|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 59||August 14, 2000|
By Joshua Dimon, NetAction Intern
It seems as though the Internet gold rush has finally expanded into the realm of charitable and nonprofit organizations. Interest in this previously unexploited sector of web audiences has prompted increasing numbers of .com's to specialize or expand into nonprofit markets. The services they offer range from credit card processing and donor research to organizational development and management training. These .com companies see potential financial benefits in providing new services and opportunities to nonprofit organizations -- many of which have been rather deficient in web infrastructure and development.
If your organization is looking for assistance with technology, finances, management, volunteers or outreach, a good place to start searching for useful .com help would be at one of the many nonprofit sites that you may be familiar with already. Many nonprofit web sites will have links to organizations and services that have helped them. This is an excellent place to start looking if you do not have a resource list of your own. One site that has a large list of resources for nonprofit organizations is Action Without Borders (http://www.idealist.org/browse/cons_prog/categories.html). Another place to look is the search engine sites. For example, Yahoo has a list of nonprofit resources at http://dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Issues_and_Causes/Philanthropy/Nonprofit_Resources/.
We have more to say about some of these resources below.
The typical financial services that are being offered to nonprofit organizations by .coms include credit card payment processing, fundraising, and donor management. Nonprofit organizations interested in doing business with these companies should keep in mind that the services are provided by for-profit companies looking for an economic return on services provided to nonprofits. So it is important that nonprofit organizations be aware of the fees, percentages, or other terms associated with these services. As we advised in NetAction Notes No. 51, it is also important to consider how a connection to a particular .com site will effect your organization's credibility. Pay attention to the advertisements that appear on the .com site, to other nonprofit organizations affiliated with it, and of course to the mission of any site with which you contemplate an affiliation.
Credit card payment processing is an especially important service to investigate thoroughly. As e-commerce has become more popular, credit card processing sites have emerged to give Internet users confidence in the security of online transactions. Some of these services work by providing a common recognizable site that people can use to make donations via their credit cards. This may alleviate concerns about the reliability of the site that is taking the credit card. Nonprofit organizations may use these sites to provide donors with a safe way of making online contributions. An example of a credit card service that caters to nonprofit organizations is Entango (http://www.entango.com), which charges a fee of 5% per transaction. Entango bills monthly rather than subtracting the fee from each donation as it is made.
There are also many .coms providing non-profits with fundraising services. As discussed in Netaction Notes 51, many of these are online shopping malls that donate a portion of their sales to designated nonprofit organizations.
Other sites merely provide fundraising information, including links or services that match donors with non-profits. In the .com domain, Fundsnet (http://www.fundsnetservices.com/) is an example of a portal that provides information and links to fundraising opportunities for organizations. There are also .coms that link potential funders to nonprofit organizations that match their charitable interests. One example is Charitableway (http://www.geocities.com/charitablewayinc/) a site that links potential donors with a large database of nonprofit organizations that they can chose from. Like most of the online shopping sites, these donor portals typically take a percentage of each donation. (This one takes 10%.) In NetAction Notes No. 53, Michael Stein discussed these services in more detail.
There are also .coms that provide training for nonprofit organizations in donor research, organizational development and marketing. These services are frequently offered by companies that specialize in management training programs for businesses, but some cater specifically to nonprofits. The online version of The NonProfit Times (http://www.nptimes.com/) is an example of a site providing business management information specific to the nonprofit sector.
Some .coms offer networking services for non-profits, as well. American Philanthropy Review's CharityChannel (http://CharityChannel.com/) provides a large number of online forums for discussing issues of concern to nonprofit organizations. They also have a job search service where organizations can list job openings. The services are generally free to users, but the sites earn income from advertising that appears on their forums.
How do you decide which .com service will best meet your organization's needs? Word-of-mouth is always helpful, so ask colleagues in other organizations for recommendations. A good way to get a lot of feedback is to ask questions in relevant web forums and discussion lists. Part 3 of the Virtual Activist training course discusses web forum resources and links that may be helpful. You should also feel free to contact any of the services that you have questions about. They will usually provide you with specific information, as well as references, in response to questions.
