16 Technology Tools Your Nonprofit Should be Using in 2016
2016 is the year cloud-based services are finally robust enough to replace nearly everything we’ve been using, and it’s a great feeling. There’s no more need to update the software since it’s all in the cloud, and we can access all our tools from anywhere, on almost any device. We’ve refined our technology as we’ve grown (with an ex-CTO as our Executive Director) and thought we’d share the current tech stack we’re using.
The quick list (in-depth reviews further down the post):
- Kindful as our main CRM
- Google Apps for Nonprofits for doc management, email, and more
- Inbox by Google for email management
- Mixmax to turbocharge email
- Slack to communicate with the team
- Asana for task management
- Stripe for payment processing
- WP-Engine for web hosting (Wordpress for the site)
- Visual Composer to turbocharge your Wordpress page building
- Google Analytics to measure user activity
- AddThis for on-site user targeting and social sharing
- Typeform — forms done awesomely
- Quickbooks Online for accounting
- MailChimp for email marketing
- Hootsuite for social media management
- Feedly to manage blog reading
Now, let’s get a little more in-depth on what each of these are and how / why we use and recommend them.
- Cost: $100/mo+ (we pay $200/mo)
- Pros: incredibly powerful CRM with deep integration ability.
- Cons: pricey
We used to use Salesforce for our CRM. However, it’s built for enterprise and is bulky, hard to setup, and confusing to use. Moving to Kindful was a welcome difference, and well worth the added cost.
Kindful tracks all our donors and contacts. It syncs swimmingly with MailChimp (our email marketing tool); directly from within Kindful we can see all our donors, what emails they’ve opened, when they’ve given or reached out to us, and so much more.
Even better than their great approach to donor management, they have a wealth of additional features for online fundraising. We had previously been using Classy for peer to peer fundraising (like when you do a 5k run and people can set up their own pages to fundraise on), and Kindful does all that easily, at no extra charge. They process cards through PayPal or Stripe (we use Stripe), and you only pay Stripe’s normal fee (2.9% + $0.30 per transaction). Kindful also manages event registration and ticketing. They also have donation widgets you can embed on your website, for both one time and recurring donations.
Snailers! This feature alone is half the reason we switched. You can easily set up mail merge templates and print snail mail for sending. We like to do an end of year letter every year thanking our supporters for their help, and summarizing what they gave. This has never been easy to do, but now is a simple couple clicks in Kindful. Create a template, then choose which donors you want to use, and hit Print. They all come out correctly formatted per donor.
Kindful is new for us, but has eliminated so much manual labor and annoying work we used to have to do. Having all event date, online fundraising, and peer to peer fundraising in a single place, and seeing it seamlessly sync to Quickbooks Online for accounting… it’s beautiful.
Google Apps for Nonprofits — Productivity in the cloud
- Cost: FREE
- Pros: big functionality at no cost, works anywhere
- Cons: initial configuration can be cumbersome, but is much better than it used to be
Google Apps for Nonprofits is awesome. We use this version of Google for Work for all our email, as well as docs — spreadsheets, docs, and presentations are all created in your browser and are easy to share with others. Google Drive is included, a Dropbox-like solution where you can store and manage all your files, and set custom sharing with anyone. Send a link to a doc you’re working on, and anyone with a web browser can view or edit, with you setting permissions. Google Hangouts let you set up video conferences or chat with anyone.
Google Apps for Nonprofits also allows you to sign up for Google Ad Grants. As a nonprofit, Google will give you $10,000/month in free AdWords advertising. That’s not a misprint, although it comes with certain restrictions ($2 max bid per click, which can be low depending on keywords you use). YouTube for Nonprofits also adds functionality like a donate button to your YouTube account. We’re in Google all day (on Apple devices, no less!).
