The Internet is the fastest growing communications medium in the world. While some individuals and companies have been quick to capitalise on this medium, non-profit organisations have been slower on the uptake. However with a decline in the level of donations from traditional donors who are aging and a shift by their children away from their parent's spirit of philanthropy, the Internet may offer non-profits a way of reaching new donors.
Worldwide, Internet users have above-average incomes, good jobs and are aged between 21 and 45 years of age. It is this age group that non-profit organisations identify as being the donors of the future. Traditional means of fund-raising appear not to be as effective in soliciting donations from this group. Non-profit organisations worldwide are also looking to the Internet as another way of communicating with their donors.
This paper looks at how non-profits worldwide are using the Internet and then by means of an online survey, seeks to determine what issues Internet users identify as being of concern when asked about making online donations.
Visitors to a non-profit Internet site were asked to identify the issue or issues that would be of concern if asked to make an online donation with 'credit card security' and 'privacy of provided information' as two key issues. Provided these concerns are answered, the survey found that 65 percent of visitors to the site would be willing to make a donation online. In addition, those aged between 19 and 45 and who had used the Internet for between two and three years were more likely to make a donation.
The survey also found that concerns about 'where the money goes' and the efficiency of the organisation, identified by respondents were similar to concerns expressed by donors to non-profits through traditional means.
Governments and the Internet
E-Commerce Non-Profits and Donor Behaviour
Non-Profits and the Internet
Third Parties and Non-Profits
The Australian Situation
Web Surveys - An Overview
Generating a Response
Limitations and Validity
Worldwide, non-profit organisations are going through a period of change. Perlmutter and Gummer (1994) in the Handbook of Nonprofit Management and Leadership state that, "it is necessary to continuously examine the accelerated changing needs of society in order to redesign organisational structure" . Perlmutter (1969) also proposes that the changing external environment is central in shaping an agency's development. To the communication practitioner working in a non-profit agency or organisation, the biggest change in the external environment from a communication's perspective is the growth of the Internet. Where once telephone, direct mail, radio or even television may have been used to communicate to current or prospective donors, the Internet may now offer a more effective medium to retain or attract donors, volunteers and corporate supporters.
This paper will look at the Internet and whether it can be used by non-profits to seek donations. If so, what are the issues that prospective donors may raise when asked to contribute by way of an online donation.
Non-profit organisations in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia are using the Internet as a communications tool. Why?
Recently published statistics of Internet users show that they are "becoming closer demographically to the American population at large" and hence are more desirable as potential donors to non-profit organisations. According to eMarketer, the typical Internet user has a median age of 38, is male (61 percent), has a median household incomes of US$59,500 and mostly works in professional, managerial, education or computer related fields .
The Internet provides a window to prospective donors for non-profits. In interviews conducted by the author those involved in fund-raising for non-profits have stated, "that when the parents of the baby-boomers die, organisations will see a decrease in the number of donors. Baby-boomer children do not appear to have the same philanthropic spirit that their parents did. Parents or families may determine who family members donate to, but the amount and when the donation is made, is determined by the family member themselves." The Internet provides the means to reach a new generation.
"The Internet's pace of adoption eclipses all other technologies that preceded it. Radio was in existence 38 years before 50 million people tuned in; TV took another 13 years to reach that benchmark... . Once it was opened to the general public, the Internet crossed that line in four years" .
The Internet is doubling in users every 100 days with the world heading for 130 plus million Internet users by the year 2000 . It "began in 1969 as part of the U. S. Pentagon's Advance Research Projects. Their concern was to ensure information could be sent around the world in peacetime or during a war even if cities and hence computer sites were destroyed" . The Internet was therefore designed to, "break down each message into electronic 'packets' and have those packets take random routes to their destination where they are reassembled" .
In the 1980s, the Internet was adopted as a high-speed computer network connecting the computational centres funded by the National Science Foundation as well as universities and libraries. To this network, Tim Berners-Lee, then at the Geneva-based CERN, added hypertext to create the World Wide Web, now the most popular part of the Internet.
