Online collaboration tools are not just for that migratory flock of birds, the mobile web worker — those strange folk who appear to alight for brief meetings in far-flung Starbucks, then scatter, like starlings, to cooler climes.
I keep an eye on the growing catalog of these tools not just because I deeply envy the starlings of this world, but because nonprofits need mobile capabilities, too. And lots of these tools are free, nearly free, or just totally worth the dough.
Online collaboration tools should be of interest to any nonprofit that serves any sort of geographically dispersed constituency. This goes for larger regional, national, and international organizations with lots of field offices and branches, but also for the smaller nonprofit that just can’t deliver its programs to every nook and corner of its service area.
So yes, pretty much everyone should care.
Here are five online collaboration tools that I think could be helpful to nonprofits, either in internal (project management) or external (program delivery) applications:
- Basecamp – Very popular web-based project management software that I have just started using in earnest. Upload files, share to-do lists, live chat, and track progress efficiently in one central spot. Great stuff.
- ooVoo – Free, online video conferencing. I’m personally curious about delivering small workshops and seminars to far-flung locales using this multi-user interface that has been getting rave reviews from beta testers. However, ooVoo can only handle six viewers at a time, so for larger classes I might look into using
- uStream – I used this recently when I was at NewBcamp in Providence, and was impressed with the alongside-chat capability, as well as the ability to archive the videostream — and the chat –if desired. Again, potentially very useful for long-distance learning.
- Jott – I use Jott almost daily to record the thoughts and reminders that only seem to occur to me when I’m in my car. I’ve got the Jott phone number on speed-dial, I call, leave myself a message, and it’s waiting for me, reliably transcribed, in email form when I get home. When summer comes, and I’m managing a team of people in four different locations at once, I hope to test-drive this service as a one-to-many messaging application. Although I am always ready to try a potential upgrade of a similar service, and Web Worker Daily just turned me on to
- Pinger – which also looks like it could rock.
Those are the newer, somewhat sexier ones on my radar. Some of them have been around for a while, but have only just started to impress me as potentially useful for nonprofit program delivery and program management.
Here are the five, somewhat more pedestrian ones that I already love, use often and with gusto, and really would hate to have to do without:
- Google Calendar – About six months ago my group switched from a hand-written wall calendar to Google Calendar, and the change has been phenomenal. There is one central calendar for the organization (which everyone can view and edit), and then every member of the team has their own calendar, which they invite others to view (and not edit). You can toggle your view on and off to view different calendars simultaneously. And, of course, we can access our schedules even when we are miles away in our 100+ mile service region
- Google Docs – Again, remote access, combined with the convenience of having a file being reviewed and edited by several people at once stored in one handy place, with no confusion about which version is the most recent version. I’ve mostly used the word and spreadsheet bits, but am planning to use the slideshow option very soon, after a particularly bad date recently with PowerPoint.
- WordPress – I like to set up group blogs for working with groups of constituents that are working together on a project, who meet only occasionally, who need to get to know each other better, and who aren’t comfortable enough with technology to use a wiki consistently. I don’t know why, but blogs just seem to be more user-friendly. Also, I like teaching people how to blog because it empowers them to use technology in their own voice. Once somebody starts on a group blog, it’s easy for them to make the cognitive leap into blogging for themselves, to feed their own heads and serve their own passions.
- Twitter – Yes, it’s a collaboration tool. I’ve sent out calls for help through Twitter more than once, and each time I have gotten feedback that either solved my problem or sent me in the right direction for a solution. Twitter is a great “lifeline” call, especially if you are careful (as I am) to follow lots of very clever people.
- Skype – Free phone calls. What’s not to love?
What are your favorites? And which ones are you thinking about using in creative ways, bending them to your nonprofit will?