Heather Gardner-Madras's blog

Little Things Can Mean A Lot: 404 Pages

Easily Overlooked Opportunities to Polish your Brand Online

You've probably heard the adage that your brand isn't just your logo or tagline, its every experience people have with your organization. And its true that having a consistent message in everything you do, from the words your staff uses answer the phone to exactly matching your colors on print materials, does pay off in terms of presenting your organization as professional and clear about your mission.

I have been thinking lately about small ways you can extend your organization's brand and personality online that are often overlooked. As always, I get the most excited about those that are fairly inexpensive, not too difficult to execute and that provide a lot of bang for your buck. I've decided to do a small series of these over the next few weeks. Here's the first - a friendly 404 can say a lot about who you are and how much you care about your web site visitors.

404 pages
When visitors can't find what they are looking for on your site it can put them off, even though it might be in no way your fault. Its not just good usability to customize your "page not found" page it's also an opportunity to reinforce your messaging and brand.

An Error 404 page is what your web server will display when the URL in the browser can't be found. Instead of the boring or unfriendly default "Not Found The requested URL /oops was not found on this server. This document cannot be retrieved" you can help your visitors find what they are looking for on your site.

First you'll need to find out how you access that page (this might be via the hosting company control panel or in your content management system) and then add helpful tips to reorient the user and provide paths to your most popular, important or interesting content. Not only is this more friendly but its a good opportunity to reinforce your messages for the visitor and show them what's available.

What should your 404 include?
A friendly message and a search form are good ideas, as is a list of links to major site sections or popular content. At minimum you want to be sure that your site navigation is available on this page or a link to the site home page to help retain and orient visitors on your site.

And if you can add your sitemap, it will help your visitors find what they are looking for and show off all the great stuff on your site.

Ideally you would also include a link to email the webmaster or a form to submit broken links in case it's a bad link on your site that landed them on this page.

Check out how some organizations do this:

Whether you go simple with just a nice message and link back home, or get really fancy and try to guess what they were looking for, its a vast improvement over the default error page that can send the wrong message about your organization.

In my opinion, a short statement and bulleted list is most helpful to guide users to their intended information and its best to avoid being too cutesy or clever on these pages. Visitors are already frustrated so reminding them they may have made a mistake or forcing them to read a lot of text probably isn't going to improve their mood or associations with your organization.

More tips and ideas on good 404's

And some specifics for some common open source content management systems:

Drupal
http://www.davebeall.com/Drupal-HowTo/custom-error-pages-drupal
Joomla
http://docs.joomla.org/Tutorial:Create_a_Custom_404_Error_Page
Plone
http://plone.org/documentation/kb/error-handling
Wordpress
http://codex.wordpress.org/Creating_an_Error_404_Page

Happy 404'ing

Meet the Idealware Bloggers Part 5: Michelle Murrain

The last installment of the Meet the Bloggers series is with Michelle Murrain. Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to sit down together in person at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this year but we plan to remedy that at the next one in Atlanta.

Michelle Murrain

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Michelle's work with nonprofits and technology began in parallel. Her college major was in Biology, but even then she was focused on computers and the tech end of things. At the same time she was also on the board of a Gay/Lesbian organization but didn't do technology for them because it was before nonprofits knew or cared much about the potential of technology. It wasn't until ten years later when Michelle, now a professor, was working with local women's health organization who they decided that they wanted to get on the web that it really came together. This was in the early nineties when things were very (very) expensive and even hosting was out of reach for many nonprofits. A student intern working for with them had the bright idea to set up a Linux box in Michelle's office on campus, which was connected to the internet. They set up a server in the corner of her office that the organization could get to and update their web site via phone modem. So this was the experience for Michelle marrying technology and nonprofits and also her first foray into Open Source with Linux, which at the time she installed from floppies. It was still several years after that before nonprofit technology really got established and became her focus.

On Blogging
Starting with a personal blog in 2003 to vent about Iraq war Michelle was an early adopter. In 2004 she realized that there were things to say about technology and that she had a unique perspective so she began a Typepad blog on tech. After taking a break to go to seminary in 2005-06 she started sharing her thoughts with her current blog Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology (http://www.zenofnptech.org). Then Idealware blog came along and she joined in to share her knowledge with the Idealware community.

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?

One thing Michelle feels very strongly about is that Nonprofits need to get out of mindset of purchasing and buying and paying for software themselves. She would change the way they approach this and create greater collaboration on tech purchases and solutions. She feels that by working in concert nonprofits can find things that work for a broader group and at less individual organizational cost.