Hypertext provides a computer user enormous potential power in information retrieval. By clicking on an underlined or 'linked' text element in a document on a networked computer, you can instantly be transported (in theory at least) to one of 30 million computers or hosts connected to the Web . This gives a single user access to a huge range of material. Tim Berners-Lee, noted that "The notion that all these tagged documents from computers all over the world could share a common naming and addressing 'space' was what made hypertext links so much more powerful" .
There are now over 115 million users of the 'Net worldwide with the figure expected to grow to 130 million plus by the year 2000 . Nicholas Negroponte from MIT Media Labs has predicted one billion users by the year 2000 .
Governments and the Internet
As has already been noted, non-profit organisations are going through a period of change. Globalisation is adding to this, to the point where "... there is no aspect of contemporary life that is not affected by the globalisation of national economies" . These observations also apply to the non-profit sector in Australia. In addition, government agencies are 'privatising' at all levels. This 'privatising' of services affects non-profit organisations in that they now have to compete for clients. Instead of funding the agency, the government now funds the client who then 'put themselves on the market' for services, for which non-profit agencies then compete.
One of the ways Australian governments are bringing this process of privitisation into being is by using the Internet. Non-profits involved in the new privately operated employment and job training networks no longer fill in forms or make phone calls to government offices. They connect to the relevant government department via the Internet or similar computer network and share information electronically. Non-profits that want to work in this area are required by governments to install the appropriate technology. This trend is a major external factor affecting non-profit organisations and hence it is crucial for non-profits to understand the government position.
Innovate Australia, a report issued by the previous Federal Labor government and adopted by the current Liberal government, states its vision as having: 'a society where all Australians have the opportunity to use information services to best advantage, with enthusiasm and confidence, and where these services help build a better, more prosperous and fairer Australia.'
"Australians have one of the highest take up rates of new technologies in international comparisons - technologies like video recorders, mobile phones and personal computers... . Australians are estimated to be the second greatest users per head of the Internet internationally" . According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, "three million Australians 18 years and over had accessed the Internet in the past 12 months to February, 1998" .
The New South Wales government in its Internet policy document, connect.nsw, promises a range of benefits for its citizens, including, "The days of multiple forms, lengthy queues, inconvenient opening hours and time-consuming correspondence are on their way out." This is a worthy aim, but the document does not describe how and when this will happen. connect.nsw makes strong claims about the potential growth of the Internet: "Every household in NSW can access the Internet through one of the best-developed telecommunications infrastructures in the world. The Internet is, therefore, already established in NSW, but the extent of its reach is likely to grow very rapidly over the next few years."
The Global Internet Group is even more glowing in its praise of this new medium; "We believe the Internet, as much as any technological or intellectual development in history, is a force for the liberation of human creativity and commerce." It should be noted that membership of the GIP is made up of computer companies who either market or manufacture hardware and software used to access the 'Net.
E-commerce is a term coined to describe 'electronic trading' that takes place over the Internet. Instead of ordering products over the phone or visiting a retail outlet, customers connect to or 'log-on' to a company's 'virtual store' laid out on a Web page. This enables graphics of available products to be displayed; online ordering via a secure server enables the customer to purchase goods, which are then physically shipped directly to the customer.
A 'secure server' refers to a process in which confidential information can be sent over the Internet so that it cannot be intercepted or misused. This protection is achieved by an encryption process using industry approved and accepted standards. It is normally used to send credit card numbers and other personal information such as addresses; it is essential to the success of e-commerce.
"In 1996, Amazon.com, the world's first Internet bookstore, recorded sales of less than US$16 million. In 1997 it sold US$148 million worth of books to Internet customers. ... Auto-by-Tel, a Web based automotive marketplace, processed a total of 345,000 purchase requests for autos through its Web site in 1996 for US$1.8 billion in auto sales. As of the end of November, 1997, the Web site was generating US$500 million a month in auto sales ($6 billion annualised) and processed over 100,000 purchase requests each month" . It is estimated that by the year 2002, US$300 billion worth of goods may be purchased using this method.
