Nonprofits should take advantage of RSS

Lori Halley 25 April 2007 7 comments

One of my favorite things about Web 2.0 tools is that they help me make sense of the enormous amount  of information, blogs and news available on the web. Instead of going to 10 or 20 websites and typing their addresses or even going through my bookmarks, all my favorite web resources can be gathered in one place for me to read at my convenience. Sounds great, doesn’t it. Well it is….and that’s the advantage of RSS.

RSS is a very powerful technology, and it is useful for anyone to gather and digest many information sources in one place. And it’s also very useful for nonprofits to get their information out to their members and supporters.

However, like many other web 2.0 technologies, many nonprofits are thinking about it but haven’t taken advantage of it. So let me help you take that first step to start using RSS. I’ll start off with some background information about RSS (I'll describe what it is and how it works) and then I will share some insights and examples about how your nonprofit can use it effectively.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and simply put, it is a structured way of passing content around the web. What this means to nonprofit organizations is that their members and supporters can read their website content as soon as it is published and at their convenience. This is a simple explanation of what an RSS is, for a more detailed definition you can go to wikipedia. There is also a great video tutorial by commoncraft

What are RSS readers?

Many blogs and web sites feature RSS feeds. A feed is a constantly updated version of a website's latest content - for examples, news articles. Here is an example of Wild Apricot's RSS feed.

You can view and read RSS feeds with an RSS reader (also called an RSS aggregator). RSS readers are software programs that collect content from various websites and display it to you in a simple form in one place. But what reader to use? There are many readers available that you can choose from. Some are web-based while others require you to download and install something on your computer. Most are free to use. Here are some popular choices:

1. You can read RSS feeds through portal web sites such as Yahoo or Google.


2. You can use free web-based applications such as Bloglines. Here is how our feeds look like in Bloglines:


3. News Is Free allows you to create a custom news page with RSS feeds from the sites you're interested in.

4. Newsgator allows you to read RSS feeds from within Microsoft Outlook.

How can nonprofits effectively use RSS

The real challenge for nonprofits to use RSS is teaching people how to use it and making it a normal part of their daily routines. So here are some ideas and practical examples of nonprofits that are using RSS to help you get started.

Increase your organization’s visibility

The great thing about RSS is that not only keep your constituents informed, but it brings them back to your website much more often than they would have without feeds. The more traffic you have coming to your website, the more visible you are. And by regularly updating your website with information that your members want, you also build a strong connection. A great example is People Assisting the Homeless

Update your members

RSS is a good tool to use with your members to update them on a regular basis.  You can setup a webpage with an RSS feed on your organization's website - and encourage people to sign up for automatic updates. You can also keep track of how many people sign up for your feed to get an idea of who's reading your website. The Clinical Trials And Noteworthy Treatments For Brain Tumors use their feed to keep members informed about news and additions to their website. 
 
Distribute different kinds of information

RSS feeds can also be used to distribute different kinds of information. For example, you could have one RSS feed for your organization's calendar of events and another could be a call for volunteers. The more feeds you offer on your website, the more targeted the information delivered to supporters.

Publicize your blogs and podcasts

RSS is most commonly used with blogs, and you can also expand it to help promote your podcasts.  Association Forum started using RSS in the last few years. Their blog has an RSS feed that contains a summary of each entry and their podcasts are also through RSS. 

RSS has a great potential to be a powerful communication tool for nonprofits. So try our tips or if you prefer, experiment with your own ideas. But whatever you decide to do, don’t miss out on this opportunity to get the word out.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 6:37 PM

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Comments

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Tuesday, 03 July 2007 at 6:14 AM

    Today marks a special day for the Wild Apricot team - it's a one year birthday for our product and our

  • Lonny Grafman said:

    Monday, 09 July 2007 at 11:59 AM

    Hi Soha,

    Thank you for your great blog.  We (Appropedia, a wiki for sustainability, appropriate technology and international development) are looking for someone to help us, pro bono, develop RSS feeds for our pages.  We currently have RSS feeds for a few of our special pages, such as our recent changes (http://feeds.feedburner.com/AppropediaRC), but we need feeds for all of our pages as part of an upcoming collaboration.  Do you know any places to find people looking to hone their RSS skills while helping the world?  Thank you, Lonny

  • Lonny Grafman said:

    Monday, 09 July 2007 at 12:06 PM

    Congratulations on your first birthday!

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 09 July 2007 at 12:41 PM

    Hi Lonny,

    You can try posting your query on the techsoup forum  http://www.techsoup.org/community/index.cfm and the Information Systems Forum http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/Information_Systems_Forum

    Also, check out the Match IT program (it matches IT volunteers with nonprofit organizations) - here's more information about it - https://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/archive/2007/06/14/it-volunteers-to-help-canadian-charities-and-nonprofit-organizations-meet-their-technology-needs.aspx

    Finally, I would also recommend that you consider looking into other wiki softwares because many have built-in RSS feeds now.

    Good luck!

  • Lonny Grafman said:

    Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 8:22 AM

    Hi Soha,

    Thank you for your quick and useful response.  We did consider many different wiki packages, and we went with MediaWiki.  It does have some built in RSS feeds, and no others seem to cover the RSS content that we need (plus now that we have thousands of pages, I think our next switch will require a lot of incentive).

    Again thank you for the great advice, we look forward to checking out those two resources.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Monday, 15 October 2007 at 11:57 AM

    Did you know that most visitors leave a website within 10 seconds of landing on the home page? And they

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Tuesday, 29 July 2008 at 1:13 PM

    RSS is a very powerful technology , useful for anyone to gather and digest many information sources in

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