Inbox by Google — how email should be
- Cost: FREE
- Pros: Easy to use, fast, feels shiny and new
- Cons: Slight learning curve if you’re used to Gmail
Inbox by Google is a completely new take on email by Google. It’s easy to use, and centers around the concept of cleaning your inbox of all except tasks you need to accomplish. You can snooze emails, schedule them for later, or mark as “done” (which archives the email — it’s not in your inbox but is still searchable or visible in the new “Done” folder). Previews of items within emails (like photos, flight info, etc) show up right on the inbox homepage. It also adds great keyboard shortcuts to email, which is great for power users. Inbox is a Gmail replacement (although you can switch back and forth) and is so much nicer. It’s not quite perfect, but is made so by…
Mixmax — turbocharge your email
- Cost: $0 (FREE) tiered up to $49/mo (we use the $19/mo level)
- Pros: Instant in-email scheduling requests, URL previews, email tracking, scheduled emails, email templates
- Cons: None. This service is awesome.
Mixmax makes Inbox (or Gmail) perfect. It has so many features which are great; we’ll highlight just a few. By far our most used is the instant scheduling aspect — connect your calendars in setup, and then when writing an email click the “share availability” button to pick a few dates you’re free, and insert them in the email you send. Your acquaintance simply clicks the time that works for them and it’s automatically added to both your calendars. You can also send direct calendar invites.
We automatically track emails with Mixmax, seeing who opened each email we send, and when. Scheduling emails allows you to easily write something and have it send whenever you’d like, and templates allow you to create responses you write often and paste them instantly (then add any custom info you need). Mixmax turbocharges your email. Their URL expanding (link preview?) functionality is great also. Paste a URL on a new line in the email, and Mixmax automatically creates a nice preview within the email:
Slack — team-wide chat for a connected world
- Cost: $0 (FREE) standard plan (normally $6.67/user/mo) for qualified nonprofits
- Pros: Fast, integrates with everything, easy to use
- Cons: No cons. Slack makes your team communicate better.
Slack is the best way for teams to communicate digitally. Email can be slow and cumbersome for internal communication, and that’s where Slack shines (you can also create channels where guests can be invited if you’d like). Slack is, basically, a chat program. But it’s much deeper than that, with incredible integrations built on top of it’s platform and tons of little pieces of goodness as you use it.
For instance — paste a link to a tweet in Slack, and it will automatically expand it for users to see. There are a large and growing amount of Slack apps available to integrate (nonprofits get unlimited integrations), to do all sorts of things. You can set Slack to have a room where anytime someone mentions you on Twitter, it posts to Slack. Or anytime someone completes a task in Asana, you’re notified. Or… your call. It’s extremely flexible.
Where Slack is beginning to show massive potential beyond its current strength is with bots. Bots are little programs you interact with from the chat line just like you’d talk to a person. For instance, with the Birdly bot we could type @bill infos Kyle_Matthews to get my address, name, email, etc pasted write in Slack. This is a simple integration, but the possibilities are growing and endless (maybe I need an Uber and could eventually just type @uber call a car to work and have a car sent to our office).
There’s a little learning curve with using Slackbots since they each have their own unique language, but it’s really easy after a few days of use. Slack is quickly becoming the little box you type in to control any connected service.
Asana — Task management
- Cost: FREE for teams up to 15
- Pros: Great fast task management, clean design, solid mobile app
- Cons: Free version doesn’t let members outside your org be involved
For managing tasks, we used to use our email inboxes and paper. Asana, recently visually revamped, is the perfect task management tool. It’s free for teams up to 15, although there are some premium plans if you need extra functionality (we never have). Like Inbox, Asana’s keyboard shortcuts for power users are strong.
Creating tasks is as easy as pressing enter on the page and typing. You can quickly assign tasks to any member of your org, comment, attach files, and start new conversations. Organize with tags, by project, or in sections. The setup is extremely customizable to your tastes, but it makes complete sense as you use it. This is rare! You can also separate your organizational and personal tasks if you’d like. Their mobile app is also very good, and we use it often.