One of the largest growth areas in e-commerce is the online purchase of news and information. With more than 2,700 newspapers and magazines online, this is a growing business. The Internet is ideal for the electronic delivery of news and information, which can either be read off screen or printed out to read like a conventionally produced newspaper. Web newspaper sites require significant less capital investment than their print counterparts enabling very small organisations to get into this form of e-commerce.
In the United States, 24 banks offer full online services, including balance checking, funds transfer and bill payment. The Online Banking Report predicts that with the advent of Web-enabled televisions and e-mail phones, up to 22 million U. S. residents will use this form of communication with their bank by the year 2000. It is currently possible for banks to offer truly 'paper-free' bill payment services; the bank sends an electronic image of the bill to a customer who then authorises it for payment and makes a withdrawal from his account, all online.
Although these developments have been rapid, using the Internet for credit card transactions still needs to address some issues before businesses fully embrace e-commerce. Some of these issues include (i) the lack of a predictable legal environment; (ii) concerns that governments may overtax the Internet; and (iii), uncertainty about the Internet's performance, reliability and security. A detailed examination of these issues is beyond the scope of this paper; communication practitioners who wish to use the Internet to seek online donations must be aware of them.
Non-Profits and Donor Behaviour
Before looking at how non-profits are using the Internet, it is worth considering the behaviour of donors who are asked to give using traditional methods such as via direct mail.
A search of databases available at the University of Technology, Sydney and the Internet itself revealed little literature on the behaviour of donors towards non-profits. One recent survey conducted in Australia on donating to charities was carried out as an addendum to the annual Omnibus Survey, created by AGB McNair in 1997. "The majority (83%) of the adult population donates money or does volunteer work. This high proportion is consistent across geographic regions, age groups, income levels and occupation. On average, Australians over the age of 18 donate $210 per annum to charities" . When Australians donated to charities, the report noted that "Of these who donate or volunteer, 50% do so with regular donations to selected causes. Most of the others (44%) are passive givers who respond to fund-raising requests. Younger people (aged 18-24) are less inclined to be regular (41%) donors."
One question in the survey examined attitudes to fund-raising practices. The highest scores were in response to the following two statements:
- There is not enough information showing whether these organisations are effective or efficient in what they do.
- When I donate, I do not know how much money is actually going to the cause.
According to the report, "respondents were unanimous in their concern about the efficiency of charities to which they donate (57%) and the ultimate destination of their donations (76%). This sends a clear message to fund raising bodies in Australia to improve their levels of disclosure" .
The attitudes to fund-raising practices identified in this survey may be addressed through the Internet and electronic mail, providing communication managers in non-profit organisations with an effective tool to increase support. Unfortunately, the survey did not identify what percentage of donors (if any) had access to the Internet. However with three million Australians (20%) over 18 accessing the Internet in the past twelve months, and 83% of Australians donating to charities or doing volunteer work, there would seem to be some potential for charities and non-profits to use the Internet effectively.
Non-Profits and the Internet
As we have already seen, non-profit organisations in the United States and the United Kingdom have already identified the Internet as a vehicle to raise funds, recruit volunteers and develop awareness of their organisations. Assessing the potential of the Internet for fund-raising is a theme that appears in many articles and Internet newsgroups that cover philanthropy. "However, there is no sector wide survey yet available (in North America or Europe) that gives evidence of income" .
Some organisations have had some success with the Internet; the American Red Cross raised $47,000 from online donations and the American Cancer Society reported that it tripled its donations since it started seeking donations on the Web. Although there would seem to be no empirical studies on donations to non-profits online, two organisations, in the United Kingdom and in the United States, have published books on the subject, entitled Fundraising on the Internet.
Some argue that by using the Internet, non-profits will be able to access a younger demographic. "Moreover, other studies have shown that there is a disproportionate number of young people who are on the Internet. This is a demographic slice of the pie that charities have been struggling to reach - unsuccessfully in many cases - with more traditional fund-raising channels like direct mail. With the incredible growth of the Internet, there are more people coming online who will change the current demographic image of a younger, highly educated, upper income white male to one with a better gender balance and more ethnic socio-economic diversity" .