The number of nonprofits that provide vital resources to other nonprofits via the Internet has also ballooned in the past couple of years. Typically, these have developed as web portals -- sites that provide visitors with access to many other sites and resources with similar or related content.
One example, mentioned earlier, is Action Without Borders (http://www.idealist.org/), which has recently been completed. This portal features a database of over 20,000 international organizations, indexed by area of interest, geographical location, mission and name. The site also provides guides and tools for non-profits as well as a listing of volunteer and job opportunities at organizations that list with them.
One of the very first nonprofit portals was the Institute for Global Communications (http://www.igc.org/), a gateway to four separate networks: PeaceNet, EcoNet, WomensNet, and Anti-Racism Net. IGC provides web-hosting services to progressive nonprofit organizations and serves as a content aggregator of headlines, action alerts, event listings and other news of interest to its individual and organizational members. Each of the four networks also offers email lists specific to the network's focus.
Another example of a useful nonprofit portal is Consultants ONTAP (http://www.ontap.org/) which, as the name implies, provides a large list of consultants indexed into 13 categories. The consultants provide support in everything from child care to organizational development. Consultants list themselves and provide information about the services they offer. The site also provides advice for nonprofit organizations on how to find a reliable consultant. Consultants on Tap is part of a larger network of organizations, including CompassPoint (http://www.compasspoint.org/) that also serve as portals to additional information, including conferences and workshops for the nonprofit sector. The Nonprofit Resource Center (http://www.nonprofitcenter.org/) is another site that provides information, training and consultation to meet a variety of nonprofit needs. For example, one of their sites helps non-profit managers decipher accounting standards and government regulations.
There are also many online resources for nonprofits that focus on a specific issue, such as fundraising or management. Sites that focus on providing specific services are abundant on the web. A good example is The Center for Nonprofit Management (http://www.cnm.org/), which provides information and links related directly to issues of concern to nonprofit managers. Another example of an issue-specific service site is The Management Center's online job listing site (http://www.opportunitynocs.org/), which provides listings and searchable indexes of job openings in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations pay a fee to list jobs, but there is no charge to job seekers.
As longtime readers know, we periodically include a reminder in NetAction Notes about the difference between outreach and spam. Even when it's for a good cause, unsolicited email is spam, and if your goal is to build support for your cause, you aren't likely to succeed by annoying the people you're trying to reach.
Unfortunately, there are still many activists who don't remember this important rule of "netiquette." But not long ago we received an outreach email that got it right. We are reposting it here in hopes that others will use it as a model:
Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2000 13:01:19 -0400 From: "Rich Cowan" To: "Paul Brasseur" Subject: for Paul Brasseur re: Org. Collaborative ------------------------------------------------- This email is just to let you know about a low-volume email list we have established this year, focusing on the use of computers and the Internet in organizing for social change. We haven't subscribed you to anything; this is only an invitation to join. The list "email@example.com" is a digest that comes out about once per week, published by the Organizers' Collaborative. ORG-C covers the use of the Internet to foster communication and collaboration among social change activists, the creation of open source, free software for nonprofit and activist users, social critiques of the Internet, and occasional events we sponsor. So far, 17 digests have been published, and an archive is available to subscribers only. To subscribe, just send a blank e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for your interest, and please forward this message to colleagues or to listservs where it may be relevant! -rich cowan for the Organizers' Collaborative http://organizenow.net P.O. Box 400897, Cambridge, MA 02140 617-776-6176
There are several things about this email that make it a good example of email outreach, and one thing that could have been done better. On the positive side:
What could have been improved? The subject line in the header. If you don't know Paul Brasseur or the Organizers' Collaborative, it doesn't make a lot of sense. A better subject line would have been: "Announcing new list for online organizers," or something similar.
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