Stripe — online payment processing
- Cost: 2.9% + 30¢
- Pros: great reporting, strong integration with other services
- Cons: no nonprofit pricing (competitors like PayPal offer lower pricing for NPO)
Taking payments online is easier than ever — event apps, donor forms, and many other apps let you easily take cards online. However, organizations have wound up with tons of different processors — PayPal, their own bank merchant, WePay, Square, Braintree, etc… the list goes on. Stripe has one of the widest compatibility lists, and integrates easily with most accounting and CRM services (occasionally through a 3rd party tool).
One of our favorite things about Stripe is how simple the forms look and feel — no added logo, or leaving your site. See our giving page as an example. Stripe also offers deep API use for developers, so your marketing / dev team will be able to do all sorts of cool things with it, and many tools you use will let you run payments through your Stripe account. Our peer to peer fundraising pages were built on top of Stripe’s payment processing in a matter of a week.
WP-Engine — website hosting
- Cost: $29/m0+
- Pros: built in backup, security, easiest configuring ever!
- Cons: pricier than most shared hosts
You’ve got a website. We use Wordpress, one of the most popular website CRMs out there (it powers over 25% of the web!). We’ve tried so many shared hosts over the years (Bluehost, Godaddy, SimpleHelix, Dreamhost, etc) and had to configure all sorts of things to make the sites work, then add backup features elsewhere. Wordpress is great for it’s easy to use admin area and huge community of developers extending it’s functionality.
WP-Engine as a host is a little pricier, at $29/mo (for one site — $99/mo for 10 sites), but is by far the easiest and best host we’ve used (disclaimer — we use an affiliate program through WP-Engine, but also use them for all our own hosting). Automatic backups make sure you have daily, weekly, and monthly backups. Migrating from another host is a breeze with built-in tools. Setting up SSL (important any time you take dollars through a site, and for SEO) is pressing a button. Customer support is amazing and fast. We’ve been trumpeting the WP-Engine goodness for well over a year now.
Visual Composer — turbocharge your Wordpress page building
- Cost: $34 (one time)
- Pros: easily build Wordpress posts, pages, and more
- Cons: no cons, this is a great plugin
The Because of Ezra website is built in Wordpress. We often need to edit pages or posts, or create new ones. Managing responsive design (so things resize well on mobile), adding videos and columns, changing layouts… has typically been less than easy unless you knew some basic HTML and CSS (which not all our team does, nor wants to worry about when updating content). Visual Composer makes laying out Wordpress posts and pages really easy.
There’s a backend editor and a frontend (do you want less or more visual cues as to what you’re editing). The frontend editor almost looks like you’re editing the site live, whereas the backend editor looks a little more like the Wordpress editor you’re used to.
The main difference you’ll see is using “elements” — you can quickly add a row, set it to three equal width columns (or 1/3 + 2/3, etc), and put images, video, or text in each row accordingly. Elements automatically size correctly, and everything is mobile ready without you having to do anything — pull up the page on a phone and it’ll look just as good as on a desktop, without you specifying anything on the backend.
There’s a variety of elements that come with the package (image galleries or single image, custom font headers, responsive video players, music embedding, etc), and many Wordpress plugins also include Visual Composer elements (they show up automatically when you add the plugin). Creating Wordpress pages and posts is so much simpler with Visual Composer.
Google Analytics — website analytics
- Cost: FREE
- Pros: integrates with other Google products, real time view, strong reporting
- Cons: no heatmaps to see who clicks what
A website without analytics is like a retail store without accounting. You know things are happening, but you have no idea what they are. Google Analytics is embedded with a single snippet of code on your website, and offers real-time and historical reporting of who’s on your site, where they came from, what devices and operating systems they’re on, and overall traffic.
You can set up all sorts of deep analytics to see who’s responding to your ads, who clicks what, etc. Install this now!
