Heather Gardner-Madras's blog

Take Aways from NNG's Visual Design for Mobile Devices Seminar

I definitely went to the big city, both literally and figuratively. San Francisco and the Nielsen Norman Group seminar respectively – both felt a bit like Oz. They were exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.

While I was already a bit intimidated by the vast sea of things to learn about designing for mobile/tablet sites and apps, I found things are even more complicated than I knew. So much for a quick one day learning experience. As usual, I have been sucked into researching and reading everything I can get my hands on about this new (to me) area of design.

The presenters (Kara McCain, NNG & Rob Abbott, Egg Haus) were great – well informed, good communicators, with a clear understanding of what it was we had all showed up to learn.  Our printed workbooks were the only real disappointment – as a design nerd and internet geek I just don’t see why this wasn’t online, or at least printed well. Printed out resource URLS are so last century. But I’ve included some of the links here, so you can click right through.

With so many devices, each with their own peculiarities, they compared designing for mobile to the early wild-west days of web design during the browser wars (Netscape!) of the 90′s and early 00′s. What works on one breaks on another and none of them can agree to a standard.  I’d have to say though that the challenges remind me more of the headaches and learning curve to be overcome in the design of (good) HTML emails, which have to deal with even more variables to accommodate so many different methods of access and display.

Some of the general guidelines sound just like best practices for a good donation form – less is more, – make it easy, – get them to do the next thing quickly and without distraction. That applies to any mobile screen and is even ten times as important for forms on a mobile.

Some  Key Take-Aways:

Icons are King

  • Your App Icon *is* your brand on the store and launcher screens
  • Unless you have a good reason, stick with the standard look for Tab bar & Menu icons (top and bottom bars)
  • Don’t use any unneeded icons for list views, they just add noise.

Don’t Add Anything (you don’t need)

  • As in – think twice about big images and graphics, users don’t have patience and connections can flake out
  • Same goes for fancy fonts. Use what’s native.
  • And content too. Fight back internally to keep things streamlined. Only top priority items on the screen (its small)

Tap Area (links & buttons) Design is Critical

  • Make tap areas as big as you can (especially if they are important)
  • Don’t put tap areas close together, which leads to accidents. More padding is better.
  • Placement is crucial to avoid accidents too (Big actions like Send need to be away from the space bar for example)

Motion is More Important on Mobile

  • People not only will horizontal swipe to navigate, they expect it
  • Good transitions reinforce user confidence, bad ones make them avoid your app
  • Remember user Feedback (visual changes that show actions or states) -  test to make sure its still visible from under the user’s finger

Design & Details Do Matter

  • People *do* notice good and bad design on mobile and act accordingly
  • Never put text in images, they look fuzzy at best, unreadable at worst
  • Always check your design on real devices in the real world

It really all came down to KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Sadly, simple is not exactly easy.

Some links:

HIG (Human Interface Guidelines – handy!)

General Reference


And Some Questions:

  • Do you have a mobile device?
  • What do you do with it?
  • Any great sites and Apps you love or examples of really awful ones?
  • Know of any resources I shouldn’t miss?

I really hope you’ll leave some new trails for me to follow in the comments.

Just *Who* is Still Using IE6 Anyhow?

IE6 Countdown map

As I put the final touches on a "simple" one page website, I was met yet again with the all too familiar last step. Checking out how it looks in IE6. Yes, really. Still. And you probably already know the answer. Not good.

Which got me to thinking ...just who are the holdouts that are still using this browser that mangles their web experience and opens them up to all kinds of security issues.

This year the notorious browser will be 10 years old; I doubt anyone will be throwing IE6 a birthday party on August 27th. Some folks did already hold a funeral though. Ten years is a glacial epoch in web years and IE6 has become a symbol of all things bad and bassackwards in the web developer community. Browser stats can vary wildly, but right now according to IE6Countdown 11.6% of the world uses it and W3 Counter still registers 3.23% of the world looking at your website with IE6. So who are these people and why do they do it? Inquiring minds wanted to know. Here's what I found out.

The What

 First of all, I found that I was not alone in asking this question. And it looks like many businesses have been asking as well and seemlingly finding a very low ROI (return on investment).

Google, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon no longer worry about your experience if you are looking at their sites on Ye Olde Internet Explorer. And closer to home, Blackbaud and Salesforce agree. Many more large sites are following suit and more web developers are convincing clients that it just isn't worth the time and money required to get sites and applications to play nice with the browser.

And now even Microsoft wants it to stop. They nicely created a website mapping out the end of this painful era - the IE6 Countdown site mentioned above. It's part of their effort to get usage stats under 1% so they can get rid of their embarassing headache, even though the company has committed to continue support for the browser until Windows XP support runs out ... in 2014.

