Communication should be a main focus of every organization. Without properly established lines of communication, important information can easily get lost in translation. How does your organization communicate with employees on a daily basis? For most companies this day in age, the most common form of intra-organization communication is email. Moreover, with the ever increasing popularity of smart phones that enable users to check email remotely 24 hours a day, face-to-face communication is, sadly, becoming a thing of the past. While every nonprofit has a bottom line to consider, management staff should never lose sight of the importance of using technology to more efficiently facilitate the flow of information between members of the organization. Despite the many free or low cost tools that exist today, resources to increase intra-organization communication are often overlooked. A quick Internet search returns hundreds of results for these types of tools. However, weeding out the good from the bad can be a lengthy and somewhat frustrating process. To get your search started in the right direction, offered below are a few free or inexpensive tools that can help promote effective communication in the workplace.
Communication Within Your Organization: Email, Chat, Shared Docs, and More
Google for Nonprofits – Email and Beyond: If your nonprofit is looking for a way to improve internal operations, engage supporters and promote your cause – then Google for Nonprofits is right for you. This program offers functionality, flexibility and many valuable tools that help to increase communication and collaboration between members of the workplace. What’s included?
- Free or discounted version of Google Apps for your organization – Nonprofits with fewer than 3,000 users are eligible for the free version of Google Apps. Organizations with more than 3,000 users receive a 40% discount on Google Apps for Business.
- Gmail – A leading email service offering 7 GB of storage per email account. Easy to use and even offers the ability to have email accounts on your organization’s domain.
- Google Calendar – Increase productivity and streamline workflow by assigning and tracking group and individual tasks through Google Calendar. Use Google Calendar to create company-wide sharable calendars to coordinate meetings, set calendar reminders for pending “to-do” tasks, and communicate more effectively with team members.
- Google Docs – Google Docs is cloud-based word processor and file sharing application that enables users to create, share, and store files in “the cloud.” It’s an easy and efficient way to collaborate with team members. Google Docs allows you to set up folders and even control privacy settings so that only those who you want to “share” the file with have access to it. The best part is there is no software to install, no additional hardware necessary, and no files to back up. Access your files from anywhere – at home, in the office, or on your smart phone – 24 hours a day.
- Google Chat – Need to have a quick conversation with a team member? Google Chat is perfect for doing just that. With text chat, you can send instant messages to co-workers and even send and receive files. For times when a face-to-face conversation is necessary, Google Chat has a handy video chat feature.
- Other great resources – Google AdWords, YouTube for Nonprofits, Google Earth Outreach Grants. Be sure to check out the eligibility criteria to see if your nonprofit qualifies for this great opportunity.
BigMarker – Free Web Conferencing Tool: BigMarker is a free online tool for web conferencing. There are no restrictions on time or group size. Users can chat via voice/instant message and share desktop views, PDFs, and/or Word documents on conference participants’ screens. All that’s necessary is an internet-accessible computer, a microphone, and speakers.
Microsoft Software Grants – Discounted Software and More:Another important piece of the puzzle to improving intra-office communication is software continuity. Increase office productivity and efficiency by ensuring that all office computers are running the same version of the same software programs. By doing so, you will ensure that all documents are easily accessible to everyone within the organization. Purchasing software programs can get quite expensive, especially for nonprofits on a tight budget. To help reduce the financial burden on nonprofit organizations, Microsoft offers free and low-cost software and even software donations. Your organization may be eligible to receive popular programs like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and more for free or a at discounted rate. Click here to learn more about this program.
YouSendIt – Large File Sharing Made Easy:Every once in a while, you may need to send or receive files that exceed your email mailbox limit. YouSendIt makes sending and receiving large files a breeze. Sign up for YouSendIt Lite and receive many of the benefits of the paid program – for free. Send files up to 50MB and allow up to 100 downloads of every file. Your files remain available for 7 days, giving your recipients plenty of time to download what you’ve sent.