Another report indicated that "Internet users are utilizing their computers to change their lives with 41% of them telecommuting to work versus 19% of the entire workforce. Internet people work on-line, even to fulfill more of their consumer needs. Part of their fulfillment can be of a philanthropic nature. This group of current Internet users are already sophisticated users of on-line services and technology. They may turn part of their attention to on-line philanthropy, if charities learn to use this new medium in a way that gets their attention and pocketbooks" .
Electronic mail can be an effective means of keeping in touch with donors. The use of e-mail is likened to an appeal letter which is mailed directly to a donor. Using e-mail means securing from donors their electronic addresses, but these requests would seem to be less demanding than a normal postal address. Why? Ann e-mail address does not identify exactly where a person lives and regular e-mail from non-profits cannot be considered a waste of funds. E-mail actually addresses one of the major complaints of donors, that charities waste money by sending out so many mailings .
Electronic mail can be used in a variety of ways: "One way of doing this is to organise a regular e-mail newsletter. Providing a constant and dependable flow of information can allay fears of being overwhelmed by e-mail. As use of the Internet and e-mail grows, this can help ensure that your e-mail lists grow, bringing a larger portion of your audience closer to your organisation" .
Logically, if Internet users are accustomed to making online transactions to purchase products, they may be more likely to make donations to non-profit organisations.
Third Parties and Non-Profits
A number of third-party organisations have set up sites to enable potential donors to make online donations over a secure server to charities and non-profit organisations. Here is a summary of a few of these organisations:
- Independent Charities of America
Receives online donations via their own secure server for a range of U. S. charities; indicates that they are prepared to help a donor find the appropriate charity for their needs.
- Storm Internet Service
Similar service to ICA; offer a secure server and a 24-hour-a-day service.
An e-mail inquiry to Storm brought the following response, when asked about how much they received by this method. "The donations have averaged out to be around $50 US. The minimum we accept is $10. The largest single donation has been $400. Donation Frequency - 80% are single donations, 15% are Annual, and 5% are Monthly. (I suspect this will be much different for religious organisations)."
- World Vision International
World Vision offer an online secure donation facility to enable visitors to sponsor a child via a Web-based form. They also offer a secure server and provide verification information.
The Australian Situation
A survey of New South Wales-based charities and non-profit organisations by the Givewell Research Centre, using the charity's published annual reports, shows that of the forty charities surveyed, only eight have their own Web site. Of these eight, none offer secure online donations and only one, World Vision, offers any form of online donation facility .
In a phone interview, Mark Beavis, World Vision Australia's Internet site developer, said that online donations were still under trial. He confirmed that not having a secure server was their major problem, but that this would be rectified in the next few months. However World Vision Australia receive one or two donations a week via their Internet site via normal unsecured e-mail. This is less than one percent of their average weekly donations. World Vision believes that an Internet presence is important for donor information.
The Salvation Army, Australia's largest charity, does not yet offer an online donation facility. However in an interview with the Salvation Army's Web manager, Major Ray Allan, indicated that this would soon be available via their London Web server. The Salvation Army confirmed that security was the major concern of potential online donors. The Salvation Army tested a form of online donation by promoting a particular telephone number available only on their Web site; this technique produced a number of donations.
Non-profit organisations are facing a decline in their traditional donor base; they are influenced by a changing external environment and that to survive they must respond to these changes. The Internet is becoming an important communications medium and like all organisations, non-profits need to adapt to this new medium.
The demographics of those who use the Internet are part of the target demographic for non-profits. Using this new medium may provide a way of reaching them. Although there is no published research exactly testing the effectiveness of the Internet in generating income for non-profits, many organisations in the UK and U. S. are 'testing the waters' relative to the Internet.
"Will visitors to a non-profit Internet site make a donation online? What issues will Internet users identify as being of concern if they are considering making an online donation?"
Visitors to the Wesley Mission Web site were surveyed for this paper to answer these questions. The site has been active for over eighteen months and contains detailed information about the organisation and its caring work. Although there are no interactive elements on the site, counters that measure the number of 'hits' have indicated up to 500 people a week visit the site. The research was carried out in two parts. A simple survey form was administered online on the Wesley Mission Web site, followed by a more detailed questionnaire.
