Imagine if you could boost your funding, raise your profile and improve your social impact without emptying your pockets? Here's a list of free tools to get you off to a great start.
1. Get free support to improve your charity business plan
A business plan is often treated as a document required to satisfy a particular funder. But in our view a good business plan is the backbone of a sustainable organisation. Charities and social enterprises that work on their business plans gain more control over their future and are able to reach more people. The Cranfield Trust shares business expertise with diverse charitable organisations and supports them to develop business plans for free.
Google for Nonprofits provides comprehensive guides and information to best make use of the Google tool suite, including how to get the most out of YouTube, Analytics and Search.
2. Advertise online
The Google Ads online advertising program is a great way to promote your mission among prospective donors, volunteers and other stakeholders. You can place an advert, which will be displayed to people who are already searching for things relevant to the work you do. These are the people most likely to respond to your message. You can choose where your ad appears, on which specific websites, in which geographical areas, the types of devices (smartphone or desktop), plus you can monitor its impact with just a few clicks. Google Ad Grants is the non-profit version of Google Ads, designed to help you promote your organisation online. If you meet the eligibility criteria the service is free until you've used $10,000 worth of advertising.
3. Develop strong relationships with stakeholders
Email newsletters are a great way to develop relationships with your stakeholders, update them or point them towards helpful information about your organisation. Mailchimp is a simple well-designed e-newsletter platform, which is free to use if you have fewer than 2000 subscribers, so it's perfect for smaller charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups. Charities with greater numbers of subscribers receive a 15% discount. If you’re looking to raise your profile, sharing your content via email is a great way to do this and Mailchimp’s email marketing guides are a good place to start.
4. Make your content work for you
Your content and the way in which you articulate your values and services are critical to attracting donors, volunteers, funders and service-users. How clear, friendly and helpful is the copy on your website? How compelling are your funding and award applications? How successful are your tweets? Professional writing support is one option, but it can be expensive, so you might consider recruiting an intern or volunteer to work on creating brilliant content for your organisation. The Hemingway App is a quick trick you can use to sharpen your writing. Just copy and paste and it will tell you if you’re being too wordy.
5. Schedule tweets and measure their impact
You can use Twitter Analytics free to gauge how many people your tweets are reaching and how engaged your followers are with your content. This is a useful guide to the sort of insight you can gain. You can prepare and schedule some of your tweets in advance using TweetDeck, alternatively there are more sophisticated platforms, that allow multiple users to schedule content like Buffer and Hootsuite which give non-profit organisations a 50% discount. Hootsuite also offer a complimentary service to help you improve your social media marketing.
6. Create infographics to raise awareness about your work
Good visual communication is essential to creating interest in what you do. Infographics are a useful tool for presenting data but often require professional designers. These tools allow you to create your own eye-catching infographics for free:
7. Get a free NCVO membership if your organisation's income is below £30,000
Members of NCVO receive a range of benefits including discounts on products and services, access to learning tools, reports and trends, 30% off NCVO conferences and training and sign-posting through a member-only help desk. See the full range of benefits here.
8. Find free tools to help you improve your social impact measurement
If you're looking to develop your social impact measurement these tools can help:
- Inspiring Impact is a great platform, which offers a range of information and worksheets to help organisations plan, action, assess, and review their work on the basis of impact.
- Nesta's standards of evidence can help you determine what is good and what is bad evidence of positive impact.
- Social Value UK offers free tools and guidance, including a Self-Assessment Tool to help you judge how well your evaluation practices adhere to principles of best practice.
- The New Economics Foundation have put together a guide to help organisations recognise the value beyond standard financial measurement.
9. Make quick and easy eye-catching graphics
If there’s a particular quote or stand-out statistic to which you want to draw attention, presenting it in graphic form is likely to have a better impact than just text on its own. Research conducted by Twitter found that tweets including photos received a 35% boost in retweets on average.
10. Take time to analyse
It’s important to regularly step back from your daily activities and assess how effective your approach is, marking out areas for improvement. However, many charities struggle to find the time to invest in this, particularly smaller organisations. The Big Lottery Fund launched a free online tool to help voluntary, community and social enterprises identify areas for improvement.
The VSCE Strength Checker is designed to give time-poor organisations a considered overview of their activities. It asks a series of questions about your management, finances and actions and uses your answers to generate a personalised report, setting out both strengths and suggested areas of improvement. The results are broken down into six areas:
- Marketing and opportunities
- Strategy and planning
- Track record and capability
- Quality and impact
The findings can then be used to improve the resilience of your organisation and influence your strategy in future.
Charity Digital aims to help charities spend less time worrying about technology and more time focusing on their mission. Through partnering with tech organisations, their Charity Digital Exchange programme gives charities significant discounts off the retail price on software from Microsoft, Symantec and Adobe, among others. Not quite free, but close enough to merit inclusion.
For more suggestions take a look at this guide to measuring impact on the Guardian's Voluntary Sector Network.
Links/references to external providers should not be considered a recommendation or endorsement of those providers’ products and/or services.
About Charity Bank
Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1000 loans totalling over £300m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.
Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.