Quick Tips: Make your photos look great

There’s no substitute for having a great graphic designer, whether that’s in house or as a trusted on call contractor.  However, if your organization’s communications and/or development plan includes maintaining some social media accounts or blogging, then you need a way for the person staffing those accounts to create images that serve you well.

I don’t think I should need to say it, but great writing is not enough on the web.  Whatever you’re using, you need to mix up your media, and it all needs to be a) reasonably high quality and b) brand appropriate.  I’ll get to a primer on gifs, video, and data presentation some other time.  Today, let’s focus on images, and a tool that I’ve been enjoying recently: PicMonkey.


  • It’s pretty easy to mess around with.  Taste is harder to come by, so make sure you have the right person using it, but you can make things look good, tailored, processed, etc. in any combination using mostly automatic functions.  If you’re really good, you can make it sing…but that’s the best measure of a tool: can you become functional with it quickly (yes, I think), and can you keep getting better (pretty infinitely).
  • It’s a very good way to layer text (with a mindbogglingly vast selection of fonts) over photos.  That’s something simple and easy, conceptually, that can enhance your pinterest, twitter, or Facebook feed…and  this tool makes it trivial to execute.  (You’ve got to come up with good photos and good words – that’s still hard – but putting it together doesn’t need to be)
  • The price is right for nonprofit use.  You can get decent mileage out of their free version, but the cadillac version (they call it Royal) is all of $33 for the year.

Give it a try.  You may even enjoy the collage feature – ask some of your clients/community members/whatever term applies for the people who are at the heart of your mission and operations to share 5 shots each that they feel captures your organization.  Combine them in house.  Not only are you likely to come up with some shareable and feel-good images, but you’re likely to learn something essential about perspectives on your work.  Zero risk, and the chance you might find a new angle that will resonate deeply with donors, and other tidbits to put in your pocket for the next big solicitation push.

Quick Tip: Document Management


I’m pretty good about tracking where my documents are – I work virtually with most clients, so I have to keep track of different drafts of this and that, all my notes, etc.  And between email attachments stored in my inbox, my drop box account, my google drive, my laptop, my external hard drive (I have a lot of data – a big stationary computer was cheaper than adding tons of memory to my cute little mac air)…if I *do* lose track of something, it can take a while to sort through everything and find the proverbial needle in the haystack.  And really, it’s haystacks, plural.So, I’m pretty excited to try this: Ooberdocs.

It downloads incoming email attachments to your dropbox, and then sends you a text to tell you about it.  It seems like a great idea, very straightforward value proposition.  Consolidate your haystacks…

Quick Tips: Leadership Styles in Different Cultures

Have you ever read academic analyses on different cultural norms and hierarchies and decision-making processes in different cultures (in this case, I’m linking to an article that means “nations” when they say “cultures” – it’s a good example.)?

I love trying to wrap my head around the charts – they’re meant to be obvious, I assume, but I find them anything but.  The upshot of that is a good reminder to me of how challenging it can be to truly understand different ways of working within the world.  We in the US tend to do a terrible job of appreciating other forms of leadership, particularly any that don’t place individualism as a top priority.

Check out the diagrams from Richard Lewis’ “When Cultures Collide” – it’s not just a fun exercise to expand your understanding of management alternatives, it’ll expand your understanding of management alternatives!

Mr. Lewis describes American managers as “assertive, aggressive, goal and action oriented, confident, vigorous, optimistic and ready for change.  They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom and their first interest is in furthering their own career.”

In the event that this doesn’t describe you or your workplace, some of these alternatives may help you appreciate how very many other systems are out there, and you can look to this cross-cultural literature to help you bridge the gap between you and your American workplace.

Quick Tips: Good content deserves good delivery

I had the pleasure of stumbling across a nice take on creativity from Mr. Preston Trombley, a musician and artist and Toastmaster.  His 7 minutes on Beethoven, Einstein and You is a great Monday morning pick me up.

So why am I linking and not embedding?  Well, the video quality is unfortunate.  Shaky cam, shot vertically, and while Mr. Trombley uses the room effectively, the videographer hasn’t really planned for that, so there’s a lot of quick pans to keep him in frame.  It’s bad enough that I feel it needs a warning (it may make you nauseated; feel free to just listen to it instead of watching), and also a disclaimer – that I know it’s terrible production quality, but I think the content is worth a listen anyway.

Two things to take from this: first, you have it in you to be a more creative person…but also – be sure that you’re not obscuring whatever messages you have for the world by not taking the time to master the basics of new technologies as they whiz by us.   Read more

Quick Tips: Development Impact Toolkit

I love passing on interesting tools I come across online in the course of my paying work.  The latest is a website called Development Impact & You (DIY).  Their tagline is “practical tools to trigger and support social innovation.”

