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12+ Great Ways to Share Your Non-Profit's Knowledge Online

Lori Halley 03 April 2009 3 comments

Collecting information is a large part of what many non-profit organizations do as a part of pursuing their mission. And when you need to share that information online, PDF format leaps to mind: after all, PDF files are easy to create with most standard office software, the reader software is free, and the documents are almost certain to print out with the page layout intact, no matter what computer or printer is used.

But — tell the truth! — aren’t you just a bit bored by PDFs?

It’s a fair bet that your audience, too, may be looking for something different.

Lack of time, lack of motivation, information overload, and no lack of competition for ever-shorter attention spans; there are countless reasons why most non-profit supporters are likely have a backlog of PDF files already, downloaded and filed away, just waiting for them to find time to wade through. After all, what is a PDF but just another document in the stack?

Gayle Thorsen (IMPACTMAX) suggests that there’s a better way to grab attention when you need to share your knowledge base, research results, expertise, organizational reports…

No matter how beautifully designed your publications are, PDFs aren’t particularly user friendly—especially when there are so many free or low-cost ways to share knowledge online that better serve your audiences.

In fact, she’s got 12 suggestions for ways to get beyond the same-old same-old PDFs:

  1. Events — Use your report as a springboard for real-world action;
  2. Webinars — Hold a virtual event;
  3. Podcasts — Audio is conveniently mobile;
  4. Videos — Show-and-tell your story;
  5. Slide shows — Give the highlights (post it on Slideshare!);
  6. Maps — Geo-locate your data and layer on the media;
  7. Photo stories — Think like a photojournalist!
  8. Blogs — For on-going projects, a dedicated blog?
  9. Toolkits — “But too many online toolkits end up a collection of PDFs,” Gayle warns: “Think more creatively. Use podcasts, videos, photos, discussion forums, blogrolls, online communities, and social bookmarking as well as publications.”
  10. Visualization — Charts/graphs, mind maps, diagrams, even a cartoon can give a busy audience the main points of your research at a glance;
  11. Comments/Ratings — Get your audience actively involved;
  12. Twitter — Release the highlights in 140-character bursts!

Do take a few minutes to check out Gayle Thorsen’s article, “Sharing Your Knowledge Base,” for her ideas about how each of these methods might be used, and for some real-world low-cost examples. Thanks to all the nifty free tools available online, most of these alternatives have will have very little (if any) out-of-pocket cost for your organization, beyond a bit of staff and/or volunteer time.

Ah, yes — time!

Who has time to do all those Web 2.0 things, when a PDF is so quick and easy?

Good question. And we all know it’s very likely to be the first question you’ll get from your board. Here’s an equally good question:  What’s the trade-off for any time you might save by pumping out a simple PDF, if no one is reading it?

As Gayle points out, “PDFs may be easiest for you — but we’re in the age of consumer orientation. Giving your online users what they want, enjoy, and expect is the key to their loyalty.”

You can get a lot of extra mileage by repurposing one medium for another, while you're at it. Add your own ideas to the list of 12 alternatives — then look it over to see how you might combine any two or more of them, to maximize the impact and audience without adding much investment of time or other resources.

For example, you might:

  • Turn your event’s PowerPoint presentation into a Slideshare slide show.
  • “Live tweet” the event highlights on Twitter, including links to related resources.
  • Create your toolkit as a wiki, so users can contribute their own resources and discussion.
  • Record your webinar and link to the archived audio from your blog.
  • Combine your audio with your slide show and/or photographs, web cam footage, etc.  to make a quick YouTube video.

… and so on!

But what if you have to stick with PDFs for now?

If you do continue to use PDFs—at least draw out the golden nuggets for your readers. Rather than scholarly executive summaries or abstracts, create little “Five Big Take-Away” summaries for skimmers who want the gist not the tome. Not everyone has time to read 15 or even 5 pages.

Design it for easy reading. A judicious use of white space, heading and subheadings, bullet points, pull quotes, and lists will make a PDF document easier to scan. Consider a table of contents, to give readers a roadmap for the document. For very long documents, you may want to create an index as well.

Jazz it up. Illustrations, photographs, charts and other relevant graphics can help to convey the most important points (visualization!) and retain your reader’s attention.

Give it legs. If a PDF is the best (or only possible) way to share your information, do consider posting your PDF to a “social publishing” service like Scribd.com. Regular readers may remember our introduction to Scribd a while back: it lets your audience choose whether to read online or download your document, and gives them access to a wide range of options for sharing it with others online, including the ability to embed the document in readable form on their own web pages.

In the end, it’s all about serving your audience — and all the other people you’re hoping to bring into your audience.

Do they crave PDFs, above all other forms of information? Great, then  PDFs are what you’ll give them. But if your people prefer to get their news by audio during a long commute, or to see a compelling story unfold in moving pictures, or to take an active part in discussing the implications of your research — shouldn’t your organization take a look at those alternative ways to deliver?

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 03 April 2009 at 8:46 PM


  • Jon_Aston said:

    Saturday, 04 April 2009 at 8:29 AM

    John Haydon sent me here. So glad he did...Great post! Thanks!

  • Phil Stratton said:

    Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 12:16 PM

    Got me out of the box and excited.

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 1:04 PM

    Wonderful - "mission accomplished" then!

    Let us know how you've broken out of the PDF box, guys, and maybe share a link to show-and-tell how you did it?

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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