She offered an example. If 10 shelters got together and spent one tenth of the money they could set up a solution to case management or something and would get the same benefit at a fraction of the cost by sharing purchasing and development.

One of the real world ways funders could encourage this is by directing the nonprofits they help to find efficiencies of scale and promoting those efforts with matching funds.

The Next 5 Years
Looking forward to the next five years, Michelle is most excited by the way people are beginning to understand that things should be open. Open as in operating systems, open data and sharing openly in the social network space. Based on open standards, the idea that the data should move place to place easily is a breakthrough that is beginning to grow in all areas. In the past it has been a huge problem for nonprofits the way data has been held in silos and cut off. But she feels we are at the point now where the barriers to movement are technological not a mindset of vendor lock. There are still a few hold out but in general she see that the trend will only continue and believes that in 5 years everything will be open - source, data and standards.

Personal snapshots
First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
Email first, and second is twitter client

Is there a tech term or acronym that makes you giggle and why
Not really.

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Science Fiction writing, which is not yet published.

Which do you want first - Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
Warp Drive - I want go into space and see what's out there.

Meet the Idealware Bloggers Part 4: Eric Leland

Another in the Meet the Bloggers series, this one from a very fun interview with Eric Leland. As in all of the interviews, time was too short and I look forward to having more time to chat and get to know him in the future.

Eric Leland

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Eric started out as a part time assistant for Amnesty International with just one computer running outreach. A lot of the work was sending out letters to student to participate, so the organization was just getting into email. Based in New York he had to travel down to DC repeatedly to fix the computer handling their email list so he jumped in to figure out why it was having so many problems. Once it was fixed he saw successful emails triple and at the same time student attendance tripled as well. Putting 2 and 2 together, Eric saw that email and online mattered more to the organization than they knew and became inspired about finding out how to work with new technologies. With no formal technology training, he built his knowledge working on the ground finding real world solutions.

On Blogging
Having started a blog years ago that was referenced as a "who to read" by Third Sector New England, Eric realized that he didn't want to pursue the demands of constant blogging and decided not to write anymore. When Laura approached him about writing for Idealware, however, he felt it made more sense to work with a whole community of authors, not for himself but to help create something bigger than any one blogger. It's an opportunity he appreciates and has enjoyed.

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?

According to Eric, the NPO sector could use a large dose of pragmatic earned income strategy from for profit world, so that's where he would start. As nonprofits there is not enough emphasis on bottom line or "what's the ROI"? In the nonprofit sector we call results "outcomes" but they aren't always meaningful in practice. When you work with the smarter organizations you see that they will have metrics to help with decisions, but as with everything some are more effective than others. The effective organizations are using a more businesslike approach.

The Next 5 Years
Asked about what he finds to be the most exciting trend in nonprofit technology for the next five years Eric had a lot of enthusiasm for the way the community has started sharing best practices and lessons learned.

Eric sees a bigger trend in and more emphasis on sharing knowledge to become a better expert in their field. Some of this is due to the rise of social networks possibly, but the important thing is that now more informed individuals and organizations are sharing best practices that real people will be able to use. He feels nonprofits can really learn from each other and improve their effectiveness when they share and put things out there things like how-to's, top ten lists and toolkits.

Personal snapshots

First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
Email (Gmail) with Google Calendar a close second.

Is there a tech term or acronym that (still?) makes you giggle and why?
Maybe its not a giggle, but its fun to snark about "the cloud" which is a term that is to start with so amorphous and vague already , and anyway who really wants their technology in a giant ball of water?

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Best non-tech skill would be doing pottery and ceramics. Also really loves outdoor activities like surfing, but is (understandably) scared of sharks.

Which do you want first - Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
The transporter, for those times that it is about the destination and not the journey, such as red-eye flights to the East Coast!

Meet the Idealware Bloggers Part 3: Peter Campbell

The third interview of the series is with Peter Campbell and I had a good time putting a face with the twitter conversations we've been having in the past year, as well as finding out more about how he came to write for the Idealware blog.

Peter Campbell

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Peter's decision to combine technology with nonprofit work was very deliberate. Well into a career as an IT director for a law firm in San Francisco he had something of an epiphany and wanted to do something more meaningful in the social services sector. It took him 9 months to find just the right job and he landed at Goodwill. In both positions he was able to take advantage of good timing and having the right executive situations to create his own vision and really bring effective change to the organizations. At Goodwill Industries, Peter developed retail management software and introduced e-commerce. Now with Earth Justice, he is also sharing his experience with the broader community.