I’m not so sure that all of their forms are easy to simply download and use effectively, but there’s a clean structure to everything they’ve put up so far – for anyone looking to provoke important conversations about organizational effectiveness or internal processes, using these can make you look polished and authoritative.  As far as how useful they are, well, they’re tools.  You’re going to have to wield them well if you want them to work for you.

Start here, on their Tools page.  Enjoy!

Quick Tip: Waterlogue

I don’t get paid to plug anything.  But I love to share my excitement about products that make my life easier or more pleasant…and this one makes me look like a graphic genius with my consulting work.  (And while I have a good eye, I have very few execution skills.  I need my tools!)

Don’t worry – after handing over a few files, I tell them how I did it…my consulting philosophy is always to provide a platter of fish and rod at the same time.  The best way to earn new work is always to be so good that you’re working on referrals more than repeat business…after a while, folks start to wonder why they’re paying you. AGAIN.

Here’s my “secret” new toy: Waterlogue.  For $2.99 (at the time this post was published), you can turn low grade photos into passable art for your organization’s publications, website, tumblr, Pinterest, and/or prints for donors.

That last one is a fun idea.  Snap some not so great photos at the gala?  They’ll be much better as watercolors.  And your donors won’t see it coming – they’ll be impressed and delighted, you’ll come across as memorably sophisticated.  Wins, all around.  You’re welcome.

Quick Tips: .ngo coming soon

The Public Interest Registry, otherwise known as “the folks who operate the .org domain,” a website distinction that the general public expects to see in its nonprofits these days, is going to be rolling out a new set of domains this summer for NGOs.

If you think your organization would benefit from such a domain (like with .org, you’ll have to prove you meet their eligibility requirements – that protects the value of the domain, since the general public can be sure that you are, in fact, a legitimate NGO if you have a .ngo web address), you can express an interest now, and get future updates directly from them.

Yes, it might be a hassle if you’re already up and running with a website to switch and/or invest in staking your claim to the right domain name…but before you make any decisions based on current financial or labor annoyances/complications, put some thought into what you are losing or gaining in shorthand communication, public reputation, and donor trust.  (The answer may be “not much” – in which case, ignore this new wrinkle completely.  Just make an informed call, OK?)

Quick Tips: Online Survey Tools

I often use online surveys in my consulting work, and the existence of free and good survey tools is not a secret anyone should be keeping.  (Want meaningful results?  You’ll still hire someone who knows what questions to ask, who to ask, how to get them to fill out your forms, and how to interpret the answers.  But I’m honestly shocked at the number of people who just don’t know they can build a survey cheaply or for free.)

Here are some of my favorites. Read more

Quick Tips: Purge cliches from your writing

Particularly useful for fundraisers who write a lot of copy, there are two tools that I’ve taken to using more and more since I’m now a solo practitioner who gets a lot of work done in the hours after the rest of my house has gone to bed.

Now, please don’t get too excited about my violating my own “sleep, dammit” advice – the kid’s down at 8:30, the husband retires at 9:15 at the latest…but it’s not my own finest hour for creating inspired prose, which means I edit in the mornings.  Here are two tools I want you to know about.

Cliche Finder

It’s a web form…cut and paste your stuff in there and click the button that says “find cliches.”  Some cliches can be useful in a piece meant to appeal to public emotion…but cliches that aren’t a deliberate choice are probably doing you a disservice.  You spellcheck, right?  Cliche check.

The Passivator

OK, I don’t use this much, but then again, my first boss was the analog version of this bookmarklet that hunts out and scolds you for using the passive voice.  Thanks to him, I reflexively review my work for passive verbs and useless adverbs all on my own.  If you’re either starting out as a professional with writing duties or a mid-career professional who’s never developed into a star writer (it’s such an important job skill – good writers are in high demand, always), this tool might help.  (Again, it’s not *always* a no-no, but you want to be intentional about your choices and how they impact your readers.)  It’s a little more involved than a web tool, but worth installing and trying.


Do you know what mindmapping is?  The concept is pretty self-explanatory; it’s a way of organizing all the thoughts that are chaotically bubbling around in your head, putting them into a visual map so that you (or others) can come back to them later.  You’ve seen them on TV – the big crime solving boards on most police procedurals are one form of mind map…and you know they always solve the case, in about 50 minutes, so they must work, right?

Cool, you say.  So, I should be trying that?  Yes, but if this isn’t something you’re in the habit of doing these days, chances are that it seems hopelessly daunting, even if I tell you how useful it can be for some people.  Let’s see if we can break it down into easy to try pieces.   Read more