Non-Profits on E
First Monday

Non-Profits on E: How Non-Profit Organisations are Using the Internet for Communication, Fundraising, and Community Building by Pieter Boeder

Abstract
Non-Profits on E: How Non-Profit Organisations are Using the Internet for Communication, Fundraising, and Community Building by Pieter Boeder
This study draws on research and literature from the disciplines of media studies, information technology and marketing theory to construct the argument that non-profit organisations can benefit from new developments in digital media technology and will have to adapt new strategies as a result of these technologies.

It explores current issues and debates within the non-profit community regarding the use of the Internet and investigates the opinions and attitudes expressed within these debates. Further, it examines the way non-profit organisations are currently implementing Internet tools and strategies and gives an overview of some of the underlying technologies.

The point of departure is that the activities on the Internet are taking place within an organisational and societal context that both enables and defines communication, the structural process associated with community. This communication, as well as its underlying technology, are subject of study and form the starting point of this investigation.

Contents

Introduction
Research Methodology
The Political Economy of the Internet
Non-profits on the Web
The Potential of Technology for Non-profits
Building Relationships on the Internet
Conclusion and Research Recommendations

 


 

"We do care about making the world a better place and we see technology as a good place to try to make a difference."
- Bob Ellsworth, eContributor.com

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Introduction

With the advent of the Internet and the emergence of the 'global village' (McLuhan and Powers, 1989) the communications environment for organisations, commercial as well as non-profit, has changed dramatically. For-profit organisations are implementing new media and e-commerce in their organisations at a dramatic speed and level. This has lead to more efficient production structures, improved economy of scale and intensified co-operation. Non-profit organisations are in a different situation. They may have a different rationale for their online presence than for-profit organisations. Although they are likely to benefit from the Internet as least as much as commercial organisations do, they often do not have the technical or financial resources that enable them to establish an effective Internet presence.

Relative to other sectors, non-profits have been slow to use the capability of the Internet to enable new mechanisms for creating and maintaining relationships. Up until 1999, it was difficult to find non-profit pages on the Internet. There was virtually no marketing of non-profit sites. Frequently, their sites offered nothing more than static representations of their off-line marketing efforts. But that has changed. Non-profit organisations are an intrinsic part of the social economy, and encompass a broad range of organisations, including public service, mutual-interest, and social change organisations. The environment in which they operate is rapidly changing. In the Internet economy, no organisation exists in isolation. Non-profit organisations are starting to recognise that they, too, are subject to the new paradigms of the digital economy.

Mission-driven organisations are under pressure to generate most of their own support. In the area of fundraising, they may benefit from identifying and differentiating their donors, learning more about them through ongoing interactivity and building individualised relationships. Not only does the Internet offer an effective platform for communication and fundraising, but also for informing the public about their missions. This piece of work attempts to approach an old subject, relationships, from a new perspective - the Internet, with a strong focus on non-profit organisations. These have long discovered the medium as an efficient platform to communicate their goals and missions. But what are they actually doing there? Do mission-driven organisations use the medium differently, perhaps more creatively than for-profits? Does the Internet live up to the widely held expectations of posing an unprecedented opportunity to develop one-to-one relationships?

The body of this work is organised in eight sections. The research methodology used is laid out in the second section. Theories of the Internet and the network society are discussed in third section, briefly touching upon disparity issues, the concept of technocapitalism, and its implications for the public sphere. The fourth section gives an overview of existing research and discusses the rationale of a Web presence for non-profit organisations. In the fifth section the strategic potential of new Internet technologies is explored such as customer relationship management and application service providing for non-profit organisations. the sixth section focuses on the relationship building potential of Internet technology. Finally the conclusion summarises the findings and contains recommendations for further research. An appendix reviews randomly selected non-profit Web sites to illustrate their broad variety today.

