Tools for Non-Profits

Dean KosageTrite but true: the best things in life are free (or at least, heavily discounted). For cause-driven companies and non-profits, purchasing corporate technology products — and hiring an IT team to manage them — is often out of reach, if not just unwieldy for an organization that’s big on mission but not bureaucracy. In recent years however, startups and tech innovators have stepped up to the development plate, quietly creating the next generation of web- and cloud-based management tools specifically suited for small and mid-sized organizations.

From newsletter-creation to targeted blog tools, running analytics and making donations, almost every useful service a non-profit or cause-based organization could want has received a technologically innovative makeover, complete with options for every set of needs, challenges, and price-points.

These six tools might not save the world on their own, but they can empower and facilitate users to achieve their own goals faster, better and more cheaply than ever before. Dean Kosage

1. Wufoo: Need a form — fast, easily, and affordably? Wufoo launched in 2006 to help individuals and businesses handle everything from creating online surveys to event registration, as well as collecting payments and data. Much like iWeb, Microsoft Office, Pages, WordPress and other office suites and content management systems, Wufoo’s cloud-based system offers both templates and personalized forms (that don’t require a tech staff to create). Even better: Wufoo’s many forms are embeddable, brandable and priced between zero dollars and $199.95 per month.

2. iContact: This one-stop shop manages social media campaigns, email contacts, website analytics, and more. iContact’s real gem, however, is its no-brainer newsletter tool. The HTML-free system features drag-and-drop blocks, hundreds of pre-fab templates, and flexible pricing based on the size of the subscriber base. Prefer to try before you buy? iContact offers a free, 30-day trial.

3. Posterous: Wish you could master the social web, but tailor it to the needs of your organization? With the tagline “share smarter,” Posterous has reclaimed the world wide web with circumscribed, user-generated “spaces” that allow businesses and individuals to create and manage permission-based blogs and photo galleries with controlled access (and pleasing to look at formats). For member-based organizations looking to foster community in a walled web-garden, Posterous has your back. The site also makes good on its tagline by offering autopost services for any social-web destination you can think of — and then some.

4. mGive: Specializing in non-profit fundraising, mGive offers a text-to-donate system that simplifies the process for both contributors and organizations. Once non-profits register with mGive, donors can text a unique keyword to a code provided and “send” in a donation. The texted dollar amount appears on their mobile phone bill, and is distributed to the organization.

5. PageLever: Move over, Facebook Insights. There’s a new tool in town, and it’s all about more thoroughly understanding and utilizing the power of everyone’s favorite social network. PageLever allows organizations to move beyond counting “likes” and on to finding out how engaged its audience or constituents is by creating reports on each post, with a detailed and easy-to-understand analysis of each. The tool reveals which posts are the most engaging to fans, why posts are — and aren’t — reaching fans, and how to leverage and enhance fan bases or constituencies. With interactive and easy-to-read charts, graphs, and number comparisons, PageLever is user-friendly and offers tiered pricing packages (not to mention the occasional non-profit discount).

6. SendGrid: This customizable, cloud-based infrastructure is the tool of choice for non-profits with complex newsletter and outreach needs, as well as a little more web-development savvy on their side. No matter your skill-level in writing code, SendGrid handles a lot of the boring nitty-gritty (like monitoring ISPs and creating real-time analytics) of creating and managing custom email systems. The company’s secret weapon, in fact, is its superior customer service: according to one satisfied non-profit client, someone at SendGrid “always picks up the phone.”

How Two Brothers Made $20 Million From Infinity Blade

There are a lot of successful apps in the App Store. But with 800,000 of them available, there are also thousands of flops. What does it take to make a game app that can drive $20 million in sales? ~  Dean Kosage

Dean Kosage

Donald Mustard and his brother Geremy founded Chair Entertainment in 2005. They were busy building console games such as Shadow Complex when Epic, maker of blockbuster games Gears of War and Unreal Tournament snapped them up in 2008.

By 2010, Chair had launched Infinity Blade, its first iOS game. Built atop Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, it set a new benchmark for mobile gaming visuals, and has subsequently made more than $20 million in sales.

