Who doesn’t love free stuff?
Free cookies? I’m there.
Free lunch? Even better. (And I don’t care if I need to sit through a seminar to get it!)
In nonprofit land, our smaller budgets force us to get scrappy and resourceful. And that means we tend to get even more excited about the free stuff that comes our way.
In the spirit of nonprofit scrappiness, this week I’m sharing some of my favourite free finds. These online tools, websites, and apps will help you with marketing, scheduling, productivity, graphics, and more – and all without spending a dime! We were inspired by our friend Cindy Wagman of The Good Partnership, who recently shared her own list of fave freebies.
Here’s the list of 20 free tools to make your nonprofit life easier:
Calendly:If your job involves booking a lot of one-on-one appointments (for example, client meetings, interviews, auditions, etc.) then Calendly is a great online tool to simplify this process. Calendly syncs with your calendar and allows you to set up your booking preferences (for example, no meetings after 5pm). Then, you can share your Calendly link with others, they pick a time based on your availability, and the event is scheduled in your calendar.
Doodle: For meeting scheduling – or decision making – with lots of participants or busy people, Doodle is a much-loved lifesaver. This online poll tool allows you to set up as many options as you’d like, then have participants enter their availability or preferences. No more endless group email chains to schedule a meeting!
SignUp: SignUp is an excellent option for volunteer or event scheduling. You can create shifts, participants easily select the slots they want, swap with each other if needed, and then you can print calendars and rosters based on the sign-ups. Using SignUp Basic, the free version, you’re only allowed one organizer, but you can invite unlimited participants and send unlimited email messages to your group.
To make things pretty:
Canva: Because who can afford Adobe Photoshop on a nonprofit budget? There are lots of free design tools out there, but Canva is our favourite! Using their intuitive interface, you can design a huge variety of graphics using their free online platform, with templates for social media images, email headers, flyers, posters, postcards, infographics, programs… the list goes on. Plus, they have a library stocked with free clipart and photos (and some paid options.)
Piktochart: Piktochart is very similar to Canva, but with more options for laying out text as opposed to image-heavy graphics. If you’re looking to design an infographic, report, or presentation, Piktochart is a great option with lots of free templates and illustrations available.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): If your design skills are more advanced, GIMP is another free graphic design option. This open-source program is more advanced and the closest option alternative to Photoshop’s functionality in terms of photo editing and manipulation.
WordArt.com: Word clouds are an effective way to visualize your content, but making one from scratch is time-consuming. WordArt.com lets you simply copy and paste your text to create a word cloud. You can remove common words, change the overall image shape and colour palette, and download your final graphic.
BatchGeo: Do you need to visualize your data on a map? BatchGeo lets you create interactive online maps by simply uploading a spreadsheet. With the free version of this program, your maps are hosted on BatchGeo’s site. You’ll get an embed link, and you can decide whether to share the maps publicly, with a select group, or to keep it entirely private.
For your fundraising and marketing needs:
HootSuite: HootSuite is a dashboard for your social media marketing and management. You can manage all your organization’s accounts in one place, monitor your newsfeeds and mentions, bulk schedule messages, and keep your eye on hashtag trends. The free version allows you to link up to three accounts. If you don’t like Hootsuite’s platform, Buffer is an alternative social media management dashboard – but their free version only allows you to link one account.
MailChimp: MailChimp is the household name of email marketing. Using MailChimp, you can create lists, manage sign-ups, design and schedule email campaigns, and even set email automations (for example, to auto-welcome new supporters to your organization, or say happy birthday to volunteers). The free version allows you to have up to 2,000 email subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails per month. If you want to check out your other options, FreshMail and MailerLite are alternatives, but their free plans are not as comprehensive as MailChimp’s.
The Hemingway App: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” Hemingway’s philosophy is shared by this free web tool and desktop app, which makes your writing “bold and clear.” The Hemingway Editor allows you to input your writing, then provides a readability score, as well as suggestions to improve simplicity and readability. Great for direct marketing campaigns!
DonorBox: DonorBox is a free(-ish) option for creating online donation forms that integrate into your website, as well as processing one-time and recurring donations. If you receive less than $999 in donations per month, the platform itself is free, except for credit card processing fees.
CanadaHelps: Canadahelps is a platform that accepts and receipts online gifts on behalf of Canadian charities. The platform deducts a minimal processing fee to cover their costs (they’re a charity themselves), and distributes the balance along with donor information to the charity. All charities with a registration number are automatically signed up, and the giving pages are customizable. This is a great option for accepting online donations when you have absolutely no budget.
Coschedule Headline Analyzer: If you get stuck every time you have to write a blog title, or an email newsletter subject line, you can use this headline analyzer to give you some feedback. The headline analyzer give you feedback on word choice, length, keywords, and sentiment, and will give you helpful tips for improvement along the way.
To stay productive:
Boomerang for Gmail: Using Gmail for work emails? This free plugin brings your free inbox to the next level. It offer email scheduling, read receipts, readability ratings, and reminders to follow up if your emails are unanswered. (The scheduling capabilities are perfect if, like me, you tend to be composing emails at midnight. You can delay delivery until business hours and no one’s the wiser.) The free version caps the number of scheduled messages at ten per month.
Slack: Slack is a communication platform designed to bring small- and medium-sized teams together. Think of it as a chatroom/direct-message/Dropbox hybrid. With team direct messaging, group messaging, file sharing, and video and voice calling, all your conversations are recorded and searchable on the platform. Slack lets you cut down on email, especially the ones where you “just have a quick question” or want to say “thanks.” This tool is especially perfect for teams with remote employees, but will work in any setting. The free version offers less features than the paid upgrades, but most of the functionality is available for free.
Evernote: Evernote is advertised as “your second brain.” This free app and browser plugin lets you capture, share, and organize notes from anywhere. Think: jotting down your strokes of brilliance, keeping to-do lists, saving interesting internet links. You can organize your notes in folders, and share individual notes or entire folders with others to collaborate in teams.
For records management:
Sumac: Sumac is a nonprofit software solution. The baseline software is a customer relationship management (CRM) database which can be used to manage records for donors, board members, volunteers, clients, and customers. The free version includes one user and up to 500 contacts in the database. For $20 per month, you can have up to 1000 contacts, plus add-ons like membership management, volunteer scheduling, case management, event ticketing, and more.
For staying in-the-know:
Google News Alerts: Set up keywords (like, say, the name of your charity, or your cause) and receive alerts every time they’re mentioned in the news. This tool is perfect for media monitoring or staying abreast of trends in your sector.
TheSkimm: TheSkimm is a free daily e-newsletter that breaks down the day’s biggest headlines in an approachable, digestible format that takes less than 5 minutes to read. And it’s delivered around 6:30 am every morning, making it the perfect breakfast or commute read.
Co-Founder, Charity Savant
Sasha Elford is a volunteer manager, fundraiser, and communications professional who has many years of experience working with nonprofits, from the local to the national. As the brains behind Karma Careers, Sasha’s passion is developing and engaging human capital – volunteers and new talent – in the nonprofit sector.