December 29, 2000, 11:33 AM — THE DOT-COM EXPLOSION and e-commerce boom may grab most of the Internet sparkle, but behind the for-profit sector's glitz, nonprofit and charity organizations are working their way over the hurdle of the digital divide and using the Web to push their own messages.
For Cindee Archer, online media manager at the American Red Cross, in Washington, the Internet may be a new way to collect donations, but it also serves as a vital source of information.
"It's an interesting situation for us because we're so diverse," Archer says. "We're just this wealth of information, unlike so many nonprofits that have one central focus and do a good job promoting that one thing."
Disaster time is crunch time for the Red Cross Web site, as it must not only handle monetary donations but also help visitors locate their local Red Cross for shelter, find relatives in the disaster area, get information on blood donations and volunteering, and keep up with breaking news all at the same time.
"The Internet has definitely changed how the whole organization thinks," Archer says. "You feel this sense of urgency whenever there's a disaster -- you want that information up as quickly as you can get it."
Most nonprofits are interested in the Internet because of its donation potential, but having a Web site and other communication technologies in place creates other benefits, such as lowering fund-raising costs and spreading their message to a much larger audience.
"We're seeing folks begin to understand the power of the Internet as we help them build their e-mail lists -- anything that goes out in the mail is extremely expensive for these organizations," says Lynn Ridenour, vice president of marketing at Seattle-based GreaterGood.com.
Although many nonprofit groups, such as the Red Cross, have added an online presence as a division alongside already-existing services, a host of Internet-based-only nonprofit groups have also cropped up.
For example, online nonprofits such as GreaterGood.com, which oversees the click-to-donate sites The Hunger Site and The Rainforest Site, allow Internet shoppers to buy from stores listed in GreaterGood.com's "mall" and donate up to 15 percent of their purchase to the group of their choice.
The growing popularity of click-to-donate sites, where a group of sponsors pledges money to an organization for each original "click" the donation site receives daily, taps in to a newer and often younger audience for nonprofits. These young donors may not have the finances to give large sums of money but are willing to help out while online. And the sponsors' contributions are adding up: As of May 30, 2000, at GreaterGood's The Hunger Site, which routes donations to the U.N. World Food Programme, site visitors and sponsors teamed up to donate funds equivalent to over 156,229,637 cups of food.