They are pretty serious about reducing usage though. Their 2010 upgrade campaign in Australia asked for people to rat out their IE6 using friends so they could convince them that using IE6 is like drinking 9 year old rotten milk by sending them actual rancid milk. That's pretty hardcore in my book.

The Who & the Where

If you check out IE6 Countdown apparently the answer to our core question lies in big companies like Intel and the countries of China, South Korea and surprisingly India and Japan. Millions of unhappy people locked into a browser not likely of their choice.

Over a third of Chinese (33.8%) and nearly a quarter of South Koreans (24.5%) still use IE6. India and Japan hover around 10% and Saudi Arabi is on their heels with 9.9%.

Government support may have something to do with it - the UK continues to support IE6, Australia, France and Germany don't. I read in the comments on one of the many sites to cover Micorsoftt's campaign that South Korea's government for example is said to have developed their infrastructure to heavily rely on Active X and the browser, making an upgrade very costly. As far as I can tell, the official word at the U.S. federal level is to go with IE8, but it seems many agencies are still using the outdated browser as well.

Although Intel is one of the most notable companies that until last year was still working on IE6, it is not alone. As recently as 2009 IE6 was the browser of choice (60%!) for Enterprise level businesses.

One fairly recent post on the business network LinkedIn's questions and answers section estimated total business usage of IE6 as the default browser at round 12% of all US companies, which partly explains the 2.9% of IE 6 users the USA on the countdown map. I suspect there are some nonprofit offices included there as well. 

The Why

Use of the old software is often tied to the use of old machines and other old software. Older hardware seems to be a big part of the reason in the high percentage of IE6 users in countries outside of the US. I was surprised about tech-savvy countries like Japan and India being in that group though. Another regional issue is the huge number of purportedly pirated versions of Windows XP software running throughout Asia, in which upgrades aren't possible.

If you run old versions of Windows like Windows 2000, upgrading to the new versions of IE isn't an option. If critical applications software was tailored to Window 98, or say, your intranet requires IE6, upgrading your operating system may not seem possible. So trying to upgrade the web browser creates a domino effect on the number of upgrades needed. Which adds cost as well as complexity, and likely leads to putting off the task again and again. Check out the comments on this post for more examples and insights.

The larger the organization/company, the bigger the problem becomes. While smaller businesses are shepherded along the upgrade path by buying retail, in bigger firms significant investment in new hardware and software takes place in 3-5 year cycles, so until Microsoft stops offering XP license extensions and major corporations need to switch to Windows 7, which doesn't support IE6, the problem will continue.

And then there are the external application dependencies. Software that is only compatible with this browser. IE6 came with its own now well-known eccentricities, so programming for its specific quirks became the norm. Many organizations have created whole suites of homegrown software, which don't include an upgrade path and would need re-written or replaced if users upgrade their browser.

So the main answer for businesses at least seems to be that existing options for migrating from IE 6 are too pricey & risky.

One other reason that came up in Why You Can't Pry IE6 Out of Their Cold Dead Hands is pretty sad - user control. Since business websites largely remain usable in IE6 but most of the distracting Web 2.0 and social sites fail, workers aren't likely to be updating their Facebook status from work if the company stays old school. This might be part of the slow adoption of new browsers in control conscious China as well.

Nonprofits face all these same challenges and some are probably still using IE6 for one of the reasons above. After all, they are also under severe budget constraints, often have older equipment and their IT staff, when they are lucky enough to have them, may also be intimidated by the cost and effort involved in an organization wide up-grade. So it seems likely that at least some of those statistics come from systemic nonprofit use.

I don't want to seem judgmental in case "you have a friend" still using IE6 or the problems of cost and reprogramming apply to your organization. So, why is it so important to carve out the budget and time to upgrade or swap browsers? Well those security issues are one big reason. And as with other upgrades, new more efficient software and workflows will be available once the switch has been made. Today's successful nonprofits need to be in the modern era, engaged in the social web and show topnotch efficiency for funders and donors. These are good reasons.

And well, even though I don't really believe that kittens will die if you use IE6, I know for a fact that switching will result in many fewer tears shed, curses hurled and hair lost by web developers around the world.

The How:

Web Users
If you aren't being compelled to use IE6 by your organization or company, just don't do it!

  • Get IE 9 or at least IE 8 (good if you are stuck on Windows XP) for free, now.
  • Maybe you'd like to try out Firefox or Google's Chrome?
  • Or one of the dozens of other options you have these days for web browsing technology.


