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Which Ones to Choose and How to Choose Them?


In an increasingly digitised world, digital tools have become almost indispensable, whether for your internal or external communications, fundraising or administrative tasks.

However, in a sea of online tools and software, choosing the one that best suits your organisation can be challenging. Each tool promises the best results at varying prices. Additionally, your budget is inevitably limited as your investments are primarily focused on the projects you are developing.

While most online tools are designed for businesses, an increasing number of them offer free or discounted access to nonprofit organisations. In this article, we will introduce you to some of these digital tools and software, both free and affordable, that could assist you as a nascent association or NGO. They will help you stand out, save money by avoiding external companies, and save time by simplifying some of your daily tasks.


Team Collaboration Tools 

If you are still relying solely on emails to communicate with your team, it's high time to modernise your collaboration methods. To ensure effective teamwork, even small nonprofit organisations need a collaborative workspace and communication platform where you can share and store files, collaborate on documents, plan projects, events, and meetings.

The two most popular platforms in this field are Microsoft 365/Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace. Both platforms offer free subscriptions and favorable pricing for nonprofit organisations. While they have some variations, both platforms are highly performant. If you are torn between the two, I recommend consulting this article that highlights the advantages of each platform. Generally, it is advisable to stick to a platform if you have already started using it since migrating to another one can be time-consuming and require a period of adaptation for the entire team to a new tool.


For our Swiss readers, there are alternative solutions that are more respectful of private data and hosted in Switzerland. The Infomaniak platform competes with giants like Google and Microsoft by developing its own online collaboration space called K Suite, offering a set of tools very similar to MS Teams and Google Workspace. There are still some improvements to be made, but the platform is evolving rapidly and constantly introduces new and enhanced options. While there are no offers for for-profit organisations, the prices are reasonable, and you can test the platform for free for 30 days.


Communication tools, digital tools, NGO
Digital tools for NGO

If you are looking for tools focused on project management, we highly recommend you consider Trello and Asana, which are very popular among non-profits and use the Kanban method. The Kanban method is a project management approach that focuses on continuous improvement using visual boards to represent workflow and tasks to be completed. It is important to note that both Trello and Asana offer free versions with basic functionality, as well as advanced paid options. Asana offers a 50% discount for non-profit organisations.


Contact Management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is fundamental for both small and large organisations. Don't let the term "customer" in CRM mislead you – you should consider your donors, volunteers, members, partners, subscribers, and others as customers and ensure relevant and lasting communication with them to maintain their engagement. CRM forms the digital roots of your organisation, allowing it to grow on solid foundations. Poor contact management can quickly turn into a nightmare.


There is no perfect CRM for NGOs, but there is a CRM that will meet your needs and fit the size of your organisation. It is challenging to provide specific recommendations as CRM systems vary significantly based on the needs and size of each organisation. Two important criteria to consider when making your choice are not to aim too big initially and not to neglect integrations. Industry giants are designed to cater to the needs of large teams with tens of thousands of contacts. While their extensive capabilities may seem attractive, they can be disproportionate to the needs of smaller organisations, and the software's complexity may require extensive training or the assistance of a specialist. Opt for a solution that your team can control and manage. Secondly, when choosing a CRM, ensure it integrates with the other applications you use. If you utilize mass email services like MailChimp, make sure easy integration is available, as transferring contacts between the two software can quickly become complicated.


I recommend taking a look at two inexpensive and user-friendly CRM options. Airtable offers an intuitive interface and numerous integrations, and you can benefit from nonprofit discounts. The French CRM Springly is specifically designed for associations and may also suit your needs.


Visual Communication

To optimize your communication campaigns and create your communication materials, I recommend using Canva. Canva is a graphic design platform that allows you to create graphics for social media, presentations, posters, documents, and other visual content. The pro version is free for NGOs.

For your social media posts, you can use YayText to give your texts different styles and fonts. If you are a small organisation and do not have images to use or are always using the same ones, there are many stock image banks with free selections like iStock or Pexels.


Visibility and Fundraising

Are you familiar with Google for Nonprofits? This programme gives non-profit organisations access to free or discounted Google products, including Google Ad Grants, the YouTube for Non-Profits programme, Google Maps Platform and Google Workspace. These different tools can help you collaborate better, improve your video campaigns and also for your fundraising. The specific benefits and products available may vary depending on the size and scope of your organisation. For example, Google for Grants is aimed more at large and medium-sized organisations, but the programme in general is designed to be accessible to a wide range of not-for-profit organisations. You need to meet a number of criteria to register your organisation.


Data Analysis

Analyze and collect data, whether it's on your website or social media platforms. Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool that helps you understand your website traffic and measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. If you prefer a data privacy-focused alternative, you can use Matomo, which does not use your data for advertising purposes.

Each social media platform, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, offers statistics on your posts and page traffic. Remember to consult and analyze them.


