Laura Quinn's blog

We're Hiring!

 Idealware is hiring!  We're looking for a smart, enthusiastic Americorp VISTA to develop and manage our eLearning Training Initiative. 

As an Americorps VISTA member at Idealware, you will work with our team to define an eLearning strategy to deliver training to help nonprofits choose software.  You will package curriculum materials we’ve already developed to be optimally viewed as screencasts, software demos and more, as well as create new modules to fill content gaps and expand our scope of offerings.  The core goals of the project are to translate Idealware’s extensive existing training materials into a compelling library of eLearning modules using videos, animations, screencasts, and interactive and thought provoking excerises.
Idealware is a a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides thoroughly researched, impartial and accessible resources about software to help nonprofits make smart software decisions. We're a national organization located in Portland, Maine, a vibrant and growing small city, minutes from both the beach and mountains, two hours from Boston, and with a very affordable cost of living. In 2009, Forbes rated it the #1 city in the country for quality of living and Bon Appetite rated it the “Foodiest Small City in America.”  The Americorp VISTA program will cover costs of relocation.

Survey: Help us understand how social media works for your nonprofit!

 We need your help!  If your organization is using social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, MySpace, LinkedIn, video or photo sharing sites, or something else you consider social media) in any way, can you fill out a quick, one page survey about what you’re doing and how it’s working?

Over here at Idealware, we’re in the midst of an information gathering project to understand what social media techniques are likely to work for what purposes.  We plan to summarize this information into a free “Social Media Decision Guide,” to help nonprofits make choices for their own organization, available for free in the late summer or early fall.  
We’ve already published the results from our first survey  in our report Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals. Many thanks if you responded to that one!  Now we want to go deeper.  We want to understand what tools are most effective for specific purposes – is Facebook likely to be a better bet than photo sharing to recruit youth volunteers?  What about for getting people to sign a petition?  For donations?
And to do that, we need VOLUME!  The more examples you can share the better, about the successful, unsuccessful, or middling things your organization has tried with social media.  We’ll analyze it all and let you know the trends – what’s working for a lot of people?  What’s not working?
You may be saying to yourself “But I don’t have any very useful insights…” It doesn’t matter!  Please fill out the one-page survey anyway, if you have any examples of nonprofit social media use!  The more data we have, the better we can see the trends.  
To provide a little incentive, we’ll provide three lucky participants with a free copy of our paperback Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits
Thanks in advance for your help!

Jing Screencast Introducing Screencasting

 Wondering what "screencasting" is all about? (In short, it's an easy way to record anything you do on your desktop.)  Or interested in the free screencasting tool Jing?

Colin Bill, an eLearning guru at the Academy for Educational Development, has put together a quick, informal overview of what screencasting and Jing can do.  It was originally directed at a few colleagues at AED, so there's a little bit of inscrutable AED lingo in it, but stick with it for a nice intro of what screencasting, and Jing in particular, can do.

FREE Software for Fundraising seminar

 Don't miss our free seminar tomorrow (Wednesday) from 1:00 - 2:00 Eastern Time:  Software for Fundraising.

In the research for our new Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits, we gave a lot of thought to how various types of software can come together to help with fundraising.  In this free hour long seminar, we'll walk through the types of software that exist -- from the basics to the more advanced -- and talk about how they can support fundraising, some popular vendors, and where to go for more information.  (Note that you'll need to call into a phone number that likely will be long distance for you, so any regular long distance charges will apply).

We'll cover, at a high level:

  • Donor Management Systems
  • Constitutent Relationship Management Systems
  • Integrated Online Systems
  • Online Donation Tools
  • Broadcast Email Tools
  • Friend-to-Friend Fundraising
  • Social Networking
  • House Parties and Meet-ups
  • Mobile Texting
  • Mobile Giving

Would love to see you there!  Read more or register now>


New article: A Case Study of How Idealware's Using Twitter

 Along with our new site, we've got a new article (no rest for the weary over here!):  Reaching Out To a Wide Audience: A Twitter Case Study

The article takes a look at Idealware's own use of Twitter -- how we're using it, how much time it takes, and how it's working.  It's in fact been a really useful channel for us -- less work than something like Facebook (where your ability to actually get anyone to respond is put on public display), but bringing tangible results.  Would love to hear what you think -- has Twitter been useful for you?

The New

 The new website is finally here!  Check it out at to see: 

  •    A much easier and friendlier navigation scheme
  •   A “Topic” centered site – which makes it easy for you to find all the information we have on Topics from websites to constituent management to back-office and operations software and much more
  •  Our polished and colorful new graphic design
  •  Lots of new information about Idealware, including our research methodologies and the commissioned work we do.

I’m thrilled with the new site (not to mention thrilled to have it launched!) and hope you are too.  Many thanks to our launch sponsors:


Heller Consulting:  Raiser's Edge, NetCommunity & Common Ground experts. 14 yrs - 700 clients - 1400 projects.


      See3 Communications:  See3 is an interactive agency that crafts online strategies and websites for nonprofits.

 Forum One CommunicationsForum One helps organizations plan, design and build influential web sites. Visit


Building Websites for a Mobile Phone

As more and more people use mobile phones, how do you ensure they can see your website on it?