IT Managers


Web Developers

  • If you just want to make sure your content is accessible, then get on board with the Universal IE6 stylesheet for plain vanilla sites with readable content.
  • If you simply must have a site look like an "OK" version of your design in IE6, then IE6 fixer is a good place to start. It catches many of the standard "gotchas" inherent to this browser. And you can get separate fixes for IE7 too.

What about your organization? Are you still using IE6? Do you want help to move on? If you let us know in the comments, I'm sure you will receive a lot of support, resources and advice to make the switch. Any real life experiences and additions also appreciated.


Notes from SXSWi

South by Southwest is everything they say it is and probably a whole lot more. This being my first year, I was dutifully overwhelmed with the sheer number of options for learning, inspiration and fun. I had planned to report back on the nonprofit oriented sessions I attended and their take-aways, but something else has struck me as even more important to highlight.

I did go to some good sessions (and missed many more that sounded great) and was on a panel full of smart people “Money for Nothing and Your Software for Free”  audio (slides & resources) about free and open source software, led by Idealware Board president Jeff Herron and targeted at nonprofits. But what really resonated with me is how much more impact in person idea exchanges seems to have than finding the same information online.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to seek out and read great resources online, but the energy and excitement of finding a great new idea or validation of something I was already thinking just isn’t the same as when it is shared in a conversation. Or presented by a terrific passionate speaker. And as connective as social media is, there is just no comparison to debating email subject lines, Open Source or the best CRM over a beer. And the swell of activity around raising funds for Japan disaster relief created a unique tenor in the halls and rooms that is difficult to describe.

It got me thinking about the way we interact with supporters, donors and clients and I just wanted to make a pitch that while nonprofits are busy building their online presence, to appreciate the real world opportunities and keep in person events and workshops in the mix. And to enjoy all the opportunities a conference like this (or NTC going on now!) as to offer.

And now some session highlights. The links take you to the schedule pages where you can hear the audio for most of the sessions. Very cool, but not exactly like being there ;)

Let’s Hook Up: Brands, Celebs and Nonprofits”  which contained useful information and some great examples of how to find the right match for your organization.  Hint: They should know and actually care about your mission.

Why would we think Social Media is Revolutionary?”  with Clay Shirky was fantastic and thought provoking, and I particularly loved it when he said “And this is where I had it all wrong” and went on to explain the importance of long term efforts and laying the groundwork before activating your social network in a crisis mode.

"Apps, APIs & Syndication: Creativity in the Post-Website Era"  which was interesting but mostly aimed at for profit retailers. I think a session like this focused on the creative ways nonprofits are doing this is something I'd want to see.

"Anatomy of a Design Decision"  This was a great breakdown of the different types of design approaches and when to use each by Jared Spool.

The Keynote by Tom’s Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie had some of us in tears describing the evolution from idea to successful venture.

And the closing presentation by Bruce Sterling  sort of makes my point about the impact of real world interaction. Surprisingly political and passionate he had the audience’s full attention and the atmosphere in the room was intense.

When not in a session I spent time in the Beaconfire Lounge where nonprofit folks gathered to relax and network. Music and photography from local nonprofit organizations provided a wonderful atmosphere. I missed a LOT of sessions I really wanted to see including most of the big nonprofit ones because of life stuff getting in the way but I feel confident they will be well covered on the web.

Oh and the coolest thing about this years SXSWi? Old school, in person, hands on sketching on big pads that turned sessions into infographics – now posted on the web at Ogilvy Notes.  They are well worth checking out.

A Year End List of Lists

In the last week of the year you can count on at least  two things it seems: the ubiquitous  "last chance to give a tax deductible donation" emails from your favorite organizations and recap and top 10 lists from just about everyone online. A favorite way for bloggers to draw us in, lists can actually be very useful to pare down the vast amount of information out there into bite size chunks we can consume in one sitting.

And  it really has been an incredible year for insights and shared knowledge in our communty .  So compiling a list of lists that contain inspiration, good ideas, tips and resources for online nonprofits seemed like a fitting celebration of all the sharing and smart ideas that are out there. Below are a few (there are more than 10 ) that I'll kick off with, but I know it's just a start, so please leave more in the comments.

Nonprofit and Technology Lists from 2010

Some lists cull out their author's favorite blogs...

Top 10 Nonprofit  Technology (NPTech) and Social Media for Social ...

And books...

10 Nonprofit Books from 2010

And good examples of what is possible...

There are conference insights...    

And tools for nonprofits

And what would year end be without some introspection and predictions?

And some fun & inspriation

The last link is from a site that is nothing but a list of lists - how meta.

Happy New Year!

Flying Cars and Web Fonts

flying car photo by Joe MabelFor crying out loud. It's 2010! We should have flying cars by now... or at least more than 10 fonts to choose from for web design. Well, it looks like maybe now we do.

