In the process of managing non-profits and startups, I’ve used many different online tools to better enable collaboration and communication in organizations. Through the years, I’ve tried many different tools, and now think I have a pretty good list. Please bear in mind that the three dimensions I’m optimizing across are ease of use, reliability, and cost. I am still looking for solutions in two major areas, and would love suggestions if anyone has them.
Website Hosting: I’ve tried self hosting, as well as many different online hosts. If you have a good technical person on board, and REALLY have the need for something advanced (cron jobs, RoR, significant processing needs), try either dedicated hosting or colocation. For dedicated hosting, I really like Softlayer. For NYC based colocation, I really like Pilosoft. For most website hosting needs, all you need is a good shared hosting provider. I highly recommend NearlyFreeSpeech. They are extraordinarily cheap for low traffic websites, and I have yet to see them go down. I do NOT recommend GoDaddy, or NameCheap for web hosting.
DNS Hosting: Normally I just use my domain registrant, or my webhost, for DNS hosting. However, if I really need to be anonymous, I will use FreeDNS.
Email Needs: I used to use my own mail servers, but now, I completely rely on Google Apps. If you are a registered 501-c3 organization, you can also get GoogleApps Education and Google Checkout for free. Therefore you get the hyped up version of Google Apps, as well as free payment processing!
Actual Website:: I am now a total WordPress convert. It started as a blogging software, but has grown to become a very very stable content management system. I’ve tried other CMS like Joomla and Drupal, but they are really really complicated to work with.
Internal Website: Mediawiki, the software behind Wikipedia, is great for internal websites. Any member can just click on edit and then add or remove information. I’ve tried other wiki installations, but none are easier to maintain than MediaWiki.
UPDATE 1: I’ve since tried out “Google Sites”, an app that’s part of the ever expanding Google Apps, and found it even superior to Mediawiki. Here you’ll also be able to easily manage spreadsheets and files!
Phone Service: For those who simply need a phone number, but don’t necessarily want to answer it all the time, I highly recommend the currently freeGrandCentral if you can secure an invitation. If you can’t secure an invitation, you can use RingCentral.
Fax Service: For a great fax to email service, definitely try RingCentral.
Conference Call Service: Unless you really need a toll-free number, I highly recommend FreeConferenceCall. There is a short message in the beginning of the call saying this is a service provided by freeconferencecall.com, but do you really mind?!
Forms, Spreadsheets and Documents: I really like GoogleDocs (part of Google Apps mentioned above) for simple spreadsheets that are shared between multiple people, i.e. financial projections between executive committee members. However, if you need to construct a nice looking form to accept information, Google Spreadsheet really sucks. I’ve found Zoho Creator to be absolutely amazing in that respect though. They even allow for scripted actions like automatically sending an email using data you just collected as acknowledgment. For example, at the New York Interscholastic Mathematics League, we use it to collect registration information.
Business Banking: I am starting to really like Chase Business banking. They have a pretty high monthly service charge, but one that can be waived if you open a business credit card and charge any amount on it each month. So simply have your credit card make 1 dollar monthly payment onto Paypal.
Newsletter: I’ve tried out Constant Contact and they are a great service provider. Unfortunately, they are also decently expensive (15 dollars a month) for organizations starting out. I’ve tried open source solutions like Dadamail and Phplist and they are both too difficult to use for any normal human being. If anyone knows of any good newsletter provider, hosted or not, I would LOVE to know.
Project Management This is an area I’ve tried many tools and just can’t quite get used to any of them. BaseCamp seems to be the best at the moment, but they are REALLY expensive. Also, I STILL don’t know the difference between milestones and tasks. Ever since Activecollab betrayed the open source community, it has started to really suck even as a tool. I have found Collabtive to be a really good imitation of BaseCamp, but not nearly as polished. So if someone knows of a good project management tool, I would love to know.
So there you go, my years of trying out different tools boiled down onto one blog post!