Clearly, the Mustard boys are onto something, as more than a few people share my addiction to the sword-wielding, armor-wearing, spell-casting heroes. (Epic’s Infinity Blade forum has thousands of posts. I chatted with the Mustard brothers about the game, their relationship with Apple, and what’s next.

Developing for the iPhone 4S and iOS 5

Apple invited the Mustard brothers to its Cupertino campus just two weeks before the iPhone 4S launch in October, though this didn’t seem to bother them. “We try and make good guesses as to where hardware is going. We had our fingers crossed that there would be something like the iPhone 4S where we can push things further. Luckily Apple delivered,” said Donald.

Jeremy said the company understands Apple product timelines pretty well, so they were already developing an app that would work with what they expected to be an iPhone 4 upgrade. Chair’s bet paid off.

Dean Kosage

The pair are excited about the potential of iOS 5, especially incremental updates. “[It’s] huge,” said Donald, “because we love being able to update our games.”

Chair is constantly refining their games — but with previous iOS versions, Infinity Blade players had to download a huge update for each tweak. Within cremental updates, they can download a 50 MB (or smaller) file, as opposed to one hundreds of megabytes in size.

iPhone 5?

So the Mustards were prepared for iPhone 4S, but what about iPhone 5? Did they see it? Did they ask? Said Geremy: “We certainly asked. We get coy smiles and tight lips…they don’t tell us anything. I’m sure there will be an iPhone 5 at some point, but we don’t know anything about it.” He paused and laughed: “I bet it’s at least as fast as the iPhone 4s.”

What’s Inside

Infinity Blade 2 is a powerful game, but it’s also a scalable one. The Chair teams designed it to scale down so it could run on the iPhone 3GS and iPad 1. On those devices, players simply see less detail. But on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, Infinity Blade 2 will “use up all the power that is available on these higher-end systems.”

To build Infinity Blade 2, the Mustards eschewed more complex game geometry and focused on character shadows and light rays — effects typically found on console games. Epic added these capabilities to the engine and debuted them in Gears of War 3 on the Xbox 360. That was only a few months ago. “Now it’s on the iPhone 4S,” said Geremy. “We made the game, and I still can’t believe it’s running on a phone that I carry in my pocket.”

Where are the Android Apps?

As I was testing Infinity Blade 2, I kept wondering how it would run on an Android “super phone” such as the Motorola Photon 4G, which packs a graphics-friendly NVidia Tegra 2 chip. Unfortunately, Infinity Blade isn’t in the Android Market — and it doesn’t sound like it’s coming any time soon.
There is nothing technically preventing the brothers from bringing Infinity Blade to Android right now. Instead, they’re hesitating because of piracy concerns. According to a number of online reports, there’s enough of a piracy issue in Android marketplace that many developers find it necessary to build in antipiracy measures, which in turn dampens sales.

“We’re confident that will be worked out and it will become a viable place for game developers, but that hasn’t happened yet,” said Donald. “So it’s not the tech, it’s the business platform.”

What Steve Said

Donald Mustard met the late Steve Jobs when the Apple founder unveiled Chair and Epic’s game, then called “Project Blade,” at a September 2010 Apple event. Jobs was impressed with the game: “I can’t believe that’s running on an iPhone,” he reportedly said. Jobs also once joked about Donald’slast name, saying “Your name is really ‘Mustard’? I won’t forget that name.”

What’s Next

What comes after Infinity Blade 2? The brothers aren’t quite ready to go there yet. “We’ve been working 24 hours a day,” said Donald. “Working like crazy to get this game finished.” They are, however, excited about some of the features that should arrive after the December 1 launch, including “Clash Mob” — which Donald says should change the way we look at “asynchronous social collaboration.”

Building A Successful App

Donald offered this advice to would be app developers: “Create a game that is unique to iOS — something that utilizes the touch screen in a cool and innovative new way. Our iOS mantra at Chair is that ‘if the game would be fun with a controller, you are not making the right game.’ Gamers want a fun, original experience on their iOS devices — not a port of their favorite console game.”