If you have worked with websites for some time, or even just been online for a while you might have noticed that the text on many sites looks the same. If you are a web designer or developer you already know the reason - there is a very short list of fonts that are commonly installed on all computers with only a handful that make the cross over between PC and Mac.

If this is news to you and you are starting or doing website design or maintenance - take a minute to check out what's on the safe list at typetester.org  As a bonus try out this tool that lets you test how a particular font will look at different sizes, line-heights etc. I have found it to be ridiculously handy and fun. For more statistical details on why those particular fonts are considered "safe" see this site and it will become clear that we are rather limited in our font choices.

After years of cycling through frustration and acceptance on this issue, I went looking recently to see what's out there and am really encouraged by the progress that's been made. I found out about the new Google Font API  and learned some things about older techniques since this isn't an area I know much about. I'm still not sure its time for fancy fonts on all web sites but if you have a special campaign or design need on your site its worth checking into your new options.

A couple caveats though - be sure you really do need something different because any of these methods can increase page load times and of course introduce another level of complexity to upkeep and risk of technical issues with your site. That said let's see what's new (ish) and cool.


Along with some nice effects like text-shadow CSS3 standard includes a new rule for calling custom fonts, which is the starting point for most of the methods below. The idea wasn't new,  but its taken a while to take hold on a wider scale. As CSS3 is becoming widely implemented, more and more people are taking advantage of this feature.

Basically @font-face is a CSS technique that allows you to call a font from a web server to display on your site even if your visitor doesn't have it on their hard drive. You have to have a whole set of font file types for cross platform support, so services like Typekit  (free + paid) which hosts the files for you, or FontSquirrel.com (free) which offers handy multi file packaged downloads for custom fonts will help you pull it off.

For everything you ever wanted to know about the technique and more is in The Essential Guide to @font-face . And here is a really innovative way to use that @font-face technique to include custom icons in your site (plus a free icon font)- I'm kind of hoping this catches on.

Google's Font API

A lot of people are excited about Google's foray into @font-face with their free API and with the speed and ease of use they bring to the table, I can see why.

Right now there are only 18 fonts plus some variations, but that's still more choices than we had before, and some of them are very nice. And they offer some really easy to follow instructions for anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS knowledge. Unfortunately they don't include SVG, the font format needed for most mobiles, so you will need to plan ahead for a standard alternative. DesignShack has a nice tutorial that expands on Google's instructions.

More on web fonts that might be of interest.

Since I haven't ventured into this area before the Google API led to a lot of new information for me.

For instance I found a great technical round up of the various javascript techniques for including non standard fonts. It covers the pros and cons of 4 javascript based alternatives : siFR (flash text replacement), FLIR  (PHP Image Replacement -$12/yr), Cufon and Typeface.js.  Unfortunately with these techniques you can no longer select the text, which is a big drawback for me.  And there is an even broader overview here. I checked out a comparison of the two popular services, Typekit and FontSquirrel, mentioned above, both of which seem like viable options.

So maybe it is time for some limited experiments in pulling in new, sexier fonts. But since there are still adoption issues and limited mobile support for @font-face, it will need to be with a well executed css font stack for a graceful degradation of course. Or maybe we still have to wait a bit for fonts on the web to catch up with our hopes and dreams. And definitely for safe and affordable flying cars.

So far I have experimented but not used Google or any of the rest on a live site - have you? Leave your experiences in the comments.

Little Things Can Mean A Lot: Privacy Policies

Privacy is a pretty hot topic right now. Facebook's ever-evolving changes to their user information privacy policy have made this a hot button topic that might just be at the forefront of your site user's mind.

Its pretty unlikely that any nonprofit would intentionally share its supporters information without their permission, but if you don't have a clear readable privacy policy you are missing an opportunity to let your site visitors and donors know just how you do treat their information. On the web you always want to instill as much trust and confidence in users as you can to build their relationship with your organization. So right now may be a good time to build your credibility and trust by updating or creating the privacy policy for your organizations site.

Even if you already have a policy in place you can extend your brand value by making yours more accessible  - as in both easy to find and easy to understand.

This might not be the easiest "little thing", but the opportunity to show your respect for those that support your mission can be invaluable.  So the first step is to have a page devoted to your policy and link to it on all pages (usually in the footer) with additional prominent links on any forms you might have on your site.

You might have to do a bit of footwork to find out exactly what your policy is and state it clearly, but its that sort of consideration that your potential supporters and donors will really appreciate and associate with the integrity of your organization.

Of course in order to clearly state what your data collection and security policy is you will need to know what your site's software (and email or donation provider's) actually does. If you don't have the in-house technical knowledge about this, you'll want to contact support at your vendor or ask your contractor what information is collected and how it's stored. Donation providers, at least, should have information about how they secure the transactions and personal information somewhere on their own website.