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Research Methodology

Scope and limitations of this research

Research for this project was carried out from 7 July 2000 to 7 October 2001, and builds on the gathered expertise of the participants in the CharityChannel Cybergifts Forum and the Gilbert Center Online Fundraising Mailing List, along with a review of existing information in the form of literature and other data. The practical limits of time and resources meant that this research could only provide an introductory look at this complex topic. Subsequent work will thence broaden and deepen the findings presented here. In addition, several other issues than the ones discussed here are equally important and deserve similar examination. As pointed out in the conclusion of this work, the relationship-building aspect of new Internet technologies form a rewarding topic for further research, while the specific risk and benefit factors involved in the application of such techniques need careful examination. Finally, with content on the Web growing and changing so rapidly, the findings must be viewed as representing a snapshot of the moment in time when this was written.

Research objectives

The Internet affects non-profit organisations in many profound ways. It is therefore necessary to try to understand the broader context of the surrounding issues and model what is happening. This research has three purposes:

  • To describe current developments, paying attention to issues of technology and disparity, and the implications for the public sphere in which non-profit organisations operate.
  • To map the attempts that have been made to theorise the Internet and the network society and to identify the ways in which these developments affect the performance and practice of non-profit organisations.
  • To explore the potential of Internet technology as a tool for mission-driven organisations to build relationships and to identify opportunities for further research.

Preliminary research

In order to get this research started I initially gathered the e-mail addresses of approximately 250 individuals and organisations that are involved in online charity and related subjects from the Internet. The list included staff of non-profit organisations, consultants and other professionals, researchers, authors of literature on the subject and those who have developed fund-raising sites for the non-profit community. I sent an e-mail mass mailing to the addresses in which I introduced myself and explained that I was researching how non-profit organisations are using the Internet. In this e-mail, I asked the recipients to contact me if they knew of any current research on this topic or if they knew anyone that was working on the subject. I included a text sample from my dissertation proposal and a hyperlink to my home page for further information. The response rate was well over 10 percent, which is remarkably high for an unsolicited (!) electronic mass mailing. I received replies from all over the world, including mail from some of the few acknowledged experts in the field. Their comments and suggestions made it possible to write a first research outline.

Data collection

A classical journalistic approach to researching a given subject is to look at what the 'experts' in a particular field of knowledge are talking about. In order to yield an accurate baseline I chose a set of qualitative methods to assess the major issues concerning non-profit organisations and their presence on the Internet. I have analysed the postings on two e-mail discussion forums - the CharityChannel Cybergifts forum and the Gilbert Center Online Fundraising mailing list - related to the subject. Applying qualitative analysis on these Listserv postings enables a more in-depth interpretation of these postings than any single quantitative method. It was my intention to assess the perceived importance of the different conversation topics in order to develop a better understanding of the issues and debates that surround the activities of non-profit organisations on the Internet.

Ways of collecting data in qualitative research may vary widely among different set-ups. I chose a way of collecting data that involved a mixture of the three classic methods for collecting qualitative data - interviews, participatory observation, and documentary analysis. Participation in two moderated online discussion forums enabled the generation of research questions and their modification as they arose. New areas of inquiry were explored in the course of this process. Clearly, this approach involves a certain degree of overt participant observation. The participants were aware of my research objective, as they had been informed about this at an early stage. Due to the character of the medium - electronic mail - used for collecting the data from the online discussion forums, was uncomplicated. Several megabytes of human conversation were recorded.

An e-mail discussion forum can be defined as a group of people who share an interest in a particular topic. They have subscribed to the forum to be able to communicate their questions, answers, opinions, experience, and knowledge on any given topic. When a forum subscriber submits a message, that message is automatically sent to all other forum subscribers. Each forum member has an equal opportunity to participate in a discussion. The participants in these forums form a fairly representative sample of the target community. The issue of representativeness was of little significance because of my predominantly qualitative and narrative research approach. Further, their declared interest - by participating in the discussions on the forum - made the participants into what can be described as approaching an ideal sample.

