Nonprofits reap the rewards of the Web
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.
|Changing the world one click at a time|
www.hungersite.com: This is a click-to-donate site that provides food for the U.N. World Food Programme. Also try its sister site, www.rainforestsite.coom, and parent site, www.greatergood.com, where a percentage of purchases made through GreaterGood.com merchants goes to your charity of choice. www.redcross.org: The American Red Cross' national site can direct you to local chapters and provide disaster prevention and safety tips. Other large nonprofit sites include www.unicef.org for the U.N. Children's Fund, www.cancer.org for the American Cancer Society, www.salvationarmy.org, and The Nature Conservancy at www.tnc.org. www.eactivism.com: With news and resources, this is an online community for activists. www.netaid.org: It's not just about concerts; Net Aid also promotes poverty relief and human rights. www.habitatforhumanity.org: Habitat for Humanity International volunteers build affordable housing worldwide.
Nonprofit organizations are turning to Web surfers for support, offering everything from volunteer and job opportunities to one-click donations that are free to the user.
www.hungersite.com: This is a click-to-donate site that provides food for the U.N. World Food Programme. Also try its sister site, www.rainforestsite.coom, and parent site, www.greatergood.com, where a percentage of purchases made through GreaterGood.com merchants goes to your charity of choice.
www.redcross.org: The American Red Cross' national site can direct you to local chapters and provide disaster prevention and safety tips. Other large nonprofit sites include www.unicef.org for the U.N. Children's Fund, www.cancer.org for the American Cancer Society, www.salvationarmy.org, and The Nature Conservancy at www.tnc.org.
www.eactivism.com: With news and resources, this is an online community for activists.
www.netaid.org: It's not just about concerts; Net Aid also promotes poverty relief and human rights.
www.habitatforhumanity.org: Habitat for Humanity International volunteers build affordable housing worldwide.
However, there are costs associated with the Internet -- something many nonprofit groups may not realize in their push to get online for fund-raising.
"Some of them think this is going to be a kind of panacea for doing fund-raising, and it's not necessarily that," says Russ Finkelstein, director of outreach at Action Without Borders, in New York.
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.