Clever hacks, sound advice and nifty tools to excite NGOs in 2016

There is some disagreement about what the word “hack” refers to outside of programming contexts.  We see it as a way of doing something that may not provide the most straightforward or expected solution, and yet it presents a clever way to satisfactorily solve a meaningful problem.  Here are a few good examples that can save NGOs some money and make them less dependent on external service providers.   We also included some general good advice and tools – we hope you find them helpful too.  Please share your interesting discoveries, hacks and tools with the wider NGO community in the comment box below!

Graphic design and infographics: 

CanvaCanva offers ‘do-it-yourself’, good looking graphic design.  Start with a design template and then use Canva’s drag-and-drop feature containing countless design elements, photos, filters, shapes and fonts to design beautiful custom documents and posters.  We find it especially useful for smaller jobs that need to be produced frequently, like social media graphics.  Talking about graphics for social media, if you need a quick way to re-size a picture for online sharing, try  If you however need to do some photo-editing first (brightening things up, getting rid of red-eyes etc.), look no further than Pixlr Express: seven tabs lead you around a slider-based interface that requires no prior knowledge of image editing.


PiktochartYou can make your own professional looking infographics with Pikto Chart.  Through this online software you have access to a weekly updated library of over 500 professionally-designed templates. Starting from a template you build your custom infographic by choosing from thousands of icons or by creating your own graphs and maps. Since you can also include your own photos and videos the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create here.


wixNeed a stunning website, but cannot afford a graphic designer?  Have a look at – it offers everything you need to create a professional looking website “all-by-yourself”.  It offers: free websites, easy drag and drop usability, designer-made templates, beautiful galleries, mobile optimized domains, a huge image collection, secure hosting, SEO and 24/7 full support. What more could you ask for?



sage 1Sage One is cloud-based accounting software. It’s very easy to use (even for non-accountants!); affordable (R1 998 per year); links automatically to your bank account; can generate receipts and invoices; has a payroll function; is SARS compliant; and automatically generates all the reports you need for an audit. For a start-up NGO that needs to get its first audit done and doesn’t have accounting expertise, we think this is a great solution.





survey monkeyAn oldie, but a goodie:  SurveyMonkey allows you to create and publish online surveys, view results graphically and in real time.  It gives you access to free, customizable surveys (or you can start from scratch), as well as a suite of paid back-end programs that include data analysis, sample selection, bias elimination, and data representation tools.  We’ve used it for our DGMT surveys and can highly recommend it.

wazimapCensus information can be tough to access and interpret, but Wazimap makes this easy. “Wazimap, from the Xhosa word ulwazi for knowledge, is a joint project by Media Monitoring Africa and Code for South Africa that provides easy access to South African census and elections data”. Population and financial figures are broken down by category: elections, demographics, service delivery, economics and education all the way through to ward level.  Data is visually presented through a variety of charts that can be embedded on your website and pre-computed statistics are presented alongside each data point, so you can see how each place fits into a larger context.  Genius.

Information/communication system:

NGO-ConnectHaving a good information system is essential, but it is easy to get trapped in an expensive, long-term, (possibly frustrating) relationship with the service provider developing a custom system for you  – yes, we’ve been there.   Salesforce for non-profits is built to support social and mobile platforms and will connect all the different role-players in your programme, allowing you to collect the monitoring information that you need, while at the same time engaging and communicating more effectively.  We really like that you can make small changes to the system yourself, for example adding or removing a field/question to the system/forms.  In fact, people with an inclination for spreadsheets and managing information will probably be able to ‘drive’ their Salesforce system quite comfortably on their own.

Sharing your work

Social-MediaSocial media remains an essential space to share your work and the Non-profit Network is an excellent online media resource for NGOs.  For social media you should be thinking: short, visual and storytelling.  You can use these strategies to drive readers to the more substantial information provided on your website.  We found the following infographics illustrating the ideal length of everything online quite useful (click to download):


Internet zoo 1Zoo2bIn the spirit of keeping things short, you probably know how you can shorten and customise URLs for social media, but if you don’t, Bitly is an excellent service, especially because it offers detailed data analysis on every link you share.





At DGMT we would really like to improve our cellphone photography skills, as well as collect and share more stories and soundbites about our work.  We created two cheat sheets for our team to keep on their phones to help them collect stories/soundbites and take better pictures – we are sharing these here with you in case you find them useful (see below, right click and choose save image).  In terms of cellphone photography, we found the iphone photography school website quite useful because it offers plenty examples illustrating techniques and photography principles. However, be sure to have a look at the ethics guide provided on the Non-profit Network website before you start taking and sharing pictures online.

In terms of writing: using commas correctly can be tricky – we thought this clever little Ted video by Terisa Folaron teaching us all the “tricks of the comma trade” is very helpful.  Another tool that we created for our team, but happily share with you, is our quick guide to writing hard-hitting op-ed articles (see below, right click and choose save picture).

Comms Cheat sheetTake better picturesop-eds


Do you sometimes feel as though you have spent a busy day at work, but managed to get very little done?  It happens to all of us.  We found this article explaining the concepts of “deep” and “shallow” work illuminating. Originally shared on the “Barking up the wrong tree” blog, it draws on the ideas and advice shared by Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” and offers you 5 secrets (backed by research) to managing your time effectively.  Make time to read it :-).

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