The Internet is generally agreed to be the world’s most powerful communication tool. Yet most NGOs see it as little more than a mechanism for reaching the widest possible audience and persuading them to give online. The future of e-philanthropy, however, is more likely to be about the whole of the donor/NGO relationship than simply about donating.
One thing seems clear: this relationship is not going to be a one-way communication process. Online individual donors are likely to be far more active partners in the relationships with the NGOs they support than more traditional donors. No longer the passive recipients of annual reports and cold mailings, they are far more likely to instigate contact and dictate the terms of the relationship than the NGO.
A new breed of donor
A joint study by CAF and internet service provider Poptel has confirmed the existence of a new breed of online donor, with a whole new approach to their giving. Young, sophisticated and financially astute, these people are likely to seek out information on an organization from a number of different sources before committing themselves. And when they do make a donation, they take full advantage of any tax reliefs available on their gift.
These new donors don’t simply want to know about the work of the NGO, they want accountability. They want to know who the NGO’s beneficiaries are and how well it serves their needs. Above all, they want to know what impact their support will have. They may even want a say in the type of work to which their donation will be put. Accreditation in some form may well become necessary for any organization seeking to distinguish itself from its competitors.
Given the unparalleled access to information provided by the Internet, duplication and overlap between organizations will soon become as easily identifiable as failure. Donors are therefore likely to become increasingly intolerant of unnecessary competition.
Are NGOs prepared?
Many NGOs have found themselves unprepared for this new dialogue. But if e-philanthropy is to fulfil its clear potential, NGOs will have to begin building the online relationships that donors are now demanding, addressing them and their needs individually. While this may seem fairly daunting for the NGO, they are likely to reap the benefits of more effective relationships with their supporters long into the future.
Services are already being developed online that can provide individuals with tailored giving portals, allowing them to manage all their giving through a single site. CAF’s All About Giving is one such site (see box). It allows individual donors to locate and compare the work of other, similar NGOs whose work might otherwise remain unknown to them. NGOs, meanwhile, can take advantage of the level playing field provided by the site with which to forge relationships with new and existing supporters.
The value of the Internet is already being measured in terms of donations by organizations that are managing to harness its full potential in this way. Donors’ response to international disasters provides a good example. All About Giving brings donors news of international emergencies almost immediately, through a range of electronic news feeds and online bulletins. In response, donors can pledge their support with just the click of a button. At the height of an emergency international appeal, donors through All About Giving have increased the value of their gifts by as much as 600 per cent.
While these giving portals are not intended to compete with, let alone replace, NGOs’ own websites, they do demonstrate the need for NGOs to exist in more than one place on the Internet. NGOs need to appear in giving portals, on search engines and in web directories; they need links from other relevant sites, not least those of other organizations capable of targeting an audience outside their own field of expertise or geographical area.
In their turn, NGOs have to become knowledge brokers, providing gateways to other, relevant sources of information. This is particularly important for NGOs aiming to become the ‘destination of choice’ for Internet users. WaterAid hosts a dynamic website on water relief and associated issues. Alongside compelling arguments for alternatives and solutions, WaterAid demonstrates its partnerships with water companies in addressing these issues, and its role as international advocate among governments and policy-makers.
Technology is increasingly making philanthropy an empowering process for individual donors. In future, those NGOs that regularly update their supporters with news of events and developments of interest to them will inevitably gain the edge over those that do not, or cannot, avail themselves of the full potential of the Internet.
Sarah Hughes is Head of New Media at Charities Aid Foundation. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All About Giving
CAF’s All About Giving site serves both NGOs and donors. It provides NGOs with unparalleled access to new and existing audiences, while offering donors the resources to shape and manage their giving.
The site offers donors a comprehensive guide to tax-effective giving, enabling them to identify the method best suited to their lifestyle. It facilitates online giving through CAF’s CharityCard, Gift Aid, payroll giving, trusts and even shares. Perhaps more importantly, the site allows them to view their own giving in relation to the range and breadth of NGO activity, introducing them to new causes and organizations each time they visit and providing them with up-to-date information from the NGOs themselves.
NGOs can use All About Giving to fundraise at no cost and to build lasting relationships with their supporters. They can add themselves to the site’s growing database of NGOs and sign up to accept donations through CAF’s CharityCard. This allows them to view statements of online donations made to them, post news of their activities, personalize their own pages on the site and, where appropriate, link to their own websites.
All About Giving offers NGOs equal access to new audiences based on their ability to use the medium rather than their size or resources. It encourages transparency and dialogue between NGOs and their supporters, while promoting choice for donors.
All About Giving is fully integrated with CAF’s offline activities, generating around one third of all new donor applications. Responsible for some of the fastest growth in e-giving yet seen, the site has channelled some £750,000 to the non-profit sector since its launch in October 2000.