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From the Idealware Blog: A Year End List of Lists

(originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

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. Read more ›


Recent Launches & News

Its been a busy week and about to get busier. Right now I am getting ready to head to the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco and I am really looking forward to meeting some longtime and new online friends while I am there. I’ll be interviewing my fellow Idealware bloggers too and posting the results on the Idealware blog soon.

Also this week we launched the Bailout Watch Web site – a group project by six leading organizations in government transparency. If you have been wondering where all that TARP money went or need some help understanding the who, what and where of the bailout, check out the Bailout Watch site. Find out more in our portfolio.

And one more thing… NRDC asked us to translate their Eat Local campaign design to this cute little widget that’s all kinds of handy for eating local and eating well. Just pick your location and the time of year and you’ll see what’s available fresh in your neighborhood. This was another fun one and I learned a lot working with Sean Fremouw of Free Flow Data about iWidgets, which allows for the widget’s functionality and ability to be shared on all the popular social network sites and more.

Its really fantastic to get to work on projects where I learn more about the issue and that I know I will use them myself.


New update on Sproutbuilder: free accounts & more projects

Yet another update to the Sproutbuilder flash widget builder going to a fee for service model. Today Sprout Inc. announced a new more generous policy including a limited (3 projects, only online support and possible ads) Free account option as well as more generous allotments in their other pricing plans.

When Sprout first announced their plans to make the beta service a full fledged paid product with no free plans many were concerned and some upset. Their users spoke up and it looks like Sprout Inc. listened. What they have arrived at seems like a reasonable pricing system, including 50% discounts for nonprofits on paid plans – which translates to 15 projects (sprout widgets) for $10/mo at the low end. They might have saved themselves some trouble if they had just started out here in the first place, but I’m just glad this is where things are ending up.


Updated: Sproutbuilder Widget making tool changes to paid

Sproutbuilder – a great drag and drop flash widget creation tool that has been a great boon for nonprofits trying to get their message out on blogs and Facebook etc. announced yesterday that they are moving to a paid model and will no longer be offering a free version.

Unfortunately this was handled a bit poorly with the information that there will be discounts for nonprofits buried in their FAQ and no real indication of what that will be. Also the timeline of the announcement – that you could be shut out of your account as soon as 2 weeks from now and no clear answer as to what happens to your published sprouts once this takes effect led to some panic and hot tempers.

Because I have been a vocal proponent of Sproutbuilder for nonprofits and have recommended it to clients and used it with clients already, I have been keeping an eye on the discussion on Twitter, news and blog feeds. There is good news. In response to Michelle Murrain’s very wise take on this at the Idealware blog, Carnet Williams posted the following:

“We are doing our best to provide Sprout free or at a highly discounted rate to NPOs. Meaning if you are a small nonprofit and not using a ton of our bandwidth, most likely free. If you are a large NGO with tons of traffic, we will discount the rate so we cover our COGs.

Michelle… you know I am going to do my best to make this type of powerful tool available to social change organizations… as long as I can keep my lights on.”

Combined with the interview he gave Adam Ostrow at Mashable, where it states that the intention is to keep Sproutbuilder available for free to nonprofits, I am optimistic at this point. However I would still like to see a public announcement from the company as to exactly what their plan and pricing structure is for these groups since most of the discussion I have seen from NPO’s is around what alternative service they can switch to.

So while I listen to Michelle’s sage advice and get my clients going on Plan B, I’ll continue to keep an eye and ear on the developments and will update here with what I find out.

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UPDATE

Received email from Sproutbuilder saying that there will be a grace period for existing users to sort themselves out and make a decision. Whew, good. Also that email will be sent to all nonprofits contacting them at pricing@sproutbuilder.com with details about the the special discount. So if you are in a nonprofit or educational institution, get your email in to them to receive the announcement when it comes out.

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UPDATE 2 : January 21, 2009

In their email newsletter Sprout has announced the following policy for nonprofits and educators –

Non-Profits and Educators:
Qualified non-profits and educators can contact us for discount pricing. Basic accounts will be free and 50% discounts will be offered for the other levels. Interested in pricing for your classroom? contact pricing@sproutbuilder.com with specific questions about pricing for education.

This means that up to 3 sprouts are free with some bandwidth limitations, 3-7 for $30/per month and over 7 sprouts will be $150 a month.


From the Idealware Blog

Should you use a volunteer or intern to do your social media?

(originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

Lately I have been doing some research about options for communications for Idealware and its become apparent that most organizations are hedging their bets with social media and cautiously dipping toes (sometimes more) into outreach on sites like My Space and Facebook. Everyone seems to agree on the potential of this area but its tricky to devote resources into getting involved in new arenas when resources are stretched tight as it is and desperately needed elsewhere.

One of the recurrent suggestions I keep hearing is to get a youngster (from teen to 30) that has a native understanding of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to help you out – like an intern or volunteer. Seems like a good idea to me, that keeps the organization up to date, open to new opportunities and avoids a painful (and expensive) learning curve for staff that are already a bit overwhelmed managing “older” technologies like the Web site CMS and CRM software.

So on the one hand, it seems like a great way to explore social media without a big investment in fledgling area that is not yet proven to really be effective. But on the other, something about hearing it over and over made me slightly queasy. Indulging in a little navel gazing I realized that it sounded an awful lot like what organizations were saying and doing about getting on the Web in the first place. “Our board member’s son is a whiz with that internet stuff and he can make us a Web site for free!”

Don’t get me wrong – a lot of talented and generous folks created Web sites for organizations that otherwise would not have been able to get online. And it was a good thing. But look at how we are now – most organizations would not dream of leaving such an important piece of their communications solely in the hands of an intern or volunteer based on their youth and tech skills.

Of course the land of social media is also a horse of an entirely different color. In general, it’s much more modular and less rigid, so it can evolve more gracefully than Web sites did in the past, reducing the risk involved. And organizations seem to consider it a supplemental outreach channel at best – but then weren’t Web sites once seen that way too?

So I still think enlisting young supporters is always a good idea and that playing to their strengths and knowledge of the new outreach channels just makes sense. But all of this just has me wondering if organizations will be saying something like “Oh, our [insert social media tool here] is so bad – it was done by a volunteer kid for us years ago – can you fix it?” at some point in the future. Will social media become so important that current experimental forays will come to haunt their organizations? I really don’t know.

What do you think? Will organizations regret not making a serious investment in this part of their communications now or will they be glad that they were smart enough to take advantage of the skills and smarts of low budget resources while getting under way? What started as a little brain tickle has piqued my curiosity and I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject.


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