AddThis — social sharing and behavioral targeting
- Cost: $8.25/m0+
- Pros: easy social sharing tools, email capture, and link promotion
- Cons: additional features get costly
You probably know the AddThis service from it’s easy to use sharing buttons on sites you’ve visited. What you may not know is their analytics and behavioral targeting tools, which are awesome.
We use AddThis to easily configure popups on our site (I know, I know, but they convert SO much better!) to capture emails for our newsletter, or promote specific things we’re working on (adding monthly donors, showing off a new event, etc). You can easily set up A/B testing (which color works better for getting emails? Which text gets more people to support monthly?), and behavioral targets. For instance, we set repeating visitors on desktop to be shown our monthly donor form. You can have first time mobile users be shown something too if you’d like. Up to you!
Typeform — forms done awesomely
- Cost: FREE, nonprofit pricing of $240/yr (normally $420/yr) for pro (we use pro)
- Pros: beautiful and unique forms, easy to use form maker tool, embed on websites
- Cons: locked into “step based” forms (can’t put all questions on a single page), have to pay for conditional feature (if this, show this)
We have to make forms often. Maybe it’s a volunteer sign up form, or a contact form, or a t-shirt order form, or who knows what else. We’d previously used Wufoo for those, but found Typeform to be uniquely designed, have great feedback from users, and offer the best form editor we’ve seen.
You can easily embed these on your existing website, or share direct links to the form if you’d prefer. Setting up email notifications, conditional logic (only show this question if the previous answer was yes, etc) is a snap (but requires the pro membership, which they have nonprofit discounts for). These are not your typical forms, but nifty “step based” forms with animations, images, video, and great styling (see an example with our contact form). Or you can build them with simple text.
Our only gripe is the step-based approach (type your response and hit enter, then the next field shows up) is something we’d occasionally like to skip in favor of the typical “show all the questions at once” layout. It hasn’t been an issue, but would be a nice addition.
Quickbooks Online — accounting
- Cost: various, our is around $34/m0 with payroll
- Pros: syncs with most banks, external accounts, has desktop apps, all cloud based
- Cons: monthly pricing instead of one-time
Quickbooks Online is the modern version of the Quickbooks you’ve known for years. The online version is majorly upgraded visually and design wise, and has a wealth of apps which connect to it (our Stripe and PayPal automatically sync). Most online banks also sync (we use Chase). Using Quickbooks from any browser is easy, and you can give your accountant access, as well as set up other users in your organization to access with permissions you set.
We also use Quickbooks for payroll, which makes paying payroll taxes and payroll itself as easy as logging in twice a month and pressing submit. Quickbooks Online is accounting done well.
MailChimp — email marketing
- Cost: FREE for up to 2,000 users and 12,000 monthly emails. $20+ for unlimited emails, sliding scale based on list size
- Pros: Great integration ability, great email creation tool. Reporting is awesome.
- Cons: No phone support (kind of reaching for a con here, ha)
We’ve used MailChimp for our email marketing for years now, and really love them. They integrate with nearly every service we use (MailChimp subscribers are automatically added to our Salesforce account, among others), and their emails render brilliantly on mobile devices just as well as desktop.
Reporting is great, and smart lists (segments, they call them) make it easy to, say, send an email only to people who open emails from within 50 miles of a certain zip code, and haven’t opened any for a year. Or all subscribers who have opened every email. Etc. Pro features (we pay monthly — disclaimer we have an affiliate link with MailChimp) include an option to send at the optimal time (they pick when people most often open emails on that day and send at that time), and a “Time Warp” feature to send your email at the same time in all time zones (so “9am” really becomes “9am” from Seattle to Miami).
The MailChimp mobile app is great too.
Hootsuite — social media management
- Cost: FREE for up to 3 accounts. $9.95/mo for 10 accounts. Additional for larger plans
- Pros: Really strong search ability cross platform. Good reporting. Built in mini-apps for enhancing your ability to share within the browser from any site.
