Online tools for collaboration are nothing new, but they have matured over the last few years with added features and more real time updating. I think they should be part of every nonprofit organization's toolbox to facilitate communication and collaboration.
(Note: the online component of this service was purchased by Google and the servers shut down. Google incorporated some of the features in their "rebuilt more real time" Google Docs launched in spring 2010. See below for alternatives.)
I did a webinar/ commuinty brainstorming session in December '09 with NTEN and the awesome Johanna Bates about low-cost and free IT solutions (Download the PDF - 618KB). At NTEN's recommendation, we included this free tool as part of the webinar and as a way to capture both the tools we knew about and the tools that the attendees shared with us.
It works like Google Docs in that many people can collaborate online to build a document, but has some unique features:
- Contributors don't need to register/be invited to join in
- There is a chat window seperate from the main doc window, so the two aren't mixed together
- There are several options for exporting the document
- Coolest feature (I think): A "time slider" that let's you scroll back in time to see exactly how the document was constructed
If you are looking to collaborate with a team of geographically distributed team, you may want to give this tool a try.
Since the servers on etherpad.com were shut down, on Google's page they list some alternative online services based on Etherpad "(not affiliated with Google, use at your own risk)".
Also check out the EtherPad Foundation where you can download an offline version or follow links to other online version.
See also this article from 2009 by David Pierce: "5 Great Alternatives to Google Docs You Should Consider" .
Yammer and Present.ly are tools that can provide a great way for people in organizations to keep informed about what people in other departments are doing. They provides opportunities for people to exchange ideas and stay up to date that normally could take hours in a full staff meeting. For a few orgs it is beginning to replace email as a primary mode of internal communication.
They are called micro-blogging tools and they work somewhat like an internal Twitter. People can post updates on what they are doing, resources (documents, presentations, notes, photos, etc.) and others can respond and comment. You can also create groups and there are apps for people to connect to it from their mobile devices. It can be a great way to manage and maintain a record of activity within an organization.
In their article "Making the Silo Break", Changing Out World shared "According to a study cited in the Economist, corporate workers spend between six and ten hours per week hunting for information that they could otherwise communicate to one another seamlessly in the Facebook/Twitter-like sphere of Yammer."
Other tools to consider for collaboration:
Here are some suggestions (from the NTEN Discussion list) for "an integrated solution so that all of (y)our members (with different email domains) can collaborate on projects, share documents, track progress with project management elements, and communicate and connect with each other in a facebook-like way". Some of these are "enterprise level" tools, meaning you usually need a server, that in general may not be appropriate for small- and medium-sized (under $2 million budget) nonprofits .