On Blogging
Although Peter always wanted to incorporate writing as a part of his work and wrote a good bit, the advent of blogs didn't provide a lot of motivation for him because he wanted to be sure to have something worthwhile to say. A firm believer in blogging about what you know, he was intrigued by the opportunity to blog at Idealware since the topics and style were aligned with his knowledge and experience. So while the previous 3 years of blogging had only yielded about 50 entries, this was an opportunity to get on a roll, and if you have been following this blog you know that it has really paid off and provided a lot of great resources already.

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?

Peter's answer is simple and echoes a common thread in responses to this question: Change the way nonprofit management understands technology - help them realize the value it offers, the resources needed to get the most out of it, and how to use it.

The Next 5 Years
In response to a question about what he finds to be the most exciting trend in nonprofit technology in the next five years Peter felt there are many of things to be excited about right now.

He feels that transformations in technology are cropping up quickly and nonprofits have a real opportunity to be at the forefront of these changes. The data revolution and rise of cloud computing will liberate nonprofits and turn the things we struggle with now into an affordable solution. Virtualization, as well, will provide new freedom and efficiency. According to Peter, these trends will work together to change the way we manage and invest in technology. In his words - right now its still geeky and complex, but it will get easier.

Personal snapshots
First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
Twitter client, then FireFox with Gmail and Google Reader and 2 blogs open in tabs.

Is there a tech term or acronym that makes you giggle and why?
Not really, but there are some that infuriate me. I am a fan of BPM (Business Process Management) because it describes what you should do - manage your processes and realize that tech is the structure to do it with, not the brain.

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Besides technology, I hope my best skill is my writing.

Which do you want first - Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
Transporter is the great one, but I don't want to be the beta tester.

See previous posts to learn more about Steve Backman and Laura Quinn.

Meet the Idealware Bloggers Part 2: Laura Quinn

This is the second of a series of interviews with my fellow Idealware bloggers. Taking advantage of our proximity at the 2009 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco recently, I had the good fortune to be able to interview each of them personally. See Part 1: Steve Backman if you missed it. Laura is the founder of Idealware and I was already a big fan so it was fun to be surprised by some of her answers.

Laura Quinn

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Even though Laura began with a degree in apparel management she didn't enjoy the related internships and ended up with Accenture, one of the big 5 consulting firms (at that time) specializing in accounting, technology, and business consulting for Fortune 500 companies. Two years into the position the tech bubble began and she moved into the internet consulting world, including a doomed one that focused on start-up nonprofit businesses. At the same time, Laura did a lot of volunteering and tech for nonprofits which Laura found fulfilling, so after the crash she used her skills as an internet architect and strategist to do web strategy for nonprofits on her own.

On Blogging
Although Laura didn't really start blogging before Idealware (other than a personal blog of Nintendo game reviews with her husband) she was always writing. Even in the tech bubble she wrote articles and started writing a series called "Tech on Shoestring".

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?
Laura's answer was to fix the funding situation for technology in couple of different ways. She feels that right now there isn't a lot of understanding of technology or its role, so organizations need to hide it and pretend they’re not spending on technology in reports to funders. She sees capacity in general as underfunded. Its not that all foundations should fund specific technology projects, but that the technology budget is currently housed in administration and seen as overhead and not as part of the core mission work. So a stroke of the wand to educate funders as to why it's critical to fund tech as part of the mission would be her wish.

The Next 5 Years
Asked what might be most exciting for nonprofit technology in the next five years, Laura responded that she is enthusiastic about the levels of integration coming into play.
More than fancy new technologies, its how we'll learn to integrate what we already have into the work we do. Along with the business sector, nonprofits will see the overlap and be able to take advantage of it. Looking back five years we were just starting to see organizations grasp the potential of having a web site, so in the next five the hope is that it becomes an integral part of how do they do business and is brought into full alignment with their overarching goals.

Personal snapshots
First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
My time tracking program because I have trouble remembering that I’m support to be tracking time – and tracking helps me to be intentional.

Is there a tech term or acronym that (still?) makes you giggle and why?
There is an acronym from the tech support field, PEBKAC - problem exists between keyboard and chair. It’s completely the opposite of my approach to technology (I have a background in usability and user research), but it still cracks me up.