Both CharityChannel and the Gilbert Center provide discussion forums as a free service to the non-profit sector. CharityChannel is a volunteer-driven online community of non-profit sector professionals. It claims to be the oldest and largest community in the world. The CharityChannel Cybergifts forum describes itself as open to any person who shares an interest in any aspect of charitable fundraising over the Internet. The Gilbert Center Online Fundraising mailing list follows a similar approach, as a moderated discussion list which attempts to create a collegial environment of peers to exchange information and learn from each other. List topics include non-profit online news, online fundraising, non-profit communication, and innovation. Commercial content is generally not allowed. These forums are open to anyone, provided they have access to the Internet. Most participants turned out to have expert knowledge in the field and a genuine interest in the subjects discussed. They are authors, executive staff of online charities, non-profit consultants, university librarians, IT experts or researchers. Discussion topics were sometimes suggested by the listmaster but were usually started by participant postings.

Data analysis

Data analysis was performed by categorising the forum postings retrieved within the research timeframe by their discussion topics. The identification of the relevant issues and debates involved interplay of data and interpretation. The first step was to analyse the preliminary data to generate initial themes and concepts. These were re-evaluated throughout the data collection process, changing them as more was learnt from the forum participants on the topics discussed. Once the postings were organised by topic, their content was assessed. Finally, the most frequently discussed conversation topics on the forums were included for further discussion in this work.

An evaluation of the data primarily relying on quantitative methods was not appropriate for this research, as it would not have been in line with the end objective of developing an ethnographic narrative. Another possibility that was considered for gathering the data for this research was the Web-based survey, which during the few years of their existence provided a wide range of empirical evidence (Vehovar et al., 1999). Yet because of its 'canned' structure, this method lacks the spontaneous interactivity and flexibility of a moderated e-mail discussion forum in which all participants are key informants. Although extremely useful for specific research questions, such as the use of e-mail as a strategic tool by non-profit organisations (Gilbert, 2001a, 2001b), this option was abandoned at an early stage because of its inherent limitations.

The timeframe for the analysis of the CharityChannel Cybergifts and the Gilbert Center Online Fundraising e-mail discussion forums was 1 July 2000 to 1 July 2001. All e-mail messages sent to these forums in this one-year period have been retrieved and archived. In total, 675 postings to the Cybergifts forum and 155 postings to the Online Fundraising e-mail discussion forums have been analysed. After a categorisation by subject of the list discussions, five predominant conversation topics emerged - online fundraising and Internet donations, e-mail as a strategic tool, Web-based marketing, public-private partnerships and community building on the Internet. A further categorisation in which the messages were indexed by keyword established the most frequently discussed subjects. Multiple occurrences of any keyword within the same message were not counted; however, though it is possible that any single message will be listed in several categories if it touches upon the subject of that category.

This further break-up revealed that the relative majority of the postings on CharityChannel Cybergifts forum (212) and the Gilbert Center Online Fundraising discussion list (31) dealt with the different aspects of on-line fundraising. Other major issues discussed were fundraising partnerships with commercial organisations (138/26), Internet technology (127/3), third-party technology solutions for non-profit organisations (60/19), electronic mail as a strategic communication tool (14/48), regulation and legislation (93/2), community building (42/1), literature recommendations (0/8), and marketing strategies for non-profit organisations (1/5). Thirteen messages to the Online Fundraising forum and 40 messages to the Cybergifts e-mail discussion forum could not be assigned to any of these categories and have therefore been left out. These messages were either off-topic, unrelated to any other discussed issues, or were housekeeping messages regarding the proper functioning of the mailing list. I have also disregarded the messages on regulation and legislation because they specifically apply to the situation in the U.S., and the literature recommendations, which were occasionally made by participants. Some of these, however, turned out to be quite useful for this research and are therefore discussed elsewhere in this work. Finally, the following categorisation emerged:

  • Fundraising: 418 occurrences
  • E-mail ('Email'): 335 occurrences
  • Marketing, including one-to-oneMarketing: 173 occurrences
  • Technology for Non-Profits: 157 occurrences
  • Application Service Providers (ASPs): 138 occurrences
  • Community Building: 43 occurrences
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): 20 occurrences

 

Figure 1: Categorisation of the postings by discussion topic

 

This categorisation identifies the most frequently occurring conversation topics and issues on the CharityChannel Cybergifts Forum and the Gilbert Center Online Fundraising Mailing List during the researched period (1 July 2000 to 1 July 2001) and forms the baseline for the structure of this work. Rather than examining each individual posting in the text and risking the reader becoming bogged down in the minutiae (and accompanying endless references), I have sought to structure the different threads and postings by topic and attempted to identify a consistent narrative from there that describes these issues.

