News: College Access & Success

6 (Free) Online Tools to Boost Your Organization’s Communications

Friday, February 14, 2020  
Posted by: Kelly Mae Ross, Communications Manager
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Every organization has communications needs. School districts, community-based organizations, colleges and universities – everyone is trying to share their news and other messages with a specific and often hard-to-reach audience. The fact that many organizations in the college access and success field are operating with limited resources (human and monetary) can make the task of producing effective communications materials even more challenging.

In my first year and a half at NCAN, I’ve come across some free online tools that have helped grow and strengthen our digital communications. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that they might make a difference for your organization, too.

Note: This is a list of tools that I, personally, find useful in my day-to-day. NCAN is not endorsing any of these resources.

1. Unsplash

We humans are visual creatures – we like images. Using images in blog posts helps break up chunks of text, making the pieces easier to read.

Adding images to your social media content can be a huge boon as well. Consider a few statistics from HubSpot, a marketing software company:

  • Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images.
  • Facebook posts with images see 2.3X more engagement than those without images.

Unless you have a photographer on staff, it's hard to generate enough photos for every blog post and other area of your website that needs visual components. That’s where Unsplash comes in.

Unsplash is a huge library of free, high-quality stock images that anyone can use for pretty much any purpose. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but I promise I’m not making this up.

Another great thing about Unsplash photos is that you can crop them and edit them in other ways without running afoul of the license.

Check out Unsplash here.

BONUS TOOLS: I use the free Adobe Photoshop Express to do the above-mentioned photo cropping, but you can also use the free online tool Croppola to get the job done.

 2. Pixabay

Pixabay is another robust stock photography website that’s worth bookmarking.

Check out Pixabay here.

3. Canva

If you want to move beyond photos (stock or otherwise) and create your own custom graphics and other visual content, Canva may be just the tool for you.

The basic version of this user-friendly graphic design tool is free for anyone to use. Even better news: If you work for a nonprofit, you can apply for a free Canva Pro account, which will grant you access to many more templates, photos, a customizable brand kit, and more handy features.

My colleagues and I have used Canva to quickly create social media graphics to promote our reports, the annual #Thankful4Pell advocacy campaign (see graphic below), and NCAN’s recent rebranding announcement. We’ve also used it to create banners for certain pages of our website and images that we’ve used in slideshows and videos. The possibilities are endless with this tool.

Start building your own graphics here.

4. "Bulletproof Email Buttons"

This tool from Campaign Monitor allows you to quickly create eye-catching buttons that you can use to highlight calls to action (e.g., Register here! Subscribe today. Donate now.) in your emails.

Before I found this tool, I was using HTML to build such buttons, and they didn’t always load properly in every email client. (I’m sorry if you were on the receiving end of one of those button-didn't-load-properly emails.)

You don’t have to know any HTML to use this tool – all you have to do is copy and paste.

Start building email buttons here.

5. Emojipedia 👍

Most of us know how to use emojis on our cell phones, but how do you incorporate these adorable little images into emails, newsletters, blogs, or your website copy? 🤔

Answer: You use Emojipedia. Simply search for the emoji you want, then copy and paste. And you’re done! 😎

Check out Emojipedia here.

6. The Communications Network Newsletter

The Communications Network supports those working to “elevate and advance the practice of communications for good.” You can sign up for the organization’s monthly newsletter, which is chock-full of interesting news articles and tips for nonprofit/foundation comms professionals.

Visit the newsletter archive here.

If there are any other awesome free/very-low-cost tools out there that you think are worth sharing, please let me know via email at or send me a DM on Twitter (@kellyymaee).

(Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash)