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The Best Productivity Tools (Part 2): Favorites Revealed

This post was originally published here (The TechSoup Blog)

Last week, we reported on a recent NetSquared London Meetup that investigated the IT tools that can be used to operate nonprofits inexpensively and effectively. We also showed how organizations can tackle the process of finding the tech that helps the most when you don’t necessarily have the time to research. In part 2, we look at people’s favorite tools.

The 50-plus people who attended the recent NetSquared London Meetup all had a chance to nominate and vote for their favorite productivity tools. was used to collect votes and, from the findings, a word cloud was produced showing the popularity of various tools.

NetSquared London co-organizer Kate White of Superhighways also put together an e-link list of all the tools that were mentioned in the show-and-tell section.

Here’s a roundup of some of the ones that generated the most discussion:

External Communications and Social Media

  • If you’re looking for an alternative to Meltwater‘s media monitoring capabilities, check out the list of PR tools on PRstack.
  • Tweetdeck is an old favorite, and entirely free for nonprofits. Tweetdeck allows you to filter through engagement of tweets. It’s also worth following Nick Pickles because he tweets about this stuff a lot.

Open-Source Tools

  • Open Data Kit helps you collect and manage data through a mobile app that works offline.
  • Open Function is an automated data integration tool that connects anything to anything (think Internet of things sensors connected to water pumps in mines).
  • Popular open-source CRM CiviCRM and a new product by its creators, CiviHR, an open-source HR platform for charities, were both recommended.

Open-source platforms allow scalability and greater control, but aren’t necessarily right for everyone. Check out the Open Charity meetup if you’re interested in learning more about open-source technologies.


  • You can link XERO with Expensify (an expenses tracker with a nice mobile app) and Receipt Bank (for tracking more email-based regular invoices and payments) via XERO’s app store.
  • Expensify could be good for volunteers who are notoriously bad at losing receipts!
  • Some nonprofit CFOs, if they’re more traditional, might be resistant to using digital tools. So it’s important to make a business case for whatever you opt for.

Internal Communications

  • It’s sometimes hard to explain why Slack is such a valuable tool. It’s free for up to 250 people and provides 85 percent discounts to nonprofits beyond that. It’s not only a messaging tool but also a control center for your charity; you can link it up to all sorts of other tools and automate many tasks. It glues together several disparate services, which means that non-technical people can easily get the information they need from technical tools. Slack’s bots tend to be underutilized in the nonprofit sector, but you could set up something where, for example, a server runs and checks data and delivers beautiful reports automatically. Take a look at the Slack Bots page for some inspiration.
  • Franz bundles all your messaging apps, be it different Slack channels or Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and even Gmail, into one app. That bundling is very handy when you’re a member of too many Slack groups.
  • Lots of people are using different video conferencing tools. Zoom offers high-quality hangouts, desktop sharing with chats, and breakout rooms. You can get unlimited 1-to-1 chats, then there’s a fee beyond that. One attendee ran a conference with 150 people over it.
  • is a beautiful in-browser video conferencing application with no login needed. It’s good for smaller groups of people.
  • Microsoft Teams is quite good in terms of stability and video chat.
  • Rather than use the GoToWebinar product, Woodcraft Folk uses GoToMeeting (discounts available to nonprofits through TechSoup) to host volunteer chats as a cheap and already-existing alternative to a webinar.
  • Microsoft Outlook only costs $6 for charities on TechSoup. Nonprofits can also access Gmail for Business through Google for Nonprofits, or Outlook 365 through Office 365 Nonprofit.


  • We all miss Sunrise! RIP. However, there are some alternative calendar tools. Calendly enables people to book meetings with you at times when you’re free.
  • You can also block out appointments in Google Calendar itself.
  • FindTime is part of Office 365 and does this too.


  • Canva is a popular and free illustrator and graphics tool. Also Desygner is great if you’re on-the-move designing.
  • Sketch is handy for web and mobile designing. It’s not free, but it does offer what’s essentially a more digital-oriented version of Photoshop. And it offers up to a 50 percent discount for nonprofits if you contact Sketch directly.
  • Photoshop and Premiere Elements donations are available to charities through TechSoup — so charities can get both for a bargain $27.
  • InVision and Marvel are prototyping tools in which you can have many people contribute and leave comments, like Google Docs for design. Balsamiq and Moqups are also great for beginner wireframing.
  • The Noun Project has a fabulous supply of free icons.
  • RealtimeBoard is a super useful real-time collaborative whiteboard to host your whole project — including text, images, and comments.
  • Piktochart is the easiest free tool that people have used for quickly creating infographics.
  • There are lots of articles on the web with lists of other great free design tools, including stock photos and infographic templates — here’s one example.

Web Analytics

  • Google Analytics is probably the easiest and most widely used analytics tool, and formidable when combined with Google Webmasters. It’s a must-have for all nonprofit websites. Google Tag Manager helps you add little bits to sites; for example, you can track conversions from social media onto your site. And check out Google Data Studio while you’re at it — there are tons of useful tools in there, as used by Action for Children.
  • Hotjar and Crazy Egg show heat maps that help you improve usability and user experience (but do make sure your privacy policy covers these!).
  • Optimizely is free for most organizations. It offers A/B testing without the need for any real design. It includes card sorting and tree tests to help you decide on your website navigation structure (and help people find things on your website more easily).
  • Instapage and Unbounce are both quite expensive, but if you’re getting a lot of traffic and want to improve conversions, they might be worth investing in.

Web Outreach

  • Having a Trustpilot rating gives you more real estate in Google Search and helps build and showcase trust in your organization. Feefo is a cheaper alternative with similar functionality.
  • A note of caution if you use HubSpot or Buffer to post to Facebook — people have found that posts don’t show up as much as if you post directly.
  • Social media ads and Google AdWords remain popular, and there are rumors that Google is building a new tool that enables nonprofits to have everything done automatically. … Watch this space!

Email Marketing

  • MailChimp is good for small organizations, but not enterprise-level. It’s also not EU privacy compliant, so be careful and assess your level of risk — look for the shield to find services that are!
  • Mailjet offers better data protection compliance for those in Europe because it’s a European version.
  • [Editor’s note: TechSoup also offers Informz for email marketing.]

Find out how charities can tackle the process of finding the tech that helps the most when you don’t necessarily have the time to research by reading part 1 of this series.

This blog post was written by Austin Clark. It was originally published on the Charity Digital News blog.

Image: Charity Digital News

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