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Well, I juggle and I have been making sausage. My husband is a crazy chef currently making cheese. We realized that between us, we could be homesteaders - I garden, do carpentry, sew, spin, and weave. He’s making cheese and beer. All we need is some land and a cow.

Which do you want first - Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
Definitely the transporter if it can go far enough. But wait, can you use the replicator to make a transporter?

Meet the Idealware Bloggers Part 1: Steve Backman

Since the Nonprofit Technology Conference this past week was the first time we would all be in the same place after starting to blog together here on Idealware, I decided to do a quick interview with my fellow bloggers. I wanted to get to know them better and realized that our readers probably wanted to know more about them as well. So here is the first in this series of personal interviews from San Francisco.

Steve Backman

On Connecting Nonprofits & Technology
Steve was working in the heart of corporate America but had a history in community and political organizing. Wanting to pursue more meaningful work and insights into the ways evolving technology could benefit labor groups and nonprofits led to founding a consulting firm to marry the two.

On Blogging
Steve was already blogging intermittently before joining Idealware. He started blogging because he realized that he was so busy and it was a way he could keep up with his interest in writing on a regular basis - a work related but fun way to keep his skills sharp. While previous blogs had been more about self expression and sharing ideas that may or may not have attracted attention, the more focused approach of the Idealware group blog has led to more reader-centric topics and writing, which has been a fun experience.

As an editor for Idealware as well, Steve enjoys the more informal style of the blog and ability to address more general questions with a personal viewpoint.

The Magic Wand Question
One of the questions I asked in each interview was this: If you had a magic wand that could transform one aspect of nonprofit technology in an instant, what would it be and why?

Steve's answer: Fix the way nonprofit grant funding affects technology. He feels this leads to the all or nothing leaps made by the organizations. Because of the difficulty of budgeting annually, many organizations, wait until a funding opportunity arises to address all their questions at once. As he sees it this is becoming less and less a practice in the corporate world, and less of a good idea here- if it ever was one. And now with social media etc. it's harder than ever to find a comprehensive solution to all the technology needs facing a nonprofit.

The Next 5 Years
Asked what might be most exciting for nonprofit technology in the next five years, Steve cited the new freedom and accessibility of data.

Steve says that the most intriguing thing is the prospect of data (like constituency or program data) moving more freely in the public space, providing the ability to share information not just lessons. With access to the actual data you can take it and do your own thing so that the sense of oppression about how much data is being collected is relieved because its actually useful not just bogged down. With the beginning of movements like Government 2.0 transparency he is very encouraged and hopes that soon procedures like the Freedom of Information Act may become less needed.

What he finds intriguing is thinking about how advocacy groups can use this information - whether Google gadgets or mashups etc. - to analyze, massage and redistribute the data, while at the same time politics in the U.S. is shifting to bring things out in the open.

Personal snapshots
First thing you launch on your computer when you boot/in the morning?
Email is still the one, but it depends on my mood - first scans reader and general news.

Is there a tech term or acronym that (still?) makes you giggle and why?
“normalize” as data for standard SQL-based databases. Having worked with the Pick or multivalue data models, I have always chuckled at the subjectivity and value judgment implied by “normalization.”

Favorite non-technology related thing or best non-techy skill?
Taiji (tai chi), which is based in Daoism. Steve finds it significant that it was practiced in Confucian times as a means to relieve the oppressive stress felt by desk workers of that time. Steve serves on the board of Water Way Arts, a Boston-based nonprofit tai chi center.

Which do you want first - Replicator, holodeck, transporter or warp drive?
Personally, Steve wants the transporter and has for a long time. But for the nonprofit sector he sees the Replicator as being the most useful.

I had a wonderful time interviewing Steve and he was very generous as my first interviewee. I encourage you to check out some of the great topics he has covered here on the blog.

How to Share PowerPoint Presentations Online

Recently a client came to me with a question about how best to offer PowerPoint presentations from previous conferences online. I thought I would share the notes I created for them here for others that might have the same question.

In my client's case it was important that viewers not be able to edit the original file, so we took additional steps needed to protect the file. I'll include a basic how-to or just linking to the original file as well as a couple of links for the other options.

Upload the PPT (or PPS) to your web server and provide a download link
This is probably the easiest option if your content management system allows .ppt or .pps files to be uploaded through its media management system. Even if you need to manually upload the file via FTP and link it on a web page the process is not too complicated.

Since the Web doesn't handle big files (over 10 mgs) as well as our hard drives do, reducing the file size by optimizing the presentation is a good idea.