I think it would be really helpful if the open source communities offered a standard version of what the default system is set up to collect and how its used since lots of people don't really know. So far I haven't seen this but would love to know if anyone has a baseline version of privacy policy text for Joomla, Drupal and Plone.

Also - although I have listed a couple of free online policy generators to get you started they are very obviously geared toward e-commerce sites and full of technobabble that visitors won't understand. Obviously this is pretty out of sync with the tone with most nonprofits need. It would fantastic if someone created an online generator for nonprofit website privacy policies that didn't include so much customer and order language and explain policies in plain English.

Do you even need one?

Yes, if you:
*    Collect information - email lists, donations and registrations
*    Use Google Adsense (its required)
*    Share user information with other sites or organizations

Even if you don't have user sign-ups for email or other forms you might want to include a policy to disclose that your site places cookies on the user computer (but doesn't collect or store any identifiable information from them) just to show that you understand and respect their privacy. Especially if transparency is part of your brand, you'll want to let those anxious about privacy know that you have taken the time to make them comfortable.

What should be in it?

There is a great article on Wild Apricot's Blog that goes into far more depth about this topic that is well worth a quick read.

A couple samples to get started.
One good resource to get started is the Creative Commons Sharealike licensed policy from Wordpress/Advocmatic. How nice is that?

And another sample policy from the Better Business Bureau

There are a couple of free online generators but honestly they are so convoluted, legal sounding and full of non-applicable issues that I hesitated even listing them here. If you take the time to reword the generated text and keep the input simple, they might be helpful though, so here they are.
Direct Marketing Association's privacy policy generator.
(you will need to sign up for a free web visitor account though)

Possibly more useful is their set of "do the right thing" guidelines on privacy

And there is another at OECD.org

How to make it useful

Translate whatever you can into plain English with common words. One example (from a webmaster forum user ) that I like is:

Instead of "This information is collected in a database and used--in an aggregated, anonymous manner--in our internal analysis of traffic patterns within our web site.
Why not write:
"We collect this information and use it to compile general statistics such as how many people visit which parts of the site. We do not use this information to track you personally."

Here's an article that makes the case a bit more strongly and includes some other tips for writing policies.

Keep it as short as possible. One of the problems with the online generators above is that they cover a zillion possible technologies and uses that you probably don't even know abut let alone use on your site.  And including a bunch of unrelated tech speak will freak out your users unnecessarily. Be thorough and truthful about how you obtain and use information but don't bring up anything that doesn't directly apply to your site.

Break up the sections with informative subheadings and include a table of contents with jump-links to the sections at the top if its more than 3 or 4 sections long. Consider formatting the page as an FAQ, which is a familiar format for visitors with questions.

Include whether forms will be submitted securely (https) and how that data will be used and protected. This is a primary concern among donors and others providing you with their personal information. So make it obvious that you take their concerns seriously.

Invite comments and questions with contact information.  Here is your chance to engage your supporters in a friendly way if they still have concerns or issues with your policy - make it easy for them.


Have it written by a lawyer or leave it in legal speak
While its important to follow the law, especially in regards to minors using your site, this doesn't mean that your privacy policy has to act or sound like a contract with the devil. In fact it defeats the purpose of informing your users transparently if they can't understand or won't bother to read your policy or terms of service. As a nonprofit, you obviously don't want a reputation for misleading your supporters.

If your legal team demands that you must include the legalese consider putting it behind a "summary or simple version" with a link to see complete details.

Skip it altogether if you have forms that ask for personal information.
Unbelievably I came across a fairly large Arts Council site that not only didn't have a policy for newsletter sign ups, but also didn't have one available for site registrations or even donations! I'm sure I am not the only person that would think twice before giving them my information or money.

A few examples

Perhaps because this isn't the most straightforward task for a webmaster, I really had a hard time finding examples that take advantage of brand extending possibilities, but here are a few.

Genocide Intervention policy is well thought out based on their mission (note the geographic security concerns):

Pew Internet keeps it short and sweet

And EFF.org's policy is very thorough as you might expect:

I'd love to see some more examples of how nonprofits approach their privacy policies, so please leave them in the comments or email mail me links if you can.

The bottom line

If you treat your privacy policy as part of your supporter outreach and a service to help users rather than just a tedious requirement to cover your butt, you'll reap the benefits of increased trust, a perception of professionalism and positive associations with your organization's brand.



