12 free tools to help your charity grow

By May 20, 2016

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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. Grant funding and hands on support for attracting investment

If you are considering social investment or a loan, but your organisation is too early stage, you might want to consider the Big Potential programme. The Big Potential Breakthrough programme is an opportunity for charities and social enterprises to access support and grant funding to help them reach a position where they could use repayable finance.

2. 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 free.

Grow Your Charity Online provides comprehensive guides to the Google for Non-Profits tools, including how to get the most out of YouTube, Google+ and Search.

3. Advertise online

AdWords, Google's online advertising program, is a great way to promote your mission among 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 and in which geographical areas and you can monitor its impact. Google AdGrants is the non-profit version of AdWords, 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.

4. 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. 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 and social enterprises. Charities with greater numbers of subscribers receive a 15% discount. If you’re looking to raise your profile, sharing your content is a great way to do this and Mailchimp’s email marketing guides are a good place to start.

5. 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.

6. 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. More sophisticated platforms, which allow multiple users to schedule content like Buffer and Hootsuite give non-profit organisations a 50% discount. Hootsuite also offer a complimentary service to help you improve your social media marketing.


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7. 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 but often require professional designers. These tools allow you to use your data and create your own infographics free:

8. 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, including Charity Bank loans, 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.

9. 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 tools to help organisations plan, measure and assess 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 featuring over 20 different quality and social impact frameworks for third sector organisations.
  • Are you over-measuring or under-measuring? The Charities Evaluation Services planning triangle tool helps charities decide on key deliverables and how to measure them.

10. 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 that just text on its own. Twitter research found that tweets including photos received a 35 per cent boost in retweets on average.

You can find free, high-quality images on sites like Pexels, then use Canva to turn them into shareable graphics for use on social media or your website.

11. Get help with your finances

There’s no need to soldier on alone when it comes to accounting. The Small Charities Coalition has a webpage dedicated entirely to Accounts & Finance, broken down into five categories:

  • Guides
  • Templates
  • Tools
  • Useful services
  • Useful webpages

Whether you’re seeking help with your taxes, have questions about reporting or need to learn more about changes to government policy, this site can point you in the right direction.

12. 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 recently 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:

  • Sustainability
  • 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.

And finally…

The Technology Trust aims to help charities spend less time worrying about technology and more time focusing on their mission. Through partnering with tech organisations, their tt-exchange programme gives charities up to 96% 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.

Disclaimer: This list is based on Charity Bank's research and first-hand experience. We hope you find it useful but please bear in mind that our suggestions don't serve as a guarantee of quality.