User login

35 Free and Low Cost Tools webinar

Hello everyone! This past Wednesday, 27 March LSNTAP and Idealware hosted a webinar on “35 Free and Low-Cost Tools” available to nonprofits. We saw a great variety of productivity, collaboration, and other online tools, along with an analysis of worthwhile they are in terms of both cost and time investment. Our speakers were:

After introductions and a brief poll of the audience, Quinn launched into a description of the list to come. Even though many software packages may be free up-front, they come with costs related to implementation, upkeep, or support. This includes not just monetary costs, but time as well – tools that are especially hard to use can turn into time suckers. She explained that each tool was rated as “worthwhile” (a green sun), “maybe worth your time” (a yellow sun), or “probably not worth it” (a red sun). Here, the rating will be indicated in parentheses next to the name of each tool.

suns

With that, we dove into the list of tools.

Infrastructure

  1. Google Apps. (yellow) Many of us are familiar with Google Apps, including things like a completely free calendar and email suite. Like any comprehensive suite, Google Apps will take some time to get used to if you aren’t already – but they are relatively easy to use, so it gets a green sun!
  2. Google Drive. (green) What used to be Google Docs now has added functionality for uploading, editing, and sharing documents. It doesn’t sync to your desktop files the way DropBox does (see #4), but there’s no cost for 5GB of storage and it’s very easy to use.
  3. Microsoft Office 365. (yellow) The familiar Microsoft Office suite is now available in the Cloud for no cost to nonprofits. This includes Outlook, Excel, Word, and the rest of the Office suite.
  4. DropBox. (green) This is a very simple file sharing service available for both download and as a web interface. You can have a folder on your desktop that syncs with a folder on someone else’s desktop. It’s best for sharing a few files with a few other people, but is really great at that. Some alternatives mentioned by Montenegro include ownCloud and SpiderOak.
  5. Online data backups. (green) Backing up your data is not actually free, but can cost as little as $20-$30 per month. Several services were suggested (Box, Asigra, Carbonite, egnyte, Amazon S3, Caringo, and CrashPlan), each of which can make a complete duplicate of your files automatically on a regular basis – say, every night.
  6. Microsoft Security Essentials. (green) This virus protection software comes free with Windows and is a very solid package. It works great, so why not?

Productivity and Data Management

  1. Toggl. (green) This online time tracker is free for up to five users, though the paid plan is not very expensive. It allows users to easily enter their time and includes a timer so they can just press “start” and “stop.”
  2. ToDoist. (green) There are a lot of free task list applications; this one comes recommended for being easy to use and its ability to create categories and deadlines for tasks.
  3. Meeting Wizard or Doodle. (green) Both are very useful tools for finding good times to schedule meetings for large groups of people. Both tools create a kind of poll to find when each person is available and when they have times in common. I’ve also used When is Good, which is another great tool.
  4. Skype and Google+. (green) Most of us are probably familiar with using these tools, or at least with what they are: video conferencing for two people or small groups for free, with easy-to-use interfaces. A good Internet connection is important.
  5. FreeConferenceCall.com. (green) This tool is exactly what it sounds like. It lets you set up calls that are free to you, though users are charged according to a long-distance call. It’s not terribly professional-looking, but can be good for internal use.
  6. WebHuddle. (yellow) This is a new online conferencing tool, completely for free (at least for now). It’s been in the beta phase for two to three years, so it might not be reliable in the long term, but for now at least it’s pretty robust: slide/desktop sharing, polls, recordings, and so on. ÜberConference and join.me were also mentioned by Montenegro and Rowe, respectively as good alternatives.
  7. GiftWorks, DonorSnap, and Sumac. (yellow) These are simple and straightforward donor management systems, starting around $75 per month per user.
  8. Salesforce. (yellow) This is a great tool for grant management, volunteer tracking, and more. It comes free to nonprofits for up to ten users, but the implementation of necessary add-on features can get expensive. It is a good fit for organizations with very complex needs.

