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How Your Nonprofit Can Use the Internet Strategically

Any nonprofit can have one of two broad types of Web sites. First is a "brochure-ware" site, which simply contains information about the nonprofit. A brochure-ware site can be one page of unformatted text or hundreds of pages of text, graphics, animation, audio, and video. Either way, because all of the pages provide information only, the site is considered a brochure-ware site.

The second option is an interactive "e-philanthropy" site. An e-philanthropy site includes a brochure-ware portion but also contains transactions that enable visitors—donors, volunteers, staff, and others—to interact with the nonprofit (and each other), and to support the organization in ways that sustain its mission, both tangibly and intangibly.
A brochure-ware site may have a lot for the user to see, but an effective e-philanthropy site also has a lot for the user to do.
Most nonprofits want an e-philanthropy site, yet few actually have one. Why not? The answer typically boils down to one or more of the following obstacles:

  1. Cost–Developing a complete, robust e-philanthropy site using a traditional "custom development" approach typically costs hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
  2. Time–Developing a complete, robust e-philanthropy site typically takes months, often over a year.
  3. Technology skills–Developing a complete, robust e-philanthropy site typically requires deep technical skills.
  4. Technology infrastructure–Developing a complete, robust e-philanthropy site requires significant hardware, software, and network resources.
Any one of these obstacles is enough to dissuade all but the largest and bravest nonprofits from even considering an e-philanthropy Web site. Fortunately, a number of e-philanthropy Application Service Providers (ASPs) now provide tools that permit nonprofits to eliminate these obstacles and build their own e-philanthropy Web sites quickly, easily, inexpensively, and with no training and limited technical skills. The cost can be as little as a few hundred dollars. The time to build a site can be as little as a couple of hours—provided you have first developed your content (text and images). The technological skills required can be as basic as the ability to use a Web browser. And the technology infrastructure needed can be as simple as a PC connected to the Internet.

If you are thinking of building an e-philanthropy site, here are some features you should consider:

Cash donations Offer creative options, including:

  • Payment via credit card or e-check.
  • Pre-set donation amounts (e.g., $10, $25, $100, other).
  • One-time versus recurring (e.g., monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.).
  • Ability to target donations to fund a specific program or service (or designate the funds as unrestricted).
  • Ability to specify in whose name the donation should be made.
In-kind donations Provide several convenient ways for donors to make in-kind donations, including:

  • Offering an in-kind item (or service).
  • Fulfilling a non-cash request.
  • Offering an in-kind item for sale in your e-store.
Investment donations Provide instructions on how to donate investments.
Planned Gifts Provide donors with various planned giving options, including all the information he or she needs to make the gift.
Volunteer Enable easy sign-up for one-time or ongoing volunteer positions.
Feedback Permit anyone who donates, volunteers, becomes a member, etc. to rate your nonprofit and post comments about it. Users may view this feedback and, ideally, contact those who have given their permission.
Referrals Refer friends, perhaps even enabling the donor to match their donations.
Events Provide a list or graphical calendar of your nonprofit's events or classes and the ability to click on any one for more detail or to register on-line.
E-cards Send an electronic greeting card.
Employment Provide employment listings—as a staff member, management, or board member—and easy application process. Include the ability to attach a cover letter or résumé.
Membership Enroll as a member of your nonprofit or renew membership.
Public opinion poll Respond to a one-question poll on an issue of topical relevance, and immediately view the results-to-date. Real-time polls can be a powerful way of immediately engaging your visitors.
E-store Donate in-kind items for sale in your e-store. These items may be posted for sale by donors (with your approval, of course) or by your nonprofit.
Petitions Sign on-line petitions.
E-advocacy Select an issue of importance and send a letter taking action - customizing the text, recipients, and signature.

Your Web site can be a powerful strategic tool to achieve tangible and intangible results that further your mission. What's more, tools are available to implement a powerful e-philanthropy site inexpensively, easily, and quickly.

Allan Pressel, CharityFinders
© 2004, Allan Pressel

Allan Pressel is the founder and CEO of CharityFinders, CharityFinders offers NonprofitSite123, an on-line tool that enables any nonprofit to build its own world-class Web site in just a few hours, with no training or technical skills required. He can be reached at
Topics: Communications