New ISP's Favorite Color Is Green

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The nonprofit National Wildlife Federation announced last month it plans to begin offering "environmentally focused" Internet services to create a new stream of affinity marketing revenue.


The NWF, Vienna, VA, will launch its NWFNet Internet services provider next month.


In addition to providing search tools, headline news, the weather, stock market reports and other traditional ISP features, NWFNet will feature content, products and services tailored to the needs of consumers active in environmental issues. It will include updates on hot environmental issues, community chat forums for environmental activists and outdoors enthusiasts. Through e-commerce partnerships, NWFNet will highlight products with an environmental focus.


"We think these people will choose to support the NWF and a cause they're passionate about," said Dean Hollander, CEO of New York-based H2O Networks, which will develop and manage the site. At least 10 percent of each subscriber's $15.95 monthly fee will go to the organization.


Hollander also expects environmentally minded Net users will choose the NWF service over general ISPs because its content will have more value to them.


"On AOL, 80 percent of the content isn't interesting to them," Hollander said. With NWFNet, "We'll reverse that."


Membership in the NWF is not required to subscribe, but members will be the first group targeted in the ISP's marketing campaign. The first phase of the campaign, which is slated to begin shortly after the service becomes available in June, will focus on 100,000 subscribers of the organization's e-mail lists and 25,000 members of the NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. The NWF also will market the service to the 500,000 subscribers to its National Wildlife magazine and with direct mail appeals to its environmental activists.


Hollander expects NWF's established channels to be a huge boon to NWFNet and projects a per-subscriber acquisition cost of $55 to $60, much lower, he said, than the $250 ISPs typically spend per subscriber.


"They have a built-in audience," said Dan O'Brien, an analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. However, O'Brien said luring ISP customers will be more challenging than the NWF expects, even with this advantage.


NWFNet's goal is 25,000 subscribers in its first year, which Hollander expects will bring in at least $500,000 for the organization. In addition to subscriber fees, the NWF will get a yet-to-be-determined percentage of revenue from banner advertisements sold on the portal site and a percentage of all e-commerce revenue generated from the service. When NWFNet subscribers leave the portal and make a purchase on an affiliate site, a percentage of the sale amount will go to the NWF.


Phil Noble, president of PoliticsOnline Inc., Charleston, SC, applauded NWF's pioneering move. As the first environmental organization to offer an ISP, it will have a big advantage over its competitors.


And inevitably, Noble predicts, other environmental organizations will offer similar services.


A wide-range of political and nonprofit organizations already offer Internet services through affinity marketing agreements, said Noble. The company with the largest number of clients, iBelong, has rolled out 41 portals on behalf of organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the National Federation of Republican Woman and the National Association of Underwater Instructors.


But H20 Networks' Hollander believes that his client, NWF, is uniquely positioned to thrive in the affinity ISP marketplace because it has a "passionate" base of supporters.


Still, O'Brien questions the assumption that devoted customers and supporters can be converted into an ISP audience. "Just because someone donates to an organization doesn't mean they're going to want the organization's information in their face all the time."


Moreover, he notes, the leading ISPs have developed a loyal following. "ISPs build walls around their customers. People become comfortable there, and they don't like to move."
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