Web Surveys - an Overview
Using the Internet to conduct surveys creates a number of potential problems. The Graphic Visualisation & Usability Center (GVU) at the Georgia Institute of Technology has conducted nine World Wide Web User Surveys (held every six months); their online report addresses the difficulties in using the Web for this purpose. The Center remarked that "the Internet presents a unique problem for surveying. ... Since there is no central registry of all Internet users, completing a census, where an attempt is made to contact every user of the Internet, is neither practical or feasible financially" .
Therefore it is not possible to achieve a proper random sample using the Internet. The GVU surveys attract participants by posting information on other Web pages, using banners on high-exposure sites and posting messages on mailing lists.
These problems mean that it is not possible to conduct a truly random survey of a population on a given issue. Those who take part, are by definition, Internet users. However it is also not possible to say that results obtained apply to all Internet users. It only applies to those who visited the Wesley Mission site and filled in the survey as described in this paper. The GVU survey concludes that its results are based on non-random or 'non-probabilistic' data biased towards Internet users, this is after all the data we are after. It is real data from real online users.
Interactive Solutions Group, another Internet-based organisation that develops online surveys of Internet users, claims that, "the general consumer population and Internet users mirror one another in most buying habits, behaviours and attitudes when demographic characteristics of the Internet are controlled to reflect the general population." The Group set out to "dispel the myth that just because you are on the Internet, you are somehow different." .
An online survey was designed to query visitors to the Wesley Mission Web site on issues related to online donations. Each day, the comments made by participants were posted on a comments page, accessible from the survey page. This feature enabled visitors to the page to examine comments on the site on the issue of digital donations. It could be argued that this methodology may have influenced some comments and therefore affected the validity of their responses; however this sort of online feedback system is typical of Internet discussion groups.
The survey page ran on the site for six weeks beginning in July, 1998. During this period 44 responses were received. Responses to the following question were then analysed to identify key issue(s) raised."If a non-profit organisation was to offer the facility of online donations using your credit card number, what issues such as security would you want to know about before making a donation? Each day the previous day's responses to this question will be posted on the Comments page. (Please list as many additional issues as you like in the space below.)"
There were 14 responses that mentioned the words 'security' or 'secure'; these ranged from just the word 'security' to a more detailed answer, such as "I do not believe the Internet is secure".
Eight responses mentioned the words 'credit card', 'number' or 'card'. In most cases this was in the context of being concerned about giving a credit card number over the Internet.
There were also eight responses concerning the bona fides of the organisation. Comments ranged from being 'satisfied about the bona-fides of the organisation', 'already have a relationship with the non-profit', 'understand why the organisation wanted the money' and knowing 'that the money gets to the people in need and how it is used'.
Privacy was an issue in four responses and related to what the organisation would do with the information obtained online. All responses indicated a concern over the misuse of personal information.Other issues mentioned included how would the organisation supply a tax-deductible receipt over the Internet, confusion about the concept of using a credit card to make an online donation and in one case, one respondent had no credit cards to make a donation.
These concerns are summarised in the following table:
Issues of concern, Wesley Mission Web survey Issue Number Security/secure 14 Credit Card 8 Nature of the Non-Profit 8 Privacy 4
These key issues were then used to create a more detailed questionnaire which was also administered online on the Wesley Mission web site. Seven questions set out in a Likhert scale related directly to the issues identified in the initial survey. Although the survey produced only four major issues these were expanded to seven to seek more information about how donors wanted to relate to the non-profit organisation seeking donations online. Hypertext links were used on these seven key questions so that respondents could get more information about each issue as required. This explanatory information provided a short explanation about the issue; no attempt was made to correlate the use of these explanations to respondents.
Generating a Response
We have already seen that conducting surveys over the Internet is far different from more traditional methods. Attracting respondents was always going to be an unknown. As stated, the project was designed to survey those people who visited the Wesley Mission site. The site was set up to provide information about the Mission and its activities; the longest operating page (in terms of months in operation) carries copies of sermons delivered by Rev. Gordon Moyes. These sermons have been available by traditional means for many years.
