Like a lot of nonprofits, I am not an early adopter of new technologies. I try to keep my skills focused close to where my nonprofit clients are and what they are ready for technology-wise. The tools I list here are mostly not new or cutting edge tools, they have some history and proven effectiveness. The time has come for nonprofits of all sizes to embrace these tools. Even if you don't start using these tools right away, learn about them and keep them in mind for the future.
A core strategy for success with web 2.0 tools is to "meet the audience where they are". I believe the following tools have become essential for most nonprofits wishing to engage with social media/social networking. Google's Zeitgeist for 2008 showed sites/tools that are useful for nonprofits are some of the most popular on the Internet. These sites can provide large audiences of potential new supporters and other helpful functions.
Globally the 5th most popular website with over 60 million members. I am a recent member and I urge nonprofits to get on and try it. First, create and use a personal account for several weeks and learn about the different ways organizations can use FB before putting your organization up there. Will your nonprofit be listed as an organization or a "cause" or...? Do research and create a process for how you will update your organization's page on a regular basis.
Even my smallest clients are now on YouTube and loving it. YouTube provides a place for millions of potential new supporters to find content about your nonprofit. It is relatively easy to set up a "channel" for your organization, post videos and incorporate them into your website. Search under nonprofits in Channels and see what others are doing. Two examples I like are Performing Arts Workshop and Green for All. Globally the 3rd most popular site online.
This photo sharing site allows your organization to create a "group". Photos of your stakeholders, program work or events can be posted and given a special "tag" the identifies them as images related to your org. The ability exists to pull these images into a website to keep the sites images fresh. Like the Nature Conservancy's photo contest, the site can also be integrated into efforts to engage new and existing supporters.
I love maps and I am not the only one. Many people are visual learners and a picture is worth a thousand words. I had read reams about the crisis in Darfur, but the pictures from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's map showing the tents where 10,000 people live with only 10 aid workers to support them was much more impactful. Maps can be used to show your areas of impact, members, service locations, crises spots and much more.
While most of the tools on this list are for engaging supporters, LinkedIn is more for connecting to your professional network, recruiting professionals and tapping into their expertise. Most users are individuals, but there are a variety of "groups" that exist (or can be started) that allow you to tap into the expertise of the group members. This is becoming the primary tool used by recruiters.
Really Simple Syndication is a way for people to monitor content updates without visiting individual websites. Using an RSS "reader", one can list the websites they want to follow and when content is updated it appears in the reader. If the content is of interest, the person can then go to the content. For most nonprofits, this means providing an RSS feed from their website that the readers can use. It is also useful for monitoring other websites and blogs that work in your focus area - even for keeping an eye on the competition.
Find out any time your organization is mentioned on the internet. By putting in keywords to monitor - like your organizations name - google alerts will email you whenever that term is used on the internet. Phrases need to be in quotations, i.e. "nonprofit technology training" or else you will get results for any mention of each individual word. This helps you reply in a timely manner to blog posts or other mentioned.
Most nonprofits or their members hold events, meetings and other gatherings that can be listed for their 5 million monthly visitors to see. It is easy to sign up for an account, post an event and collect rsvp's.
9. Texting/Mobile Technology
From the Obama campaign to Facebook , mobile phone applications and campaigns have quickly become an important part of spreading messages. For example, Hispanic youth, mobilized in support of immigrants rights, may not have computers but many have mobile phones, allowing savvy organizations to keep in touch with them via text messages. Check out MobileActive.org for case studies and info.
The 8th most popular site on the Internet, Wikipedia holds descriptions of many organizations - some of them not as correct as they might be. A religious community I worked for was shocked when I showed them that their very outdated listing was based on the 1915 Catholic Encyclopedia! Look up your organization's listing. If you're not there, create one. If you are there, make sure your listing is accurate and up to date.