Although many references to discussion topics on the forums have been included in this work, the actual content of these discussions do not reappear in the body of this work, both for privacy and for other practical reasons. Reproducing several megabytes of diverse human conversation in a structured narrative would be next to impossible. The primary purpose of this evaluation was therefore to determine the current issues and debates within the non-profit community regarding their use of the Internet, and to assess which related issues and debates were perceived to be of particular significance by the forum participants. These preliminary findings were triangulated with a review of existing literature on the subject. This technique is not free from criticism as a validation technique (Bloor, 1997) and has been frowned upon because it assumes something like a single fixed reality that can be known objectively (Seale, 1999). Yet it can be useful in qualitative research to enable emerging and credible patterns to be identified that can hardly be verified in any other way.

Significant literature in the field of study

The Internet presence of the non-profit sector is a relatively new phenomenon. Two years ago it was rather difficult to find philanthropy and volunteerism Web sites. Although many mission-driven organisations had informational sites operating on the Web and some organisations had created online news and information services, there was virtually no marketing of non-profit sites and almost no links among sites. Interactive sites only began to emerge in the spring of 1999. Consequently, only a limited amount of research literature exists on the subject. The W. K. Kellogg Foundation (Clohesy and Reis, 2000) published a narrative report with an overview of nearly 140 Internet sites that facilitate philanthropy, volunteerism, and social change-making in order to explore their significance "for the future growth and transformation of the public commitment towards social change and a common good." The report identifies eight emerging categories of non-profit Web sites - e-commerce shopping/profit sharing, fundraising and advertising, philanthropy and donor services, knowledge and capacity building, volunteering and service, social advocacy and action, events and auctions and portals/full spectrum services. The authors concluded that the existence and significance of online philanthropy and volunteerism has gone from being hardly noticeable to having increasing importance.

DiGrazia (2000) came to a similar conclusion. While the Kellogg report made a first functional categorisation of different non-profit Web sites, DiGrazia specifically looked at the application of customer relationship management techniques on these sites. Their Peppers and Rogers study "How charities can profit on the Web" is a qualitative review of 20 non-profit Web sites in order to determine how these non-profit organisations have implemented the principles of 1to1 marketing and customer relationship management. DiGrazia made an assessment of the extent to which these Web sites were able to identify their visitors, differentiate them by customer value or customer needs, if and how they interact with them in personalised ways and to what extent these sites are able to customise their interactions for unique visitors and personalise content according to user preferences.

The team reviewed 20 Web sites using Peppers and Rogers Group's proprietary methodology, which included questions regarding privacy issues, customisation, personalisation, interaction, and relationship building. Their research methodology, though based on Peppers and Rogers' four-step IDIC framework methodology [1] for implementing one-to-one relationships with constituents - "Identify, Differentiate, Interact and Customise" - was not disclosed in detail. Essentially, this proprietary method assesses the ability to accommodate the individual interests and preferences of each individual visitor to a Web site based on unique gathered data.

Sexton (2000) was the first to explore how non-profits were applying customer relationship management strategies on their Web sites from a marketing perspective. She posed the question as to how non-profit organisations can apply the concepts of CRM to better achieve their strategic objectives and explored the significance for non-profit organisations of the "lifetime value model", a marketing concept to measure the value of a customer over the length of a relationship. In order to make an assessment, she surveyed 89 professionals with decision making responsibilities regarding database, Internet, and other technological investments and conducted interviews with decision-makers at non-profits and asked them about their parameters to measure success, their definition of a customer and their measurement of customer lifetime value. Sexton's research results confirm that a vast majority of surveyed non-profit organisations has not yet implemented CRM practices in any significant way.