- Cons: User experience / design could use refreshing. Takes a learning curve to get set up. Often lags slightly behind social network changes (Twitter adding Stripe integration for instance).
We’ve just started using Hootsuite the past few months, and admittedly haven’t set it up yet to it’s furthest ability. Hootsuite allows you to connect most of your social networks and view, search, post, and converse with your supporters across all of them. You can set up teams (our $9.95/mo plan only allows for two users) and assign specific posts to users to take on (one person communicate with a specific Twitter post, another take a Facebook message, etc).
Hootsuite organizes everything in “decks,” with “streams” in each deck. For instance, we have a “Chatter” deck with Twitter search streams for various terms we’re interested in (“childhood cancer,” “neuroblastoma,” etc). Anytime someone posts using those keywords on the network we’re searching (we do a lot on Twitter with these), we see it and can interact as we’d like.
Hootsuite also has great scheduling ability, which we aren’t really using yet but should be. This is super useful if you have existing content you’re wanting to share, but don’t want it all posting at once. You can set up a schedule on Monday for what you’d like to share all week, and just hit go to automate it. Then you can still interact to timely pieces as they come about.
Installing their Hootlet addon to Google’s Chrome browser let’s you easily share content across the web as you’re browsing, even on a schedule. Say we come across a Medium post we really love, but it’s 11pm — we can quickly schedule it to send at 9am the next day to whichever networks we’d like.
There’s so much more, including reporting, user discovery, and content discovery built in to Hootsuite. Their Hootsuite University is a great source of social media marketing knowledge in general. Still, we often wind up going to Facebook or other social networks directly for things like posting a video with captions, or creating an event, or various other use cases. It doesn’t REPLACE your networks’ pages, but does enhance them.
Feedly — RSS on steroids
- Cost: FREE for basic plan. $5.41/mo for added functionality. Additional tiers.
- Pros: Great mobile app. Easy organizing. Chrome extension.
- Cons: None really. Great way to read blogs.
RSS readers used to be the best way to read blogs. Then came social networks, and people started moving their content over there. Lately, there’s been a resurgence of people wanting to take back control of their content, and more people are turning back to blogs. Feedly takes the guess work out of RSS — just put the URL of a site you like, and Feedly will tell you what feeds are available (blog, blog comments, news, etc).
Keeping track of the many blogs you may read gets tough, and we used to get way behind. Feedly condense all the blogs you’d like to follow into one easy to read interface, allowing for custom organization and naming. Installing the Chrome extension (Feedly mini) let’s you hit a single button in your browser on any page to add it to your Feedly list. Their mobile app also provides a great way to catch up on your favorite or most relevant blogs. Since we’re not on Tumblr, we also use this for Tumblr sites.
If you upgrade to the $5.41/mo plan, you can share lists with other members of your team, and add a much stronger search functionality, as well as much quicker pushes on new content.
This is our list. We’ve spent years fine tuning our tech stack, paying attention to what we use, get frustrated with, and wish we had. This list has eliminated most of our frustrations with tech, and freed up so much of the admin work we used to have to do manually, in favor of automating tasks. That, in addition to the in-depth reporting in so many of these, gives us a very good idea at any given time of how things are going, along with letting us communicate with our supporters without the friction of frustrating tools.
What did we miss? Or what do you use which you love?
Because of Ezra seeks to raise funds and awareness for neuroblastoma cancer research making a difference in kids’ survival today. We want to change the story for the next family by finding viable treatments and ultimately, a cure for neuroblastoma. Learn more about how we’re beating neuroblastoma and other childhood cancers at becauseofezra.org.
(Disclaimer: Some of these links we have affiliate programs with, and may be compensated if you sign up through them. That goes directly to our nonprofit though, and we assure you it doesn’t affect our decisions on what to list here. These are the products we use.)