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Wednesday, 21 October 2020


The free productivity tools every small charity should be using

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Richard James is a director of Jolly Good Communications, a social enterprise providing a full range of communications and public relations services to charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profits. They also work with start-ups and SMEs, helping them to operate in a socially, environmentally and ethically conscious way.

Digital technology is having a massive impact on every sector, and charity is no different. From fundraising to service provision, developments in tech are shaping how charities operate and exist. Many of these are developed specifically with charities in mind, especially when we look at fundraising solutions that have entered the market in recent years.

However, while not specifically designed for charities, there is a growing selection of options available which can also help charities improve their communication, efficiency, and productivity – factors which can ultimately improve their impact. Importantly, a lot of these tools offer free versions perfectly suited to small charity teams, so there’s little excuse for not giving them a go.

Project management: Asana or Trello

Whatever their individual role, working for a small charity can bring a lot of responsibility, accountability and pressure. With teams so often punching above their weight, juggling multiple responsibilities, it can be easy to get lost under a mountain of tasks and ‘to-do’ lists.

Organising your short, medium and long-term tasks and goals helps to separate the wood from the trees and enable you to plot a course through them. Thankfully, there’s now Asana and Trello, two free-to-use apps which provide all the features you need to say goodbye to post-it notes and ‘to do’ lists. The easy-to-use project and task management software can be a game-changer for small organisations looking to tighten up their processes, or for managers who like an overview of what their staff is working on.

Because it’s free, there’s nothing financially stopping you introducing it for your team (additional features are available to paid subscribers if a little more functionality is needed). One word of warning – a badly managed Asana account or Trello board can be a daunting prospect, so staying on top of your tasks is vital. Thankfully, there are a lot of great tips out there for improving your use so you can make the most of what it has to offer.

Collaboration and communication: Teams or Slack

Slack has long been a firm favourite of startups and SMEs, especially those with a remote or part-time workforce, providing a means for communication beyond email, where multiple people can host and partake in conversations and share files. It’s perfectly suited to small charity teams who might not have much crossover contact time in the office (if they even have one).

A more recent addition to this space is Microsoft’s Teams, which is now free. This wasn’t always the case, but in mid-2018 Microsoft took the long-overdue decision to introduce a free tier for smaller organisations, something that has seen the app grow its user base considerably, with it officially Microsoft’s fastest-growing app of all time.

This entry-level offering accommodates up to 300 users, 10GB of team storage (plus additional 2GB per person for personal storage) and has built-in audio and video calling for individuals, select groups and whole teams. Being a Microsoft product, it is also fully integrated with Office, with built-in holy trinity of Word, Excel and PowerPoint used by the vast majority of organisations everywhere.

Time Tracking: Toggl

Time tracking might be something you more readily attribute to freelance or agency work, but there’s a strong argument for more accurate recording across the charity sector, not least for fundraising, where the greatest resource is often time (or lack thereof), and the biggest challenge making the most of it. Knowing where time has been spent is the first step to strategically deciding where to invest it in future, so tracking it is imperative. This mentality is also applicable for core team hours spent on different activities, giving an organisation greater clarity on how much time and resources really are going on charitable activities as opposed to core costs.

Toggl is just one example, offering both free and paid-for options depending on your level of need (including discounts for charities and not-for-profits). While requiring more input from the user than fully automated offerings, it can arguably help users be more mindful of what they are doing at any given time.

File storage: Tresorit

With a free service for registered charities, a whopping 1TB of storage provided and a particular emphasis on data security, Tresorit is one of the lesser-known cloud storage platforms. However, it is also one that requires serious consideration. With GDPR now fully in effect, and the increasing danger of data hackers targeting charities, Tresorit’s end-to-end encryption means your files, documents and potentially sensitive information regarding service users and supporters have never been safer.

While the number of free users per charity account being capped at five means costs could add up for larger organisations (additional users are added on a paid subscription basis), it is a perfect solution for small charities which take their data protection seriously.


Milanote is an easy-to-use tool to organize your ideas and projects into visual boards.

Milanote is a tool for organizing your ideas and projects into visual boards. Collect everything in one place – Organize visually – Invite your team – Sign up for free. An infinite workspace. For individuals & teams. Available on all devices. Safe & secure.

This is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list and any charity looking to adopt new digital technology should look into alternatives, too. However, there’s plenty here to get any small charity started in pursuit of a more efficient, streamlined organisation.

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