NTC Project Management for OS CMS Follow-up

 This year was my first time being on a panel for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN. The well-attended session that I took part in,"Making it Real: Getting Project Management Right for Content Management Web Projects", was put together by fellow Idealware blogger Steve Backman and was not only a lot of fun, but seemed to be useful for a lot of different types of folks. I have to admit to being sort of a project management aficionado and was very excited to participate. Mimi Kantor also of Database Designs and Ted Fickes from The Wilderness Society provided a wealth of experience and wisdom to the panel as well.

In preparing for the session we soon realized that the topic was both wide and deep and needed to be narrowed down. Naturally there were areas in which we wished we could have spent more time and some of the resources we wanted to include just didn't fit. Also, due to a SlideShare issue our list of resource links didn't make it into the final slides so I thought I would post some of the more useful items here.

You can see the session slides (sans links below) on SlideShare, which is good, because our projector wouldn't work and we didn't get to show them live.

One of the big differences for managing a project for a new site or redesign in an open source CMS is the flexibility of process steps. Unlike a hand-built HTML site or even an all in one proprietary system, organizations now have a whole array of alternate paths to site completion - as long as the strategic planning gets done first to guide the way. There are so many options and considerations that can determine the best project workflow for a particular site that this could probably be a session in and of itself.

And we came up with some great resources if you are just getting into project management or are new to building a site on an Open Source database driven CMS. Is there project manager equivalent to the accidental techie role in nonprofits? The answer seems to be a resounding YES!

Project management info
The Web Style guide  is a great site for both newbies and old pros with a good grounding in the basics and some really interesting insights into the process of building your web site. Also some discussion on the Complexity of Managing a CMS from Boxes and Arrows.

Post Launch
One of the items that didn't fit but I think is still worth offering here is a sample post-launch planning document I use with clients to aid for keeping their web site fresh, with some smart improvements from Steve. We think its a good idea to plan ahead as part of the site launch process to make sure all that work doesn't suffer from neglect once the excitement about the site has worn off.

Enough with the theory, just tell me about the tools

Right here on Idealware are some fantastic resources on project management tools including  a look at of some of the most common project management tools.
From Social Signal  there is a good review of manymoon and the earlier but still good examination of basecamp workflows.

And the missing links - Mimi tracked down and posted all these in the version of the slides that SlideShare refused to upload - so here they are:

Communications Tools

Basecamp, Central Desktop, Open Atrium, Sharepoint, Zoho

Time Tracking and Scheduling/ Issues / Bugs

Intervals , Harvest, MS Project, Many Moon, donedone

Wireframe Tools

Visio, Omnigraffle, Gliffy, Balsamiq

Group Collaboration

Google Products including Docs, Calendar, Gtalk, etc.
Microsoft Office or Open Office

Screen Share / Audio Tools / Video Chat

Ready Talk, Adobe Connect, Go To Meeting, Skype, iChat, FreeConference, Meebo, ooVoo


Why Use Widgets Anyhow?

I'd like to thank new Idealware blogger Debra Askanase for the inspiration for this post, which actually take from her idea for a post around fundraising and advocacy widgets, and which she graciously let me run with due to my slight obsession with widgets. I look forward to her thoughts on the big picture around this web trend and hope she will post a follow up and others will share their insights in the comments below.

There are many great resources and experts out there on viral strategies that apply to using widgets and I won't try to cover all that here. I'll just attempt to provide a brief overview about what some organizations are doing and what they are using to implement their outreach.

In addition to checking back in on what nonprofits are doing now that Sprout Builder is moving to an enterprise level application only, I started thinking about some of the possible uses and options for viral or "moveable" widgets that nonprofits are likely to see as helpful.

Why use widgets anyhow?
Well, widgets are basically movable, sharable mini-applications that can be used to raise donations, take action on a cause or spread information and awareness about your mission. The fact that your message and actions can be placed and seen "where the people" greatly increases your exposure to new potential supporters. Let's take a look as some possible uses and options for each purpose.

Widgets or "badges" have been around for a while to promote and measure online fundraising drives. There are quite a few options if you are just looking to have a basic charity badge that allows donors to give and supporters to set a goal and place their progress on their web sites and social networks.

These types of badges are not usually very interactive and only allow for a logo and/or photo, short description of the cause, link to a video or more information, possibly some sort of progress indicator and of course a donate now button.

Network for Good was a forerunner in this space and has built several different styles of their Charity Badges including the celebrity based SixDegrees.org

Other community or peer to peer fundraising sites like Changing the Present have incorporated sharable widgets as part of each personal fundraising campaign.

Some paid custom types of "make your own" donation widgets provide more flexibilty for both the organization administrator and end user such as Giving Impact. Also check with your donation vendor as they might even offer these tools. I am aware that at least Click and Pledge and Convio do.

