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Web Conferencing 101 for Nonprofits

Online Meetings & WebinarsCollaborationCloud Tools

Note: This piece was updated on March 1, 2018 to reflect changes to our product catalogue.

Web conferencing is a great, cost-effective way for nonprofits to connect with fellow colleagues, Board members, supporters and prospects without the need for you or your participants to travel.

In this article, we’ll cover everything your nonprofit needs to know about virtual meetings, including what they are, how to get started, and choosing the right tool that suits your needs. 

What is a web conference?

A web conference is essentially an online/virtual “meeting room” that you create using a web conferencing tool and invite participants to join via the Internet.
 
There are over a dozen web conferencing tools available, and they range from “free to use” to “pay to use” (e.g., one-time purchase, pay per use, annual or monthly subscriptions). Each tool has its own set of features and functionalities, however, all web conferencing tools can perform the following basic functions:

  • Desktop/Screen Sharing
    This basic feature lets participants see exactly what’s on the presenter’s screen—everything from computer programs to PowerPoint presentations to simple Word documents.

  • Video Conferencing/Webcam Sharing
    Assuming that you have the appropriate hardware, this feature allows you (and sometimes your participants) to broadcast a video of yourself during an online meeting.

  • Text Chat
    Send chat messages via instant messaging. Some tools allow all participants to see the messages, while others allow for private one-on-one messaging among participants.

  • Voice Chat
    This feature allows you to speak with meeting participants using your phone or a computer microphone.

There are also advanced features that are designed to meet a specific need, and thus are not included in every web conferencing tool. If you’re planning a virtual meeting that requires an advanced feature, you’ll need to factor this into your requirements (more on this later!). Advanced features include, but are not limited to:

  • Application Sharing
    Similar to desktop sharing, application sharing allows you to determine what screen content is visible to your participants (e.g., PowerPoint slides) and what is intentionally hidden (e.g., your personal email).

  • Surveys and Polls
    This feature allows you to conduct multiple choice or short answer surveys for your participants and display the results of the survey afterwards.

  • Desktop Remote Control
    This function enables you to give control of your computer to a participant, or vice versa. The person with remote access can open and work on presenter’s computer using their own keyboard and mouse.

  • Session Recording
    Handy for formal presentations and training sessions, this feature allows you to record your online sessions for future use and documentation.

  • Uploading Resources
    Upload documents and presentations directly to the web conference platform and make them available for your participants to download and access during the virtual meeting.

  • Whiteboard
    Screen sharing with the convenience of a whiteboard: select, underline, highlight, circle, and more. This advanced feature is great for online training sessions.

  • Video Effects
    Add a little fun into your meeting! You can add captions, titles, background images or even put on a silly hat using Video Effects. 

Which Web conferencing tool should I use?

The ideal online meeting software should meet your needs, be dependable and most importantly, be easy for you and your collaborators to use.
 
First, start with determining your needs. Ask yourself the following questions to get a better understanding of your requirements:

  1. Do you need something simple for a quick staff check-in or do you need a robust solution to support a large-scale webinar?

  2. How many people will be attending your meeting?

  3. Can you host your meeting with the basic web conferencing functions (e.g., screenshare, video chat etc.) or do you need more advanced features (e.g., remote access, whiteboard, session recording, etc.)?

  4. Do you have a budget for your web conference tool? 

Next, choose a few dependable tools as options for consideration. Since technology is advancing at such a rapid pace, many “up-and-coming” web conferencing tools are sadly discontinued a few years after launch. If you’d like to find a long-lasting solution for your nonprofit, determine the longevity and sustainability of a tool by looking at its market: is there a lot of help and support content is available? How often is the software being supported/updated? If the market for your web conferencing software is high and active, you can expect a more dependable solution.
 
To help you navigate your options, here are a few software recommendations categorized into common meeting purposes: team meetings, troubleshooting and training.

Team meetings

Need to quickly touch-base and chat with your staff? Look for a simple and light tool that is quick to download/install and won’t require a lot of bandwidth. The majority of team meeting tools are designed for small- to medium-sized organizations, so if you have a team of 50+ people, you may have to upgrade to a paid solution.

Free options

Affordable options

Enterprise Solutions

Troubleshooting

Need to do tech support or demonstrate to your colleague how to do something without them being in the same room? Look for a straightforward, user-friendly tool with remote access. These class of tools are designed for 1:1 support and generally requires a lot of bandwidth to ensure a high call quality and fewer connection issues.

Free options

Affordable options

Enterprise solutions:

Training

Planning a formal presentation or hosting an e-learning course? Look for a tool that’s designed for teaching and has advanced features, such as whiteboard, session recording, polls and surveys, and other teaching aids. Much like troubleshooting tools, training and learning tools require more bandwidth to ensure a stable Internet connection, and a high quality video and audio feed.

Free options

Affordable options

Enterprise Options

Once you have your list of dependable tools, test and trial your web conferencing options with a participant or another co-worker. This will determine the usability of the software and help you discover any potential drawbacks you may not have considered.

Going above and beyond the tool

While there will always be a place for in-person meetings, the ability to meet “face-to-face” virtually anytime and at any place is unmatched. Virtual meetings have helped the nonprofit sector bridge the gap between local and remote colleagues, paved a new way for solving problems and opened up the possibilities of accessible training and learning -- all benefits that your nonprofit can experience too!

More Resources

  • TechSoup Canada's Webinar Guidelines - Wondering how to organize and run your webinars? We've put together a handy guide, which includes checklists, template webinar script, and more so you can reference it while creating your own.