Nonprofits face a unique challenge. Like for-profit organizations, you need to keep expenses low, but you don’t have an excess of income available to cover your costs. That means every dollar counts because when you can save on operating expenses, you have more money to put toward advancing your cause.
If you’re facing that challenge, you’re in luck. It's never been easier to run a nonprofit on a shoestring budget. Whether you’re working from a laptop or a smartphone, you can download a few key apps and communicate with volunteers and coworkers, manage your ongoing projects, and stay on schedule. But with so many apps, how do you know how to find the best bargains?
That’s where we come in. We’ve put together a list of some low-cost or free apps that your nonprofit can use to run efficiently without spending money.
Marketing and Promotion
Accomplishing your nonprofit’s goals likely means getting the word out about the great work you’re doing. Whether you’re planning a big fundraiser or hoping to recruit volunteers to help out, you’ll at least need to make a small investment in marketing and promotion.
Although paid advertising can take a big slice of your operating budget, in some instances, a little money can pay off. There are things you can do for free or little money that will make a big difference, though. Here are some apps to consider for your marketing campaigns.
- Buffer — You’ve probably already heard how crucial it is to have an active social media presence. With Buffer, you can schedule tweets and posts, making sure you provide a steady stream of useful content. You may not realize it, but nonprofits get a 50 percent discount on Buffer’s Publish service.
- Facebook — Facebook Pages have become notoriously ineffective at reaching audiences organically, but that just means you need to refine your approach. Here’s where a little paid advertising can come in handy, but you can also use your presence to post in local community groups about your organization.
- Google Analytics — You likely already know how useful this free tool is for monitoring your marketing campaigns. But you can also apply for free advertising through an Ad Grant.
- Mailtrack — What happens on the other end once you’ve sent an email? Mailtrack is a free Gmail extension that notifies you when your emails are opened.
- Patreon — If your nonprofit provides advice to others in the form of a podcast or blog, you can bring in a little extra money through a Patreon account.
Branding is just as important for nonprofits as it is for for-profit corporations. Everything from your logo to the font you use on your website communicates with the public. Whether you have a talented designer on staff or you plan to outsource some of your design, there are tools you can use to save money. Here are a few of our favorites.
- WordPress — At one time, website design cost a small fortune, requiring commissioning a professional. But today you can access templates that allow you to customize. WordPress is the most affordable website hosting option available, and the right template can make it easy to use.
- Canva — Registered nonprofits can get this graphic design tool for free. Drag and drop items to create banners, ads, presentations, and more. You’ll have access to more than a million images in the Canva library or you can upload your own. In addition to creating graphics, you can also use Canva for photo editing.
- PicMonkey — If you’re ready to get serious about making graphics and banners, PicMonkey is the tool for you. You can take advantage of the extensive template library or start from scratch using your own images or stock photos. The app is free to try out and you can even export an image and use it for seven days before your subscription kicks in.
- Pexels — When you need stock images for your marketing efforts, Pexels is a great resource. Every photo on Pexels is free for commercial use, with no attribution required. There are thousands of images loaded on the site, including some that are tagged with the nonprofit organization label.
Administration and Office Management
The backbone of operations for any organization is its administrative team. Whether your nonprofit has a staff of one or 100, technology is essential to accomplishing daily tasks. But traditional software can be pricey, especially if you’re already paying for basics like Office 365. If you can find a way to cut costs in other areas, you may be able to invest in more robust tools for tasks like incentivizing fundraising and generating leads. Here are a few free and low-cost tools we love for administration and office management.
- Bench — There are free accounting and invoicing tools, but the more you can automate, the less likely you’ll be to pay the high hourly costs for bookkeeping and tax preparation. Bench starts at $139 a month and gives you access to online bookkeepers who can handle all your accounting tasks for you.
- DocSketch — Contracts are a part of business as usual, especially for organizations that operate with heavy oversight, like nonprofits. With DocSketch, you take the “paper” out of paperwork by collecting and saving signatures electronically. The software is free for up to three documents per month, then ranges from $8 to $24, depending on the number of senders and templates you want.
- Humanity — One feature that sets many nonprofits apart is the need to manage multiple hourly workers and volunteers. If you have to generate and send schedules, Humanity can help. Pricing ranges from $3 to $5 per user per month, with a free trial to let you try it out.
Communication and Collaboration
Not everyone can be in the same room every day. Communication and collaboration tools allow your teams to interact whether they’re down the hall or on the other side of the country. By using these tools, you can open up your hiring and recruiting processes, outsourcing tasks to freelancers or working with virtual assistants rather than hiring someone locally. You can also more easily keep volunteers up to date, since they can connect by logging into a website rather than traveling to your location. Here are some tools that can help keep everyone in your organization in touch.
- WhatsApp — Your members may be personally aware of WhatsApp, but the business version can help nonprofits. Once set up, you can choose a cell or landline number as your nonprofit’s contact number, then reuse messages, set up greetings, label contacts, and more.
- Gmail — As the global leader in email, Gmail is worth considering. Chances are, your volunteers will be using their personal email accounts with you. If you’re using Gmail, too, you can get Gmail-to-Gmail benefits, including sharing calendars.
- Slack — Slack makes it easy to interact with your volunteers and employees in real time. Although the basic plan is free, nonprofits can access extended benefits at a discount.
- Zoom — Nothing compares to face-to-face communication. When you can’t all be in one space, Zoom can help with that. Host online videoconferences and webinars and set up conference rooms to encourage teams to schedule meetings through the platform. For one-on-one meetings, the app is free, with team plans starting at $14.99 per month.
- Skype — Like Zoom, Skype is known as a videoconferencing tool, but you can also use it to make free international calls. You can also call mobile phones and landlines overseas for a small fee.
Project and Task Management
As with many other aspects of operations, nonprofits deal with large projects and daily tasks. A good tool can help you keep track of everything from your upcoming fundraising drive to your annual holiday party. Here are a few affordable project and task management tools.
- Bitrix24 — If you’re looking for a free project management tool to get you started, Bitrix24 is a great one. You’ll also get a CRM and contact center, as well as a website creator. You can set up your projects with the view you prefer, then pull reports to monitor progress.
- Trello — Businesses love Trello as a tool for managing projects and resources. But nonprofits find it useful, too. The free version of Trello should be more than sufficient for most organizations. You’ll probably only need to upgrade to a paid plan if you’ll be filling your boards with a regular dose of large file attachments.
- Monday — If you have a little money to spend, this project management tool may be more to your liking. With plans starting at $39 per month, you’ll get a tool that each employee can customize to fit individual preferences.
- ClickUp — Another free project management tool, ClickUp combines tasks with document management, chat, and goal setting. Choose the view you prefer and import information from your favorite productivity apps to save time.
Manage it all with Shift
Once you’ve put together your business’s app toolkit, get even more organized by keeping everything in one place. With Shift, you can easily toggle between apps with no logins or passwords required once you’re set up. As your nonprofit grows, you’ll find that this easy access saves time and keeps your teams on track. Download Shift to start running your nonprofit more efficiently today!