Communicating To Your Audience: Spreading the Word with Social Media
You may be thinking to yourself, “Can social media really impact my organization that much?” Well, the simple answer is yes. For example, consider Facebook. With over 500 million (and growing) active users and some 700 billion minutes a month spent on Facebook by people around the globe – Facebook offers a world of opportunities for organizations looking to reach a completely new demographic. The bottom line is that if your nonprofit has failed to implement a social media strategy into the daily operations, then you’re behind the times and missing out on a great opportunity to spread the word about your cause. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide organizations with an excellent tool to connect with current volunteers, recruit new participants, and even communicate and support other nonprofit groups. Announce and promote volunteer opportunities, share event photos, recognize volunteers, collaborate with other organizations, facilitate group discussions and more – all at the click of a button.
For organizations considering implementing a social media campaign, here are a few important things to keep in mind.
Be consistent. Social networking requires interaction! If you think that simply logging on to Facebook or Twitter once a month and posting an occasional update will get the job done – you will be sorely disappointed with the outcome. Yes, managing your social media accounts can be very time consuming and somewhat frustrating. However, there are many free tools available to help you streamline this process. HootSuite, for example, is a social media dashboard that allows you to manage multiple social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress, and more) at the same time. Monitor keywords, schedule messages, and track your success – all from the HootSuite dashboard. If you’re looking for a tool that will save you a great deal of time – HootSuite may be the solution for you.
Provide meaningful content for your followers.If used correctly, social media can serve as a gateway to building lasting relationships with volunteers and other nonprofit organizations. Therefore, much emphasis should be placed on providing meaningful content for your followers. Share resources that both volunteers and volunteer professionals may find useful. Engage your audience by starting discussions, asking questions, sharing photos, uploading videos, and more. Your social media success will depend upon the overall experience you provide for your followers.
Participate on pages other than your own. Take the time to interact with other groups’ social media pages – comment on Facebook posts, “Retweet” important messages from other nonprofits on Twitter, take part in surveys, share articles from LinkedIn groups. Show your support for other nonprofits and they will likely do the same for you.
Be patient. Social networking takes consistent effort on your part. With time and a lot of hard work, you will slowly see your fan base grow and interactions increase. However, do not expect this to happen overnight.
Find free resources to help with social media management.Many tools exist today for the sole purpose of simplifying the management of social media. A couple great resources to help get your search started in the right direction are: Heather Mansfield’s “33 Fun, Useful, and Totally Random Resources for Nonprofits” and “50 Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits” by Chad Norman.
Communication With Volunteers: Utilizing Technology to Simplify Volunteer Management
Volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization. Without dedicated individuals who are willing to donate their time and skills because they believe in a particular cause, many nonprofits would cease to exist. The paradox, however, of having a volunteer-based workforce is that it takes time to recruit, schedule, and manage them. For years, organizations have depended upon inefficient paper-based systems to manually track volunteer activity using such things as spreadsheets and handwritten notes – resulting in a huge amount of unnecessary administrative labor. Under paper-based systems, communicating with volunteers can even be a challenge. With so many constantly changing variables like phone numbers and addresses to track, the task of manually keeping a current list of volunteer contact information is a nightmare.
Thanks to the introduction of cloud-based systems, nonprofits can transform the formerly time consuming, frustrating task of volunteer management into a fully automated, worry-free process. With volunteer management software, like VolunteerHub, organizations can improve overall efficiency by spending less time on minuscule administrative details and more time focusing on big picture goals. Post volunteer opportunities online, print sign-in sheets, track volunteer hours, send email reminders and thank you messages, limit registrations, generate rosters, and more. Participants can search and register to work events, track volunteer hours, and even update and manage their personal account information – freeing up valuable time for your staff to work on other important tasks. If your nonprofit still depends on a paper-based system, it’s probably time you consider a cloud-based system. If you’re not sure that volunteer management software is right for you, check to see if the system you are considering offers a free trial. This is an excellent way to check out all of the available features and ensure that the system fulfills your every need.
Technology at Your Fingertips
If you’re considering whether or not your nonprofit can afford to invest the time and money into implementing technology, the real question you should be asking yourself is can you afford not to. With the many free and low cost resources available to help manage such things as intra-office communications, social media, and volunteer coordination – technology that will improve the overall efficiency of your organization is literally at your fingertips.