Laura Quinn: Founder and Director of Idealware

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Laura Quinn, Idealware

Laura Quinn is a researcher, writer, and nonprofit technologist who started her career designing interfaces and doing user research for software and large websites.   For the past five years, she has worked with nonprofits doing website strategy, navigation design, software selection, and now, as director of Idealware, a whole lot of software research.   I caught up with her at the Games for Change Conference in New York for an interview.

So, tell us about Idealware?

Idealware is a nonprofit that creates reviews of and articles about software of interest to nonprofits – a Consumer Reports for nonprofit software, if you will.  We provide candid information to allow nonprofits to choose the software that will make them most effective.  For instance, we just finished a report in which we did detailed reviews of the top seven blogging tools and recommended those that made the most sense for typical nonprofit needs.

Can you share (with links) some of the more popular reports on the site?

By far our most popular report has been Donate Now: Selecting an Online Donation Tools – our overview of 27 different online donation tools with reviews, recommendations, and summary charts.  Our roundup of eNewsletter tools,  Robert Weiner's article on Ten Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases  and Paul Hagan's overview of Constituent Relationship Management for Nonprofits have also been popular.


Why did you decide to cover blogging tools in your most recent report? 

Blogs are a natural fit for a lot of nonprofits – they can get people engaged with an organization's mission and work in a way that's hard to do in other ways.  And the topic worked well with the Web 2.0 interests of our partner on the report, TechSoup/ CompuMentor.  Blogs are usually easy to get up and running, but it can be intimidating to figure out which tool does what.  We wanted to make it easy for nonprofits – even those without any technical expertise – to choose the right tool with confidence.


In a nutshell, what were your key recommendations?

The right blogging tool obviously depends on your needs.  For an organization doesn't have skill in HTML and other technical stuff, TypePad and WordPress.com (the hosted version) are likely a good fit.  TypePad is in fact the only good choice if you want to really tailor the colors and add your logo but don't have HTML experience.  If someone technical can help set it up, but you need it to be easy to post, Blogger, WordPress.org (the installed version), and TypePad look good.  Tools like ExpressionEngine and TextPattern are also good candidates if the people posting are pretty technical.

It surprises a lot of people that we didn't recommend Blogger for organizations without technical expertise.  It is easy to setup, but it's not easy to remove the Blogger bar, which I find pretty unprofessional for an organizational blog, and you can't edit the sidebar or add an RSS feed without technical skill.  There are simply better choices if you can't modify the HTML template.


I ran into you at the Games for Change Conference, do you have interest in this area? 

Absolutely!  These engaging approaches can be really helpful for nonprofits looking to influence opinions.  There are enough people experimenting in games for change that it's becoming a viable option for the nonprofit technology toolbox, and we're thinking through an Idealware article on the practical aspects of game building – what are the key considerations and pitfalls? 

As I understand it, idealware is something you do – but don't get paid for.  Are there ways for readers who appreciate your work to contribute something to support it?  That is cash …

I'm paid a bit for writing a few of the articles, but you're right – I'm currently donating the vast majority of my time.  Cash donations to support future reports and articles are very welcome – you can donate online here.   We're also looking for volunteer writers to work with nonprofit technology experts and write articles or case studies (all of our writers get a byline and a bio).

What are some upcoming reports?

We have a lot of stuff in the works, including articles on web hosting services, donor databases, how to evaluate vendor stability, and a case study on SourceWatch and Congresspedia, among others.  And we're formulating plans for several different detailed reports – stay tuned!

Photo in Flickr by Beth Kanter

Contributing Editor Beth Kanter also blogs at Beth's Blog and Cambodia4Kids

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