects: Legal advice, mobile payments, education

         Mobile Clinic communications

         Hurricane Sandy Relief: Occupy SMS connects aid with those in need

         Text Messaging boosts farmer incomes in India

    Why Text Messaging Is More Powerful Than You May Think

    Text messages are great for communicating with people on a closer and more informal level than is possible through e-mail or even a phone call, and it is far easier to actually engage your audience. Unlike most other forms of communication, text messaging is:
    1. Intimate/Direct

    Unlike e-mail, where many people delete far more messages than they read, most people still read every text message they receive and keep the ones they need for later reference. Specifying distinct command words that your SMS service will recognize also makes it simple for recipients to reply as soon they receive a message (or later) if they are interested.

    1. Immediate

    At a maximum of 160 characters per message, messages are small enough to be received a few seconds after they are sent.

    1. Always on, Everywhere

    People who have a cell phone often carry it with them at all times, meaning they can be out and moving and still receive, read, and even respond to your message.

    1. Accessible

    This applies both to the users/community members/constituents who subscribe to your messages, and to the experience of you and your organization. In the United States, 91% of adults carry a cell phone capable of text messaging. On top of that, it is cost effective to both send and receive text messages.

    All services can be set up to use rule-based logic, where it checks to see if conditions are true or false, then determine an action based on that.

    Text Messaging Services — The ‘Brains’ Behind the Operation

    Clearly it’s not possible to text message every one of your contacts individually, let alone read and process all of the responses you receive, and group messages pose obvious privacy issues and require trust that no member is going to spam the rest of the participants (because you gave them their phone numbers).

    So, what can you do, then?

    There are countless tools that fall under the category of ‘SMS Services’. (Short Message Service Service — like ATM Machine, or PIN Number— is kind of redundant.) Each tool has the same set of core functions:

    • Send/receive messages
    • Manage contacts and groups of contacts
    • Set up rules for how the service reacts to keywords and messages

    The main differences between tools are that they vary heavily in:

    • What is required to run it,
    • Where it actually runs (both the service’s ‘thinking’—which can be a smartphone, a personal computer, or ‘cloud’ server— and its texting ability—which can be any phone [with cell service], a GSM modem, or ‘cloud’ server),
    • Cost of messages and the service itself,
    • Set-up (time and energy), and
    • Scale.

    While we won’t be addressing any specific tools here, at the end of this post we’ve included the set of tools we have tested and used in projects.

    Use Responsibly

    While SMS is possibly the most effective way to reach out to people you are trying to support through your work, if used irresponsibly —which is easy to do without meaning to— you risk alienating your community and supporters (making them former supporters) and can breach into the realm of becoming illegal SPAM. We want to help you avoid doing that and also make sure your supporters feel comfortable participating by maintaining the following:
    1. Consent

    In order to send multiple messages to a person, you must earn their consent to do so. If you have a list of participants for one of your events and their phone numbers, you are allowed to send out a blanket text message offering instructions TO consent if they choose. If they do not respond, you cannot send them any additional text messages. After consent is earned, it’s always good practice to respond to their consent with clear instructions to withdraw their consent at any time. This way they won’t feel trapped!

    1. Content, Tone, and Frequency

    Content: It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who consent to receive a particular type of information (example: upcoming events) usually only want to receive that type of information. Messages should be as brief as possible to address the major topic of your message. Don’t make them read a whole paragraph! If you are communicating several types of information, you should also provide ways for your audience to opt in to each type.

    Tone: When you’re talking to humans about human things, it’s perfectly appropriate to talk like a human. If you want to ask people if they are planning on attending an upcoming event, ask them like you would normally, but ask for specific responses to communicate ‘yes’, ’no’, or ‘maybe’ so your service can read it and make it useful for you. People feel more comfortable responding to a message when they feel like it comes from a community member rather than a bank!

    Frequency: Messages should be consistently spaced and as infrequent as possible to communicate your goals. An even better practice would be to provide a way for your audience to change options for how often they receive your messages, so they know when to expect them.

    1. Privacy

    There are two reasons for maintaining the privacy of your contacts: 1) To protect them by allowing them to respond (relatively) anonymously, and 2) So they do not feel that if they DO opt in, they are going to receive messages from third parties or other contacts.

    In some cases, being found to be associated with your cause may put supporters at risk — for example: if your community consists of undocumented workers, you MAY not want their identities known. Additionally, participant-to-participant communication might actually be a legitimate short-term use, if personal information about participants is concealed by your service.

    Getting Started

    Questions to consider when choosing a service:
    • Who is my audience? How large?
    • How do I collect contact information from participants?
    • What do I need the service to do?
    • What do different services require or cost?
    • How do I maintain the privacy of participants?
    • Do I need to be able to change the service in real-time?