Given the traffic on the 'sermon' page (over 100 'hits' per week), a link was created from it to the online questionnaire. Announcements about the Wesley Mission survey were also posted to a number of news groups, including aus.religion.christian and soc.org.nonprofit; the questionnaire was considered to be of interest to members of these groups. In addition, e-mail correspondence with one of the authors of the books on Internet fund-raising, Howard Lake, resulted in an announcement about the questionnaire being placed on his Web site.
Two weeks after the questionnaire was placed on the site, the Spring issue of the Mission's quarterly magazine, Impact was mailed to 15,000 subscriber and Mission donors. This magazine has carried a listing of the Mission's Web site and e-mail addresses. The issue described the online questionnaire and encouraged readers with Internet access to fill it out. In addition, the weekly church newsletter carried a small article about the survey for a three-week period.
Information collected from the online survey was automatically e-mailed to a pre-set e-mail address as each person pressed the 'submit' button. In turn, they then viewed a 'thank you' page; if they provided an e-mail address, a notification of the results of the survey would be sent. Information was then imported into an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet before being analysed by a SPSS software package.
The survey ran for six weeks from September 4 until October 16, 1998. During that time 53 responses were received. A hit counter on the page showed that 177 people visited the page, indicating a 30 percent completion rate. During that same period, a total of 2,186 hits were counted on the three highest visited pages on the site, indicating that only 2.4 percent of visitors completed the questionnaire. It is not possible to identify if each of these 2,186 hits are from unique individuals; however they do indicate the level of interest of a particular page.
The survey was completed by 39 males and 14 females. The majority, 35 percent, were aged from 31-45 years with the next highest age range being 19-30 at 22 percent. Seventeen percent of respondents were over the age of fifty-five.
Forty-seven percent had been using the Web for between two and three years with 24 percent using it for less than one year and 28 percent using it for more than three years.
Australia was the country of residence for 60 percent of respondents with the U. S., 29 percent and other at 11 percent.
Fifty-two percent said that non-profits should use the Internet for online donations with forty-one percent being unsure. Only 6 percent said no to this question. Eighty-four percent had previously donated to a non-profit organisation but only 28 percent had donated to Wesley Mission.
Issues of concern
The results of the seven issues set out in the questionnaire in a Likhert scale are indicated in the graph below.
As can be seen by the graph, the two issues given the highest 'most important' value are to do with concerns over credit card security (64.2 percent) and over whether the donated money goes to the needy (66 percent).
The following graph represents the response to the question, "Provided Wesley Mission answered any concerns you may have about online donations, would you donate online? While thirty-five percent said 'No', 65 percent indicated a 'Yes' or 'Maybe' response.
So we could make the following statement in response to the initial premise of this paper:"Sixty-five percent of Internet users who visit the Wesley Mission site are likely to make an online donation to Wesley Mission, provided concerns about credit card security, privacy of information and assurance that the money goes to those for whom it is intended are answered to their satisfaction."
Age and Years on Internet as factors
Those that used the Internet for between two to three years appeared more likely to donate online (47 percent) compared to those who had used it for less than one year (21 percent) or more than three years (32 percent). In addition, those aged between 19 and 45 were more likely to donate online (67 percent) than those under 18 or over 55. The following tables show comparisons:
Years on the Internet Affecting Donations Net Experience Agreeing to Online Donations (percent) Less than one year 21 Two to three years 47 More than three years 32 Total 100
Age and its Effect on Donations Age Would You Donate? (percent) Up to 18 3 19-30 23 31-45 44 46-55 9 Over 55 5 Invalid 16 Total 100
Therefore we can add the following to the previous statement:"Internet users between the ages of 19 and 45 who have used the Internet for between two and three years are more likely to donate to Wesley Mission compared to those younger or older and with less than a year of experience on the 'Net."
The Impact factor
Only five respondents identified themselves as having read about the survey in a Wesley Mission publication. This number was not considered sufficiently large to produce any significant variation in the results and was discounted as a variable in the analysis.