As a bonus, for brainstorming sessions, we recommend practical tools such as Jamboard, Padlet, Mural, or MindMeister.


Conclusion

There are many other online tools that can significantly improve the management and communication of your organisation. If you find a tool that seems relevant, don't forget to check if it offers special offers for nonprofit organisations. If you can't find any information on the website, you can inquire directly with the company via email. It is crucial to consider the costs and benefits of each online tool. Sometimes, it is necessary to recognize that investing a certain amount of money in a tool can save you numerous hours or greatly enhance the management and communication of your organisation.


Please note that tools and software evolve rapidly. Therefore, it's important to acknowledge that some of the information provided above may become outdated over time. This article was published in December 2023.

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How can we break out of soporific conference and meeting formats, where communication is a one-way street? How can we use our natural impulse for play and creativity that can bring participants’ knowledge, experience, ideas and skills to a shared space and time?


Recently, I worked on this issue with the organising committee for a conference. I facilitated several workshops in preparation of the conference, as well as two break-out workshops during the conference itself.

Walk the Talk: Using Liberating Structures to learn Liberating Structures

The aim of the preparation workshops was to match content and format: Talk and learn about interactive methods by applying such methods, so that the format provides answers to the question on how to shape truly interactive and participatory meetings and conferences. We experimented with different Liberating Structures methods and discussed how they can be applied face-to-face and online. Starting from the light approaches of Impromptu Networking, 1-2-4-all, the Mad Tea Party, we transitioned to the more sophisticated – but just as easy to apply face-to-face or online – Fishbowl, Appreciative Interviews and the Troika Consulting. Equipped with these methods, the participants would be expected to prepare their parts for the conference, replacing the classical keynote inputs (e.g. Powerpoint présentation) with other formats. Solutions to this challenge were interview formats, the fishbowl or quizzes.


Open Spaces: Black Holes or wonderland?

For the conference I dared to pitch in with two “open spaces”. These were time slots for workshops without any pre-defined topic. Conference participants were invited to propose any topic for discussion, and to see whether other participants would be interested to join.

We all had been a bit worried that nobody would propose anything, only to see that a total of six additional topics were put forward!

But how should we deal with this, since we only had two time slots available? All interested conference participants joined the discussion on which topics to choose for which time slot. Everyone agreed that all six topics should be discussed, putting together three (seemingly unrelated) topics in each time slot.


How to facilitate an unprepared workshop on three unrelated topics at once?

Feeling a bit challenged to facilitate such a setting, I also felt thrilled about how the invitation and the open space had resulted in participants being bolder than I had ever imagined!

The participants were seated in a circle and the title of each topic was written on a flipchart in different corners of the room.

Otherwise, the materials provided were limited to post-its, markers, coloured paper, a bell, a watch with a countdown function and a "squeezy ball".


Conversation Café – trusting the process

We started the workshop using the Conversation Café. The rules are simple: An object is chosen and declared the “talking stick”. The person holding the talking stick can talk about anything they want. Everyone else listens carefully. There is a strict time slot of one minute for each person to hold the talking stick. If he or she is finished before or does not want to say anything, the talking stick is handed to the next person. There are at least two such strictly timed and ordered rounds. In this way participants can react to others’ inputs or answer questions that were directed at them (if they want). After these regulated rounds, there can be one or more rounds, where the rules of the talking stick and timing are upheld, but the order is free, and people can ask to receive the talking stick randomly.

In both workshops, the Conversation Café not only allowed us to go into the three topics, but revealed that these seemingly unrelated topics have in fact a lot to do with each other.


Take a minute to reflect – before walking on.

Using the method 1-2-4-all we inserted a moment of reflection to narrow down the topics for further discussions.

One of the objectives was to find out if participants would like to break up in sub-groups, in order to focus on different specific issues. In both workshops participants were thrilled to see how surprising new perspectives came up because three seemingly unrelated topics had been put together, and they wished to continue in the big group, with more Conversation Café.


Deep reflection for conclusions

Towards the end of the workshops, in order to wrap up and develop conclusions, I invited participants to write a “Spiral Journal” and to reflect on four questions related to the overall topic of the conference: Inspiring insights gained through the workshop; New or pertaining challenges related to the topic; Concrete recommendations to different actors in relation to the topic of the conference; And their own resolutions on what they want to do further or differently after the workshop.


And the results?

The energy during and after these open space workshops was sizzling: participants had established a thorough interest in each others’ work, experience and challenges and immediate feedback was thoroughly positive. But what would participants think in hindsight and in comparison to other prepared workshops? Would they be disappointed, because they had not received any presentations or materials documenting complex projects or approaches? Would they find after reflection, that it had not been too worthwhile after all, even though the experience had been inspiring initially?