    Here is my rough guide to help decide which service might be appropriate for your specific use [PDF]


    Below are the tools I have tried, and my assessments of many of them here [PDF]

    For further reading check out Tactical Tech’s Mobiles-in-a-Box: Tools and Tactics for Mobile Advocacy

    Creative Commons Attributions: Arrows designed by Tobias Klepp, Share designed by Anand A Nair, Protest designed by Gilad Fried, Cell Phone designed by Alex Hartmann, Cloud Settings designed by Agus Purwanto, Laptop designed by Olivier Guin, Light Bulb designed by Ema Dimitrova, Settings designed by Joe Mortell, Tips designed by Lemon Liu, Thought Bubble designed by Irene Hoffman, Radio Tower designed by Jon Anderson, NFC Phone designed by Andrew Forrester, Comment designed by Icomatic, Iphone designed by Hedie Assadi Joulaee, Signal designed by Alex Fuller.

    All other glyphs fall under Public Domain from the Noun Project.

    Trust in the Cloud

    By misty on December 4, 2013


    Are you considering using the Cloud at your nonprofit organization? What are some implications of the use of the Cloud for nonprofits and social justice movements?

    (Hold up, if first you want to get caught up on “What is the Cloud?“? Read from Mashable or LearnFree.)

    Calling it “The Cloud” is misleading

    The Cloud is sold as a nicely packaged solution to store your data in one secure place. The reality of our current Cloud use is different. Really, the Cloud is a densely fragmented patchwork of services, models, and tools that you use online to store, edit, and share information.

    As technology users and consumers, and as social justice workers, we like to think about how storing and sharing information online may effect our organization or the people we serve.

    We’ve put together a few thoughts over time. The following list is by no means all inclusive but hopefully presented as a path to start conversations. We are inspired to collaborate with you around the awareness of shared responsibility as activists using Cloud technologies.

    Aspiration’s Cloud Considerations Checklist

    1. Follow the Hollywood Marriage Rule

    Technology relationships do not last forever. Technology changes. every. day. When selecting technology, think in terms of future seperations.

    Questions to consider…

    • Can we get our data out?
    • Is our data really our data, or did we give it over to someone else?
    • Is our data secure?
    • Who else can see our data on this technology?

    2. The Cloud offers real benefits, but much remains unsolved

    Benefits Unresolved
    Makes new collaborations possible
    Increases availability of info
    Improves efficieny in communciation
    Allows for mobility
    Maintaining unified online identity
    Undetermined control of data
    Unclear third party actors
    Fuzzy open standards

    3. Most cloud solutions are uniquely unleveraged relationships

    Most cloud providers hold too many cards. They are uniquely leveraged in how much data they have and what they can do with it. Better checks and balances systems need to be put in place.

    4. Your DATA is your digital power

    Putting organizations files, contacts, and data in the cloud raises rather than lowers the stakes on protecting it. If it really matters, keep-up-to-date versions locally, along with Plan B.

    5. The Cloud is in diapers

    The idea of the cloud is still young. Don’t trailblaze or make big bets if you don’t have too. Rather, model on others’ success. Time will tell and teach.

    Nonprofit Brainstorm: What’s in Your Cloud?

    Before considering the Cloud or reviewing your current Cloud use, a good place to start is figuring out where you currenty put all your data as an organization. Start with these questions:

    • Where do you have accounts online?
    • Where do you put files online or contact information?
    • What internet services are you using to house your data?

    When you start by taking an inventory of where you are at, you can get a real sense of where you stand rather than getting paranoid (or nihilistic) about your cloud use ;).


    Thank you to Gunner for sharing his tips on the Cloud through many nonprofit technology trainings and inspiring the blog post. Thank you to Jessica Steimer for helping to get our data house in order.


    What are other things to consider before putting your data in the cloud?

    until next time,

    Social Media Toolkit Released by Greenlining

    By misty on November 5, 2013

    Greenlining Social Media ToolkitWe admire JC and Braelan, the good folks over at the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley. Today, we want to share out their newest publication, The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits. The strategy guide is filled with social media strategies and tactics to really build a foundation for your social media presence as a nonprofit.

    Is there anything better than to hear from an actual nonprofit (who has gone through the hoops) about how nonprofit technology works and doesn’t work for them?

    And, it comes at a perfect time for us ;)! We’ve been thinking a lot about crafting messages, creating content, and building self-serve templates to help organizations plan their online messages. Read Engaging Network Hubs or A Template for Calendaring Your Messaging for more.

    And then, BAM! We saw this! In their toolkit, Greenlining provides sample templates to help you plan your content. All photos are from Greenlining’s Social Media Toolkit and we recommend a download.

    To start, if you are strapped for time to brainstorm content ideas in the beginning of each week or month, use this template to get your content generating house in order.

    Greenlining's Social Media Toolkit: Weekly Content Ideas

    Greenlining’s Social Media Toolkit: Brainstorm Content Ideas

    Then, use the following as a sample to plan out how those ideas will get distributed across your online channels, like Facebook, Twitter, or email.


    Greenlining’s Social Media Toolkit: Plan Your Content

    Practical steps and bite size templates like these help to put ideas into action.

    We’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the sidelines over the last several years watching Greenlining work hard to discover how social media can help build an online community and shape dialogue about a topic.

    And now, they turned those learning lessons into something useful to share with fellow nonprofits! Thank you JC for getting at the heart of helping social justice advocates and organizations communicate and listen online.

    How do you manage your weekly content and social media presence? Any tips or tricks to pass along to fellow nonprofits?


    Plus, share the social media toolkit and tag @greenlining!

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