In PowerPoint you can also save your file as a "PowerPoint Show" which always opens in slide show view so viewers don't have access to edit your material. Another way to prevent changes is to assign a password for modifications.

PowerPoint 2003 - Tools>Options>Security
PowerPoint 2007 - Save As>Tools>General Options

Pros:
  • No conversion necessary beyond save as in PowerPoint itself/ No need to learn new software
  • Ability to share original file with collaborators if desired
  • You host and maintain control of your files.

Cons:
  • Can result in large files to upload and download - so describe file size for visitors when offering presentations for download
  • Only viewable with software that reads .ppt and .pps files

Resources:
Convert to PDF
PDF or Portable Document Files have become something of a de facto standard for online file links. The software to view these files is available on most operating systems or as a free download from Adobe, so its a safe bet that anyone and everyone will be able to see your material once its converted to this file type.

You can do this by choosing the Save As PDF option from within PowerPoint and through the options in the Print menu on most systems. You'll want to optimize the file size if you have access to a PDF editing program since the resulting file might even larger than the original.

Pros:
  • Standard file format that will appear the same to users on all platforms
  • Embeds fonts and images and can be optimized to reduce file size.
  • Not editable by the end viewer
Cons:
  • Can mangle presentation formatting
  • Individual slides are difficult to reference or find
  • Doesn't retain transitions and animations.
  • Browsers deal with PDF files differently and user experience can be poor and unpredictable
Resources:

Use an online service for slide sharing
There are several good online services for sharing (and even creating) slide-based presentations. Slideshare.net is one of the first and most mature and like Zoho and the others allows you to import/upload your PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentations to be converted to their own sharing format. The usual Software as a Service caveats apply here as with any other "free" service on the web.

Pros:
  • Enables remote presentations easily since it is browser based
  • Hosts the files so you don't have to use your own server or bandwidth serving large files.
  • Most include version and organization options that can help you keep track of presentations if you have a lot of them.
Cons:
  • Not all features of the original PowerPoint may be available in the online service so read through their conversion information carefully if you have media or animations that are crucial to your presentation.
  • Currently free but could require advertising or fees in the future and your materials are hosted on their servers so losing access to them is always a possiblity.
  • May not allow downloads for presentation files.
Resources:

There are additional options if you are interested in modifying the final presentation and distributing it as a movie, flash presentation or web pages. Microsoft provides some basic tools for doing this right in the program itself and there are third party tools that yield even more robust final products.

Whichever method you choose you might also want to check out the resources at Social Source Commons for some added alternatives and file compression tools.

I hope the information here will make it fairly painless to share and reuse your presentation content for your web audience and get more mileage out of the ideas and effort that went into its original purpose. If you have recommendations on software or other sharing methods, please leave them in the comments below.

More Fun with Open Source Content Management

I'm really thrilled that the Idealware report comparing 4 top-notch open source content management systems is now available. I think it will prove invaluable to nonprofits of all shapes and sizes for a long time to come and know I will be recommended reading for many friends and potential and future clients.

Even if you have already seen the CMS Showdown and the competition sites implemented on WordPress, Drupal and Joomla now that the report is out they are worth another look.

If you didn't make it to SXSW conference or haven't heard about this brilliant project - here is an excerpt from the site:

Originally presented at South By Southwest Interactive in March, 2009, the Ultimate Showdown of Content Management System Destiny is an “Iron Chef”-style competition pitting three teams of all-star Web developers from the Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress communities against each other to develop the same Web site in each of their chosen open source content management platforms.

In addition to a fascinating look behind the scenes at each teams decision-making process, there are lots of productive insights to be gained by looking at the finished products of their labors. Many of the key points in the Idealware report are evident on the demo sites and by reading the team notes.

Despite (or maybe because of) the 100 hour total development time limit, each site demonstrates its system's strengths and weakness fairly accurately or I should say in keeping with my own experiences of them. Not all of them managed to accomplish all the requirements, which points out what takes more time or work to implement for that particular system.

One thing that can be confusing is that the specifications for the site required that most of the content be available only to authenticated users. The sites for Drupal and Joomla, who were able to achieve this, seem a bit bare, especially Drupal where they didn't create any publicly viewable items in some areas. So you can't access the galleries, blogs or member listings and its a pity that there doesn't seem to be a demo user/password available anywhere to see the full sites. If anyone knows of one, I would love to take a look.

Also, sadly there was no invitation for a Plone team this time around, but if you want to see it included next time I'd suggest you contact the organizers.