Program Support

  1. Google Maps and Google Earth. (green) Both of these familiar tools can be great to use for data visualization or advocacy campaigns.
  2. Tableau Public. (yellow) This is a fairly new tool that allows you to create charts, graphs, and maps with a drag-and-drop interface. You can import spreadsheets and the program automatically formats charts when you drop certain variables into, say, the x-axis. It does take a bit of a learning curve, but I really liked using it while writing this post on data visualization.
  3. infogr.am. (green) This online tool has templates to help you make very simple and attractive infographics, although they might look slightly “canned.” Some other good image-creation tools I’ve heard good things about are easel.ly, PicMonkey, and Quozio.
  4. Google Translate. (green) As with the other Google products mentioned, many of us have probably used Google Translate before. It’s completely free and does a surprisingly good job of translating, though not perfect. It creates readable translations for a conversational context, but shouldn’t be used to translate written material. For more on this subject, see LSNTAP’s earlier training on Machine Translation Tools.
  5. Owl and KnowledgeTree. (red) These document management tools are open source, but fairly complicated. They can easily become “pits of time” and effort. Montenegro also mentioned Alfresco as a document management alternative.
  6. Dragon Dictation. (green) The installed version is fairly expensive, but the app (for Android and iOS) is free. It allows you to turn speech into written text and even record on the go with you smartphone. Rowe recommends it for small pieces – not a large amount of material. The tool is “trainable,” so it gets better as you use it.
  7. DaysFrom. (green) This little calculator app allows you to quickly and accurately find the date that is x days from the date you enter. So for example, if you tell a client that you should reconvene in 30 days, the app tells you exactly when that is.
  8. LawStack. (green) Another smartphone app, LawStack contains core legal documents like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a reference library in your pocket.

External Communications

  1. Google Analytics. (green) Google also provides website analysis for free! After installing a small piece of code on your website, you can find out how many people are visiting your site, where they are, what browser they’re using, how long they’re staying, and more. For website analysis, it can’t be beat.
  2. Vertical Response. (green) This – as well as a number of other, similar tools – allows you to broadcast up to 10,000 emails per month for free (for nonprofits). You can use templates, segment the list of contacts, and see some reports on who’s opening the emails and so on.
  3. EventBrite. (green) This professional-looking tool allows you to take RSVPs or collect money for events. It costs nothing for free events and 3% of sales for ticketed events (which is a pretty small cut). Rowe also recommends Brown Paper Tickets, which offers a nonprofit discount and is a little more upscale (and a bit more expensive for paid events).
  4. SurveyMonkey. (green) This has emerged as the market leader of online survey tools. The basics of SurveyMonkey are free, and some add-on features are not very expensive. It’s easy to use and powerful.
  5. Click & Pledge. (yellow) This online tool allows you to take donations for a cut of 4.75% taken out, plus a $50 set-up fee. Other than that, it has no cost. It’s fairly customizable and supports both event and item sales.
  6. Google Grants. (green) Google again – this program helps you with free advertising. It allows you to place an ad in the right-hand side of the page when users Google search for an applicable term.
  7. Razoo. (green) This is a “friend-to-friend” online fundraising tool. It allows your supporters to fundraise for you. Each user can set up a page with videos and pictures to encourage their family and friends to donate to their cause.
  8. Social networking sites. (yellow) Social networking sites are free to use, and most of us are familiar with their use by now. The ongoing cost for these sites is the time you’ll have to put into administering your pages (two hours per week per site is advisable).
  9. Hootsuite. (green) The basic option is free, with a Pro version available for $6 per month. It helps you manage a variety of social media sites, with features like scheduling Tweets for later and providing metrics to support the formation or maintenance of a social media strategy. Montenegro recommends bit.ly not only for link shortening on Twitter, but also metrics capturing, as well as buffer for Tweet scheduling.

Resources

  1. TechSoup. Check here for software discounts available to nonprofits (especially Microsoft and Adobe products). There are also a number of articles and other resources.
  2. NTEN. Lots of articles, trainings, meetings and other resources on technology for nonprofits.
  3. Idealware. Free reports, articles, trainings, and other resources on a variety of topics related to nonprofits and technology.
  4. LSNTAP. Trainings, guides, blog posts, and other resources on a variety of technology topics specific to LSC-funded legal aid organizations. Submit us a research request and join our LSTech listserv!

Free stuff rocks!

Liz