Sixty-five percent of Internet users who visit the Wesley Mission site are likely to make an online donation to the Mission, provided concerns about credit card security, privacy of information and assurance that the money goes to those for whom it is intended are answered to their satisfaction. Those who make a donation are more likely to be between the ages of 19 and 45 and will have used the Internet between two and three years.
The survey results showed that 84 percent of respondents had previously donated to a non-profit organisation. This equates with the Omnibus Survey, carried out by AGB McNair in 1997 which stated that "83 percent of the adult population donates money or does volunteer work" .
Limitations and Validity
The low number of responses to the survey limits any broad application of the results discussed in this paper. With over 2,000 'hits' on the Mission's Web site during the survey period it had been hoped that more data would have been collected.
When the responses were slower then expected, alterations were made to the survey page and the pages 'pointing' to it. These included requests such as "Please don't leave without completing the form and clicking on the submit button. Thanks." These changes produced no identifiable increase in the number of surveys received.
Because the survey did not use random sampling, and respondents 'self-selected', it is not possible to generalise the results to other Internet users or non-profit Web sites. However the aims of this research were to survey those already on the Internet visiting the Wesley Mission Web site. From that perspective, the results provide at least some information on a subset of all Internet users.
Another limitation was the poor response to the articles placed in the Mission's magazine and church newsletter. The intention was to use the questionnaire to survey two populations; (i) those who visited the Mission's Web, and (ii) those who read about the survey and then visited the site. As the magazine is read by existing supporters and donors of the Mission, a measurable response from this population would have enabled us to see if existing donors would use the Internet to make a donation. Five responses were received from a print run of over 15,000. This would seem to indicate that for readers of the magazine, our existing donors, the Internet is of little interest.
There may be an explanation in the demographics of those who donate to the Mission and therefore received the magazine. A survey of adults who have heard of Wesley Mission and made a donation (which would qualify them to receive the magazine) shows that twice as many adults range in the '55 plus' age group compared to those between the ages of 25-54 .
Therefore it could be said that donors and therefore readers of the magazine are more likely to fall into a demographic with little current access to the Internet.
This survey would appear to be one of the first carried out in Australia by a non-profit organisation on the attitudes of donors to online donations. The data collected is from a very small sample specifically linked to one non-profit organisation. As such, it would be difficult to extrapolate this survey to any other non-profit organisation, so there is room for much in the way of additional research.
The proposition in much of the literature that the Internet will provide access to a younger demographic however, appears to be supported. Further research would determine if this younger demographic will actually respond by making a donation online.
Areas of concern identified in the literature when referring to traditional means of fund-raising are also identified by respondents to this survey. Issues such as 'knowing where the money goes' and 'having a relationship with the organisation'.
The 'relationship building' potential of e-mail requires further research. Research is also needed to determine what information donors would need to receive, in what form and by what medium, in order to be satisfied about credit card security, privacy of information and assurance that the money goes to the needy.
Those purchasing products over the Internet are able to 'see' what they are buying, but this 'visualisation' is more difficult when asking for donations to charities. Research into how much people are likely to give would also be of value.
Non-profit organisations cannot afford to ignore the Internet. If they are to remain viable and continue to attract supporters, the Internet must become an important part of their communications mix. As traditional donors are no longer able to give their support, new ways of attracting new donors must be explored and acted on. The Internet would appear to offer a way of reaching new, desirable donors.
With e-commerce becoming more widely accepted and the move by commercial organisations to transact more and more business online, this transition will make the move by non-profits into electronic commerce much easier. Rather than being 'the innovators', non-profits will 'piggy-back' on models developed by successful digital enterprises. In addition, communications managers need to be aware of these contemporary issues so that they continue to develop effective and efficient communications methods.
About the AuthorMartin Johnson is Manager of Communications at the Wesley Mission in Sydney, Australia.
This paper was part of a project submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (Communication Management) at the University of Technology, Sydney in November 1998.
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26. Quadrant Research Services Pty Ltd., 1997. 20 Leading Charities - Survey of Public Awareness and Support. Sydney: (February/March), confidential report for subscribers.
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