Well, there's nothing magical about it. Most mobile phones can view sites using the same HTML that you would use for regular websites So it's very likely that people currently can see your website on their phone. However, mobile phones tend to intepret HTML standards much more harshly than other browsers, and mobile screens are tiny compared to a computer screen. So what your site looks like or whether anyone can actually use it on a phone is another story.

There's two possible ways to go to create a better mobile experience. You can optimize your current site so that it's more viewable by folks on a mobile phone. This would mean making sure your code is compliant with XHTML standards and moving key content and navigation to the upper left -- so it's more likely to appear without a lot of scrolling. Highlighting the text that's currently selected is also very important for mobile phones, as it's often hard on these devices to tell exactly where your cursor is.

If people on mobile phones are a key part of your website audience, you'll be able to support them much better by making a mobile specific website. This would be a separate website, designed specifically for smaller screens, with less images and text, and to allow people to get the information they're likely to be looking for faster. You could either have a separate URL for your mobile site (like, or you can try to detect that a user is accessing your site through a mobile device, and show them the mobile optimized site accordingly.

Want more information? Here's some good links:

Others have tips or links to share?

New report: Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals

A couple of months back, we conducted a survey of nonprofit staff members who were already using social media for their organization. We wanted to know what tools they were using, but more, we wanted to know what they thought was working. Specifically, we asked about seven tools or types of tools: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, video-sharing sites, photo-sharing sites and blogs.

The analysis and results are finally here. Download the report Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals: The Results of a Survey (free registration required)

A few quick highlights to whet your interest:
  • Generally, respondents felt social media channels were effective for enhancing relations with an existing audience and reaching out to new supporters, but considerably less so for raising money.
  • Twitter was in the top three channels for every goal, and was considered the most-effective channel for reaching potential new supporters.
  • Although Facebook was the most widely used tool by a considerable margin, and the one that those not yet using were most likely to start, it was seen as the most-effective only in terms of raising money-and then, only by a small margin.
  • MySpace was not widely used, and ranked lowest for each of the three goals. LinkedIn was considered comparatively effective for fundraising, but lagged behind everything but MySpace for the other goals.
The analysis and report were made possible with the generous support of Firefly Partners, Balance Interactive, and Beaconfire.

View all the results and analysis online at

Coming Soon: A Brand New Idealware Website

I admit it: we're like the shoemaker's kids over here. Our current website is sadly lacking in a number of areas, like, say, the ability to find an article, or the ability to easily post anything.

But all that's about to change! Within the next month, we'll have a shiny new site, way better organized, friendlier, and easier to use. In particular, it will be primarily organized around "Topic" pages, to be able to see everything we've got in one place. Interested in software for fundraising? The Fundraising topic page will lead you to all our relevant articles, reports, seminars, and blog posts all in one place.

Corresponding with the website, we're also taking a look at our blog approach. Peter Campbell, always an Idealware blogger extraordinaire (and a new Idealware board member-- hooray!), is now taking the healm of the blog. There won't be any alarming changes, but under his guidance, you'll see some new bloggers and an increase in posts. More from Peter on that soon.

But I can't post about the new website without thanking all the people who helped out with it. We've done the entire website with volunteered and bartered services. It's not always been a smooth road, but we're arriving at a great place, with the help of:

Why needs your help needs your help to survive. Do you need more reasons to go donate now? Here's one.

Five years ago, I was a website consultant to nonprofits. I had an idea -- hey, someone should do reviews and information about nonprofit software that all organizations can benefit from! -- and I talked to a bunch of people to see if the idea had legs.

One of the people I spoke with was Ami Dar, the Executive Director of Idealist. I don't even know how I connected with him -- did I cold call him? He's exactly the type of person who's genuinely nice enough and helpful enough to take a call from a miscellaneous person with questions.

He had a lot of useful thoughts and insights about the idea that was to become Idealware, but he said one thing in particular that I've never forgotten, and has proven true over and over. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here): "The more you try to support all nonprofits, everywhere, the less likely you are to get funding."

It's completely counter-intuitive, but true. I think it's the same phenomenon as the Bystander Effect -- the idea that someone is less likely to help someone in trouble if there's a bunch of people also there. Nonprofits like Idealist help so many people that it never seems to a donor as specific or pressing a thing to support as other causes. It's easy to understand -- for instance, your local job fair clinic in Boston is right there, and you know it doesn't have a big pool of donors. If you live in Kentucky, it's easy to see why you should support a site targeted to help people in rural areas find jobs.

But this reasoning is faulty when it comes to critical organizations like Idealist. They provide job fair clinics in Boston... and dozens of other locations. They help people in rural area find jobs... along with hundreds of thousands of others. They're one of the pieces of infrastructure by which the nonprofit sector works, and just like any organization, if they can't get support, they go under.

Which is in danger of happening now. One of their principle income sources was from job listings, and job listings, as you can imagine, are not what they used to be.

Do you want Idealist to survive? Would you be bummed if they were gone? Then don't wait for other people to support them. Go donate yourself.
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