We’ve been able to marshal expert support to help develop own online database, driving the RVA website and our RGneeds.me volunteering portal.
Even so, we couldn’t run our operation without the range of free or low-cost online tools that we’ve pressed into service to join up our admin and communications. We’ve put together this resources page to share how we do things and offer some support for groups who want to do likewise. We’re not recommending the tools we use any more than others you may come across, it’s just these are the ones we can talk about with confidence. Unless we mention a price, you can assume that for the moment, there’s an adequate free service.
If your charity or community group would like to get a demo from us of how we make use of the tools listed below, we’d be more than happy to set up a session for you at our office. Please phone 0118 937 2273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask us about this.
All the information is for guidance purposes only – please seek specialist advice if you have a particular issue to resolve.
- Create artwork for buttons, quickly and easily
We use this free service offered by Da Button Factory to create the topic buttons used on this resources site, downloading the button we’ve created and connecting to the URL of the page we want to link to. You can also use the buttons in print materials etc. If you want to make buttons that are consistent over time, you need to note the colour and style of your buttons because the details of your specification aren’t saved. So take a screenshot and jot down your colour reference numbers so you can replicate the same size and colourways next time you need electronic artwork for a button.
- Creating infographics
PiktoChart is a free to use website which allows anyone to create infographics, posters, and presentations. Infographics can be used to display data in a more creative way. It’s simple to use and easy to get the hang of. You can either start with a pre-made template, or start from scratch and create your own.
- Creating your own website or intranet
There are plenty of free and low-cost platforms for developing websites. For most small and medium sized organisations we recommend using WordPress, a free platform that is used by millions of websites worldwide – in fact the entire RVA website is built on WordPress. You can also use WordPress to create your team intranet where volunteers and staff can access all the documents, articles and tools they need and leave messages for colleagues.
- Document creation and sharing
If you have a Gmail account, you will automatically have access to Google Drive. At RVA we have it as part of our Google Apps suite, but it’s the same basic tool. We use it to create documents, share them to collaborate, e.g. for report writing etc. We use it not only for text documents but also for flowcharts, spreadsheets and some internal forms. We finalise our RVA resource documents in Google drive before publishing to our Knowledge Base.
- Domain registry
We use 123-reg to register and manage our domains. Checking availability of domain names is simple and if you decide to buy, the process is straightforward and the prices seem fair. The renewal billing system gives prompt reminders to help avoid losing your domain. We have quite a complicated network of domains but find the instructions for managing the linkage between them and setting up email forwards etc is relatively simple to follow.
- Email newsletter and campaign tool
We use Mailchimp to manage the mailing lists and registration and sending of our RVA Digests and Volunteering Opportunities newsletters, as created by our database and turned into an instant url. We can also use it to compose ‘specials’ in the same style and send those to other lists of recipients, like our members, or specific search lists from our database, like ‘children’s groups’, ‘disability charities’ etc. We are currently working within the limits of the free version of this tool.
- Free email for individuals
Gmail offers simple to sign up for email for individuals. You can set your account to link to your organisation’s domain name and keep ‘work’ separate from your private emails. With a Gmail account you also get access to other tools and some of these have scope for groups of people working together, like Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc.
- Meeting scheduler
We sometimes use Doodle to find mutually convenient meeting dates. It’s easy to set up an account and suggest a range of possible dates that people can log a yes/no/maybe response to. The system can let you know by email when you’ve had responses or you can just look online.
- Online calendar
Though it can be quite convenient if you want to use other Google tools, you don’t need a Gmail account to create a Google calendar – you can set up a calendar account with any valid email address. You can share your calendar with chosen collaborators and display their calendar alongside yours, to keep track of your commitments.
- Online file storage
Any file you save to Dropbox will automatically save to all your computers and phones as well as to your account on the Dropbox website. You can invite others to look at any folder in your Dropbox, or send people links to your Dropbox files so they can edit them. At RVA we use Dropbox especially for documents that need to remain in their original format or when we want to share externally in that format. If you download a document from a link in an RVA news item, it’s usually coming from Dropbox. Dropbox can also work well as an online backup for your personal computer.
- Online form builder
If you need just one online form, for anything from a membership application to a survey, you can build one free using Wufoo and link it to your website or send to people via email. At RVA we pay about £17 per month for a 5 user account with unlimited forms. We use them for registrations for the RVA Directory, surveys, membership applications, volunteering roles, news and events information – If you fill in any online form from the RVA Directory ‘Tell us’ page, it’s a Wufoo form. And the system stores all the entries and provides acknowledgement screens so people know their form has been submitted satisfactorily. If you fill in any online form from the RVA Directory ‘Tell us’ page, it’s a Wufoo form.
- Online test and quiz maker
We use Classmarker to create proficiency tests that candidates can complete online. We devise relevant questions and the system marks the test and sends us results. We’ve used it particularly successfully for our admin volunteers, because it helps highlight their strengths and weaknesses, so we can tailor work and support accordingly. Feedback has been very positive – volunteers feel they are getting their potential affirmed by doing this and are being treated in a professional manner. There’s a basic free service for non-profit organisations (doesn’t email results but does most of the rest). We use a full service ‘credit pack’ that handles up to 50 test entries for the year and we can change the questions or build a new test anytime.
- Picture editing and online organiser tool
We use Picasa to edit images, retaining quality and resizing to suit our website. We don’t find the desktop tool very intuitive or easy to manage, but we are getting there, and the usefulness of the online system for linking photos to the website is great. We’d have to build our own tool without something like this.
- Shorten links to a sensible size!
We occasionally use goo.gl just to shorten a URL. However, because it is trackable via a gmail account, our main use is to systematically to track the open rates for our online resource documents. WordPress and Google Analytics can’t do this because they only track webpages, not published documents. We simply shorten the source document url in goo, then add the short code it generates to the website. You click the goo code and it goes right to the document you want.
- Suite of shared admin and comms tools
RVA signed up to Google Apps for Work when it was free for small businesses and organisations. Amongst other things it gives us RVA-labelled email accounts for all staff and some useful nicknamed accounts (email@example.com etc.), shared work calendars, and online document writing that can be shared and/or published. Google Apps for Work now charges a fee per user per month. However, there is a lot that can be achieved with a simple individual Gmail account (free) and we are listing a few of the services individually. You can also read about this on www.communityhowto.com/tools/communicate-your-community/newsletters-emails/google-apps
- Turn your docs into PDFs (Portable Document Format)
When sending documents via email, unless the object is for the recipient to be able to edit, it’s a good idea not to attach ‘live’ word processed documents. For one thing, if the recipient doesn’t have the same software version, the document formatting may not reproduce as you intend and it may not print out properly. For another, it does give recipients the scope to alter and pass on, or create documents or invoices using your branding etc. PDFs aren’t a cast iron barrier to this but they do help. Many applications such as Microsoft Office can make PDFs with existing software but if not, we’ve downloaded Cute PDF. It’s free, and simply adds the PDF writer to your printer options and you select this as your ‘printer’ for the document concerned. In turn this will save your PDF as a separate file to the original format in which it was created and you can attach this to your email.
- Website tracking system
We use analytics to gather statistics about our various websites so that we can tell what is popular and what is not, helping us monitor effectiveness and report to our funders. If your website is built using WordPress you can use WordPress’s own comprehensive statistics – if not we recommend adding Google Analytics to your site’s web pages.