I admit that even I, a declared fan and promoter of open working methods, was surprised: All conference participants evaluated these two open workshops with the highest possible marks, both in terms of content and format . It is striking to realise that a format, which takes literally no time for preparation, allows participants to discuss what is really relevant to them, to share experience on an equal par, to discover surprising new perspectives, and to have a thoroughly satisfying conference experience.



Three simple, but really, really important recommendations:

1. Use liberating structures and other open working methods

There are a great number of concrete tips, methods and approaches that are helpful for overcoming differences of authority or hierarchy, for trusting participants and for not anticipating the outcome or the exact questions to be discussed. Now it is about trying things out!

For me, the Liberating Structures are the absolute highlight, because they are easy to learn and apply, and because they are described in a simple and understandable way. You will find a library of methods, including stories and examples on how to use them here: https://www.liberatingstructures.com

I would also like to recommend the Open Space Technology, a completely open, self-organising format for conferences of at least one day. Organise the most amazing conferences on any topic with up to several hundreds of participants, without any content-related preparations. The technology has been developed by Harrison Owen, and while you can find a lot of guidelines and short information on the technology online, I recommend reading his book “Open Space Technology – A User’s Guide”, in which you learn about the fascinating story on why and how he developed this method.


2. Tell your fears to go elsewhere – they are telling lies...

You might be afraid nobody would take the spaces that you provide, that people would expect you to feed them with knowledge and expertise and that you would look like a fool, while everyone would fall asleep or walk out of your meeting. I understand this very well, this fear keeps coming back after all these years and workshops – only to be proven baseless every single time I try something new. So try something new and expose the fears!

If you want some help in getting started in using Liberating Structures or other out-of-the box methodologies for co-creating projects and strategies, get in touch with me!

3. Trust your participants

Remember that your expectations of and towards participants has an influence on their behaviour. If you treat them as ignorant lazy people, like school children, that has to be guided into a specific direction so that they learn exactly what you believe is important to learn, they will be exactly that: lazy, ignorant, passive, or in the best case rebellious (because alive). If you look at them in a different way, trusting that they are in your meeting or workshop for a reason, with a specific interest, and that each of them has something to contribute, they will do exactly that: each one a treasure in themselves, a library and university with a heart, head, and hands.


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The coronavirus crisis has clearly demonstrated that digital technology cannot completely replace physical meetings. There is no substitute for human contact and social interaction. However, virtual events have great advantages; they are more flexible to unpredictable changes, less expensive, more inclusive due to their wider geographical reach and a lower carbon footprint. The digital component brings a new value, complementary to the physical event and an added value that organisers do not want to give up.

The hybrid therefore appears as an alternative type of event, combining the advantages of both approaches.


What is a hybrid event?

The hybrid format combines digital and face-to-face elements. The audience has the opportunity to participate either by physical presence or from home. Most types of events can be organised in a hybrid format, such as meetings, seminars, concerts, openings or conferences, to name but a few.


For a successful hybrid event, here are our 4 recommendations:


1. A tip that may be common sense, but as with any project, it is essential to clarify your objectives carefully. There are all sorts of ways to make a conference hybrid. Depending on your expectations, the organisation of the event can quickly become much more complex and costly than expected. A hybrid conference can take many forms, so it is important to define your objectives in order to create your own event according to your needs and resources.


2. Many event organisers are still unfamiliar with interactive methods for the online format, so hybrid events sometimes tend to be a series of presentations and Q&As with little or no interaction with the audience. For a successful hybrid conference that brings real richness to the audience, we therefore wholeheartedly recommend that you focus on interaction. It is time to be creative and turn to participatory methods such as Liberating structures, many of which can also be applied to the virtual. Participants usually come to an event for networking too, so it is

advisable to include networking activities. Finally, many technological tools such as Mentimeter or Kahoot! allow you to involve your entire audience online and face-to-face at the same time, and in a fun way.


3. Online participants often feel like second-class participants and risk being forgotten, as more energy tends to be devoted to welcoming face-to-face participants. Our third recommendation is to prioritise online participants. It is therefore important not to forget to welcome online participants with the help of dedicated online moderators. If questions are asked of the whole audience, discuss the online participants' questions first. The presenter can sometimes also look directly into the camera when addressing the online audience, or refer to the online audience by saying how many people are present or from which countries they come from.


4. You are not organising one event, but two. Not all participants should receive the same information. If they receive too much irrelevant information, they risk getting lost and not being sure of their role. As a fourth recommendation, we strongly advise you to send different and tailor-made information to the two audiences. Also, it is much harder to maintain attention when following an online event. Clearly write down in a shared document the details of the programme for people online, how they can intervene and ask questions and any relevant technical information.


Conclusion

Hybrid events present some technological challenges to overcome and an undeniable investment for organisers that should not be overlooked. Furthermore, for large conferences, it is best to use specialist agencies or third parties to help you with the technical side of things, so that you can really focus on the methods and content. These recommendations are intended to guide you in making your hybrid stand out and really enrich the participants!


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