Check out the CMS Showdown as a handy companion piece to the Idealware CMS report for a real world apples to apples demonstration (sort of) of how each system looks at some familiar features. And read the team notes on cmsshowdown.com for some helpful hints and tricks the they used on the sites.

Great Resources on Vendor Websites

One of the great things about working in the nonprofit sector is the spirit of sharing and helping one another succeed that I continue to find among organizations and consultants for online technologies. Many resources on how to choose technology and how to use it wisely are available from great nonprofit and consulting companies. But the hungry mind wants more so, although it might be obvious, I wanted to share another great way to find metrics, best practices and how to guides - technology vendors resource sections.

Over the years I have found that many vendors of both nonprofit and for profit technology and services offer a wealth of high quality information on their sites that cover far more than just their own products. I see it as enlightened self-interest, since successful customers are happy customers and the basics apply no matter what platform you are using for your web site, fundraising or bulk email.

Here are just few that I have found worth checking in on regularly, but be sure to check for a resources section on your own vendor's websites.

Email Vendors
http://mailchimp.com/resources/
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/resources/
http://www.emaillabs.com/best_practices/ (Lyris)


Websites and Fundraising
http://www.wildapricot.com/resources.aspx
http://www.convio.com/resources/
and some older but still useful items at Kintera/Blackbaud

Network for Good has a whole site about fundraising:
http://www.fundraising123.org/

But wait there's more!
Don't forget that most of the time resources for profit companies are equally useful in the nonprofit sector or can be with a little adaptation. Check out sites offering general best practices like Marketing Sherpa and Copyblogger. You can find good advice and information that applies equally to any type of communications strategy.

Please share your own favorite vendor or for profit resources in the comments and we can all learn a little more.

Minimum Usability Testing: Now there's no excuse not to do it.

According to the author of the web usability bible "Don't Make Me Think" Steve Krug, testing one user is 100% better than testing none and testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end. To that end, I'd like to suggest testing 5 or 10 more often and found a couple of services that make it possible.

While I am afraid that too many of my Idealware blog posts have been focusing on cheap or free resources, I do believe that the easier it is for nonprofits to do usability testing regularly the better their sites will be - so here is one more post about a couple of low cost options.

Feedback Army:
Strictly a quick an dirty sort of testing, I stumbled across this crowd-sourced usability service on a blog and had to check it out. For $10 you get to set up your own questions or scenario and receive responses from 10 reviewers.

The results are, as you might expect for that sort of money, a mixed bag from a wide generic set of users. Although I really don't believe any site should be targeting anything so broad as "general public" it can be helpful to have this kind of input. I would see this as useful for organizations doing a redesign to try out a couple of different directions or make a specific design choice (red or orange for that donate button?).

The site provides a bit of guidance for how to get the best and most useful responses and I have to say, man, is it fast - less than a day turnaround time to collect 10.

The reviewers come from a service called Mechanical Turk which, although I have been around the web a while, I had never heard of before. Its an Amazon program where users offer and accept small tasks best done by humans for small fees. Its feels a little creepy, and I do have some doubts about ethics and ramifications, but apparently it has a big following and fan base on both sides. Feedback Army acts as oversight and interface in order to maintain quality control, so only reviews they judge to fulfill your requirements filter back to you.

Overall I found the feedback to be helpful in my test case and will probably use this again when I need an "outside perspective" on design decisions.

Usertesting.com
A comment from the original blog post pointed me to Usertesting.com, which is a bit more expensive ($20 per tester) but which blew me away with what you get for your money. I submitted my site for a trial and received an incredibly well thought out and thorough review video in which you see the user's screen and mouse movements while listening to a narrative of what they are thinking as they complete your request and answer your questions. It gave me a lot of new ideas and insight about where I was missing the mark by being too close to the subject. In addition you get a standard written report answering basic usability questions that is also useful.
Jakob Nielsen, the godfather of usability testing, makes a good case that testing 5 users will yield the highest value of information in the most economic way - so for $100, a nonprofit could conduct some of the worthwhile usability testing that seems to always fall through the cracks.

And of course if you ask the right questions you can also test new ideas and designs with your own supporters using a survey tool like Survey Monkey for free, so there really is no excuse not to do usability testing at this point.

More on quick and dirty usability testing and why you need it, as well as what to test and how, can be found on Jakob Nielsen's site:

Fast, Good and Cheap:
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/fast-methods.html

Usability for $200
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030602.html

Usability on Nonprofit Web sites
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