Some examples:
Kevin Bacon's 6 degrees badge
ASPCA donation widgets (Convio)

Direct Advocacy
This week Change.org announced its sparkly new petition widgets (powered by DIA) that allow any change.org petition to be embedded and shared and even signed by supporters right on your site as well as customized and shared.

Also a new service called Call2Action provides multiple tab widgets offering both advocacy and donations using video as the engagement hook.

Some examples:
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund has a whole array of advocacy widget options for supporters including mobile campaigns that are worth checking out. They are built on the Clearspring sharing platform*.

And first noted in 2007 by Beth Kanter, the 18seconds.org widget based campaign is still going strong built on Yahoo widget maker.

Awareness Raising & Mission Based Information
This is a pretty broad category and its impossible to cover all the possible ways a widget can be used to get your message out or to distribute meaningful data to your supporters.

News and Blog feeds to supporters

Widgetbox.com seems to have a fairly active nonprofit following that use their widgets in this way including IFAW and the National Wildlife Federation .

Kaboom offers members the opportunity to post progress update widgets for their playground building campaigns which seems to be built on KickApps and shared via Gigya.

Search and Display relevant information
Here are just a few of the widgets I found that provide supporters or the public with pertinent actionable search results wherever they find the widget online.

Kaboom's playspace finder Built on KickApps
Americorps' volunteer opportunities finder Built on Widgetbox
NRDC's What's Fresh local produce finder Originally built on iWidget (now Transpond ) and made shareable with Clearspring*. (full disclosure, I worked on this widget)
FoundationCenter.org's charity IRS form 990 finder Built on Widgetbox

Some other popular awareness raising tools used in widgets are maps, slideshows, videos, polls, quizzes or other interactive content. And of course many organizations also want to offer forms that collect all kinds of data like event registrations and the like as well. For more complex applications you'll want to check out what's possible with KickApps, Widgetbox and Yahoo Widgets already mentioned and the options below.

And some more widget tools for whatever you can dream up.

Simple Stuff
Display RSS feeds of nearly anything - Grazr
Simple & multi-tab flash banners - BannerSnack

Flexible Flash "mini-site" producers
Ahead.com (but I couldn't get their site to load)

Custom application options and intense Facebook integration
Tran spond ($2,400 You build. $4,000 We build)
Involver (Facebook applications - some free)
Get Social Apps

And Open Source fans will want to keep an eye on the variety of options that Peter Dietz at Social Actions has collected on his list of Action apps.

And finally a short Sprout Builder update

Via various Facebook comments on Beth Kanter's fan page I found this:

Beth Kanter
"Here's what we learned - they're going to continue to serve existing nonprofit clients - reach out to Trudy Marquardt "

Other nonprofit staff have reached out to Sprout Builder and been told that the discount is good for one year only at half off ($1500 paid up front) the regular fee $3000. There is no official word from Sprout Inc yet, so there is no way to tell if this applies to everyone or how long the offer stands. I still strongly recommend Sprout using nonprofits contact them right away to see what can be worked out for your organization.

* And in other widget making news, ClearSpring is now transitioning to AddThis platform for sharing & distribution - so their previous platform is going away. (hat tip Andrew Watson's interesting take on all this) If you build your own widget in HTML or flash and just need the sharing ability it looks like this is still free.

Also, several options I listed in previous posts are now offline including poplfly, iWidgets and Blist. Dapper has split into a paid advertising site and an open source community for data mapping widgets now at http://www.dapper.net/open/

Hopefully all the turbulence these services are experiencing will settle down. If you take a look all the things nonprofits are doing with sharable content and engagement you realize how many more possibilities there are. And its looking like movable apps and widgets are a core constituent in the distributed world of Web 2.0. So if you want to start sharing through widget you'll need to be careful selecting your service partner, keep assets backed up and have a fall back plan. Which of course also applies to pretty much everything.

So have fun widget building and as always, please Share your widgets, strategies and vendor experiences in the comments and help build on this post for your colleagues - after all, its all about the shared content - thanks!

Sprout Builder cancelling its subscription services - now what?

Just about a year ago I posted about Sprout Builder (an online do-it-yourself flash widget maker) changing from free service to a paid subscription model and the implications for nonprofits wanting a low cost entrée into the world of flash widgets for social networks and slide shows etc. Yesterday Sprout Builder announced their plan to shut down the lower levels of service, focusing instead on enterprise ($3000/year or $250/month) level services. It seems they didn't amass enough smaller subscribers to keep the service going at lower levels. While this is understandable, especially in light of the recession, what matters to nonprofits using the service is - what does this mean for us?

