Nonprofits reap the rewards of the Web

By Stephanie Sanborn, InfoWorld |  Business

Action Without Borders serves as a central reference point listing more than 21,000 nonprofit and charity organizations around the globe, providing links to information such as volunteer opportunities, jobs, and services. Finkelstein says that when the group started five years ago, there were plans to have physical community locations, but the Internet proved more useful in sharing information.

"[The Internet] has been essential to what we do in helping the nonprofit community, which tends to be back a little bit compared to other places -- especially the for-profit and government sectors -- in having technology," Finkelstein says. "Typically, there's a lack of resources and a lack of time, so whatever makes your job easier and whatever ways you can share resources are always useful."

Indeed, lack of resources is the biggest hurdle facing nonprofits -- many are very excited about the Internet and want to implement new technology but simply do not have the money or technical knowledge to do so.

"We actually consider the nonprofit sector itself in a type of digital divide," says Alnisa Allgood, executive director of San Francisco-based Nonprofit Tech, which helps nonprofits figure out how technology fits into the nonprofit's mission, what technology they need, and how to implement it. "A lot of nonprofits, especially here in the Bay area, are facing an economic and cultural change: People need to make rapid decisions and rapid changes, and that's drastically affected the nonprofit community because the nonprofit sector isn't traditionally a sector of rapid change or transition."

Allgood says she sees many nonprofits that are behind the technology curve. But because the Internet can help nonprofits, organizations are continuing to place an online presence at the top of their wish list, despite the problems they may face in implementing that tech-nology. Some groups who have already made their way onto the Web are crafting big plans for their online futures and hoping to help other nonprofits get on the Internet as well.

"More and more people are coming online -- this isn't going to go away, it's only going to get more pervasive," American Red Cross' Archer says, adding that the Red Cross is currently working on becoming more database-driven, so a site visitor could quickly enter a ZIP code and find out where their local chapter is, how to donate blood, or get a disaster safety plan specific to the user's location.

Using the Web, nonprofit groups are beginning to create individual identities and use the skills they learned offline to present their messages to a new, often global, audience.

"The nonprofits who start successfully integrating technology and start reaping benefits in terms of additional grants and corporate sponsorships are the nonprofits that are going to make the transition to the Internet world," Nonprofit Tech's Allgood says.

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