Online philanthropy and volunteerism is growing and getting national attention. The 1999 holiday season was filled with success stories linking online shopping and giving. The American Red Cross reported raising $2.5 million online in 1999.
More and more companies are developing specific products that help nonprofits raise money via the Internet.
At the National Society of Fund Raising Executives International Conference on Fund Raising, March 26-29, 32 different dot-com companies exhibited their Internet-based products and services, a 500 percent increase over 1999. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently issued a report that describes more than 140 Web sites focused on fundraising.
With all this activity, it is easy to get confused and caught up in activities that lead nowhere. While the Internet provides nonprofit organizations with myriad opportunities to improve their fundraising efforts, there are four simple ways nonprofits can use the Internet for fundraising:
Obtain information and advice. The Internet has a wealth of information that can help nonprofits research prospective donors, stay abreast of current philanthropic news and access guides for fundraising programs.
The challenge is finding the right resource in a timely fashion. The Foundation Center, www.fdncenter.org, offers a free online library where individuals can find answers to questions about foundations, nonprofit resources, research funding and other foundation-related topics.
Philanthropysearch.com provides links to more than 1,000 nonprofit-related Web sites. Beginning in July, FundraisingInfo.com will unify a wide variety of fundraising information services and products.
Myfundraisingcounsel.com matches nonprofits with a consultant from one of five leading fundraising consulting firms: Alexander Haas Martin & Partners; American City Bureau; Brakeley, John Price Jones Inc.; Campbell & Co.; and IDC. For $250 per month, the consultant works with the nonprofit via the Internet to provide general guidance for its fundraising program, assistance with developing a plan of action, regular progress reviews, answers to everyday questions and a virtual sounding board for ideas and challenges.
Streamline operations and control costs. Application service providers are taking software-driven programs and providing them via the Internet. As a result, nonprofits no longer need a large initial investment in software, fees for training and maintenance and hardware in order to get the most advanced tools for managing their fundraising activities.
One example is eTapestry.com, an Internet application that manages donor and prospect records. ETapestry runs directly through a Web browser connected to the Internet. As a result, volunteers and staff authorized by the nonprofit can access needed information from any type of computer from virtually any location. The application and data are maintained and protected by eTapestry, eliminating many of the time-consuming and expensive administrative tasks such as system upgrades, data storage, backups and general maintenance.
ETapestry can be integrated into a nonprofit's own Web presence, making it possible for donors to make online donations and update their personal information. Volunteers can update work schedules and communicate with development staff. Board members can retrieve campaign reports and find donor information. Remote offices or staff members on the road can review, add and update information as needed.
To assist the smallest nonprofits, eTapestry is providing their donor database free to organizations with fewer than 1,000 donor records. Larger organizations pay a low monthly fee.
Develop nonphilanthropic revenue sources. New online shopping malls, auctions and affinity programs promising to give a percentage to charity seem to be appearing every day. Primarily driven by for-profit organizations looking for cause-related marketing opportunities or new niche markets, these profit-sharing programs give a percentage of sales to the nonprofit.
CauseLink.com creates private-label auction sites for nonprofit organizations. Consumers shop for name-brand items, and a percentage of the sale goes to the sponsoring nonprofit. CauseLink.com, through its relationship with FundraisingInfo.com, soon will be able to involve large numbers of charities in a comprehensive auction site that benefits participating nonprofits.
Strengthen relationships with supporters. One of the simplest ways to use the Internet is to strengthen relationships with current supporters. By collecting e-mail addresses from current donors and volunteers, nonprofits can begin to communicate on a more regular basis. Customized e-mail newsletters or, even more simply, regular e-mail updates on program happenings can help donors and volunteers feel more connected with the organization. E-mail also makes it possible to customize appeals at lower costs.
An organization's Web site also can help explain the mission of the organization, provide more detailed and current information to potential supporters and encourage supporters to consider new ways of giving to the organization.
To be an effective relationship-building tool, a nonprofit's Web site should offer the following: as many online donation opportunities as possible; constantly updated program-related news; lists of key board members and other volunteers; information on deferred giving; and phone numbers, addresses and e-mail links to key staff and volunteers.
Nonprofits should keep in mind four key points when developing Internet-based strategies:
* Keep it simple. If it sounds too complicated to implement, the technology is not right for your organization. Look for something else.
* Don't try to do everything at once. Pick one strategy first and implement it.
* Match your nonprofit's Internet strategy to the overall fundraising program. For example, a nonprofit with a limited number of supporters would not benefit much from profit-sharing or affinity programs through which a percentage of a purchase goes to your cause. Yet collaborative sites that allow you to feature your mission and programs to potential new supporters would be beneficial.
* Remember the power of relationships. In spite of all the technological advances being made on the Internet, the old fundraising adage that people still give to people holds true. The best use of technology is to help organizations connect people with people and thus with their causes.