First, if you currently use Sprouts and want to know the details, you'll want to check out the Sprout Builder FAQ on timing. While administrative access will cease at the end of March it looks like your Sprouts will be viewable through the middle of May, so there is a bit of time to come up with alternative solutions for presenting your content.

Here is the original post about Sprout Builder alternatives. It sums up my exploration of what options existed last year with similar functionality. I haven't had time to look around and see what's changed yet - what's better now, what else has gone away and what's new.

Since posting the announcement on my personal blog yesterday I have seen a good deal of frustration and panic in the response to losing their Sprouts, especially from those that ponied up for the paid service which, while generous for nonprofits, was still a significant budget item for some. I am trying to go with the "every crisis is an opportunity" model myself and am wondering how we can utilize this unexpected change to our advantage.

Maybe its time to reevaluate that content being served up in widget form - is it still the best way to get your organizations message across? Many things have changed in the past year so maybe another avenue that wasn't such a great option last year is now a stronger option. Or that the cost and effort of doing "viral" outreach might be better spent improving your email campaigns or other web 1.0 technologies. Or it might lead to the discovery of an even cooler widget possibility, a mash up you wanted to do but that Sprout didn't support.

In any case its a good reminder to always evaluate free and low cost third party services in terms of their longevity and your access to your content and data. As Michelle Murrain pointed out at this time last year "Web2.0 won't be free for much longer" and it pays to have a back up plan and backups.

But Sprout Builder was such a cool inexpensive way to produce some really great flash widgets that it will be sorely missed by the smaller nonprofits who can't afford to hire a flash developer to replace them. So please use the comments to let us know what you think about the similar services, other ways to create simple interactive widgets and what your plan is to replace your existing Sprouts. A lot of people are now in a tight spot due to this announcement and under a deadline to recreate their outreach materials and the hope is we can help each other out.

One newcomer I have seen suggested is Ahead (http://ahead.com), but I haven't had a chance to check it out yet and would love to hear about folk's experience with this or the other alternatives. Link

Little Things Can Mean A Lot: Email Signatures

Easily Overlooked Opportunities to Polish your Brand Online

This is the second of a handful of small ways to extend your organization's brand through out your online presence.

As I was trying to come up with a good handful of easy wins I thought immediately of the email signatures. I have seen some great ones on various mailing lists and some that make me cringe. Plus no list like this would be complete without a mention of this free way to improve your branding on a daily basis. So I started with Google, as I always do, to see what the prevailing wisdom is on these - sure enough I found out that I am not alone in my thinking and I found two great articles right away.

After reading through the brief summary below, I highly encourage you to check out Nancy Schwartz's definitive article and Jon Stahl's fantastic real world case study from at Groundwire (formerly One NW).

Make the most of your last word
When you talk about email and nonprofits E-newsletters and donation appeals come to mind immediately, but in this case I'm talking about the last lines in regular day-to-day emails that staff send to each other and those outside the organization. Internally having a set (or set of) on mission and on brand signatures can reinforce professionalism and a sense of unity. And when you communicate with the outside world, the value of these snippets becomes even more apparent in solidifying your identity and purpose in the readers mind.

What should your organization's email signature include?
Obviously you'll want to have your name, position and contact information.

You should keep this under control though and if you find that your signature is regularly longer than the email itself, it's probably too long.

What else?
Add your branding, tagline, website or maybe a tagline and link for your current campaign - action or fundraising.

Think long and hard about adding a logo graphic though - simple and consistent more important than flashy. Think of this as subtle reminder not a billboard because by the 3rd time they get an email from you it can start to annoy people if its too large. Also as you can see in Jon's article its not as easy to implement as text only.

I think developing a set or some really clear guidelines could be a potent tool to allow for personalization while staying on message. If you can offer two or three acceptable styles (short, medium and long or official, colleague and more personal) and make them easy to get into the emails staff will be able to match the signature to the message.

See Nancy's article for a more thorough list of ideas.

Check out what some organizations are doing:

Ask for donations:
Support our efforts for 2010
Love us? Support us!
Make a tax-deductible donation to the Office of Letters and Light today.
Engage activists:
Sign up to become part of Audubon's E-Activist community
Give a description of your organization and the official tag line:
Visit our website: www.policylink.org

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.®
Reinforce your mission:

Several nature and environmental organizations include the line -
"Please consider the environment before printing this email"
And while those funny quotes that used to be so common probably aren't a great idea for an official organization sign off, I love the use of humor in this one:
We've got issues. Read all about it in IssueLab eNews!

More tips and ideas on how to do it

From Microsoft - all about using your Outlook signature

A few good thoughts on how to sign off

Thanks for reading,
heather gardner-madras
gardner-madras | strategic creative
[e] hgm@heathergm.com
[p] 541-933-1942
[c] 541-579-6665

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