Surveying the Internet

The Internet offers a series of new research opportunities that did not previously exist. It enables immediate access to information as well as the sharing of this information, real-time collaboration and peer review. Fisher et al. [2] have demonstrated that the Internet can be used to sample effectively, and that it can be used to produce informative and reliable data about Internet users. They acknowledged that though getting a representative sample on the Internet is next to impossible, mailing lists and newsgroups can produce data that is suitable for exploratory analysis. Another significant benefit of the Internet as a research medium is its use to reach individuals and organisations as research subjects. However, research on the Internet also poses new methodological issues. The Internet presents a unique problem in terms of surveying. It is not possible to achieve a proper random sample using the Internet. A specific problem in technology-related issues is that information "ages", in that it can become obsolete very quickly - in this case a matter of months, if not weeks or days. The Internet landscape will continue to change dynamically as new sites are added daily.

Another key issue that any survey research conducted via the Internet will have to cope with, as with non-Internet based surveys, is that of sampling bias (Coomber, 1997). Contact can only be made with those who can and do use the Internet. Further, a bias may become inevitable in terms of who is posting or responding and who is not. Those who actively participate in the discussions may hold different opinions than those who do not choose to respond. It is primarily the responsibility of the researcher to be aware of these issues of bias, to choose a method which is appropriate for a particular type of research and to evaluate the responses accordingly (Shipman, 1988). Considering the nature of my topic this did not pose a methodological problem, since it was precisely this "connected" group of individuals and organisations that I was interested in. I decided to target two Internet mailing lists dedicated to my research subject and treat them as a focus group rather than trying to sample individuals.

Focus group research

Traditionally, focus group studies have been conducted in a face-to-face situation. However, technology has created new approaches to this form of research. With the advent of the Internet a new vehicle for research has emerged (Rezabek, 2000). Electronic mail focus groups are very new and this virtual environment presents some challenges. Previous experience has shown that it can be difficult to keep participants on task. On the positive side, electronic mail focus groups appear to be more candid with their responses. I chose the use of the focus group because it is potentially the most creative method. Focus groups as a vehicle for research may draw upon the experience of experts in a given field in order to pull together thoughts and ideas from individuals who have a high level of knowledge in the field. In this way, a great deal of information and knowledge can surface within the discussion among these experts (Rezabek, 2000). Reactions, discussion, as well as supporting and contrary points, are all brought to light, and added to the data.

The main characteristic of the focus group is the open-ended group interaction; respondents can freely react to each other's responses. The primary advantage of this method is the ability to distil and process information on an expert level. Therefore, the focus group technique inherently allows observation of group dynamics, discussion, and first-hand insights into the respondents' behaviours and attitudes (Gibbs, 1997). The purpose of the focus group research is to get the respondents to interact with each other in a way that reveals additional information. The objective is to get high-quality data in a unique environment where new ideas and perspectives can be introduced. The online interaction between the participants on the forums was crucial to the success of the project, a conclusion that is in line with Patton's findings (1990) that focus groups combine elements of both interviewing and participant observation. The capitalisation on group dynamics and the explicit use of the group interaction enables the generation of data and insights that would be unlikely to emerge without the dynamic interaction that takes place in a group.

An important question faced when researching online communities is whether to depend solely upon online material for gathering of their data. Considering that the participants in the discussion forums reside all over the world, but largely in the U.S. and in Canada, face-to-face interviews were not a realistic option for this research. The choice to focus instead on the two online discussion forums for gathering data has proven to be a fruitful one. The participants in these forms turned out to have unique skills and knowledge, and in many cases a professional background that is directly related to the issues discussed. Participants were often extremely knowledgeable about the discussed topics, and had access to information of interest that they were happily willing to share with the others. This group - not groups, as cross-postings were frequent - offered information and expertise beyond the level that would have been feasible with traditional research methods.

Electronic mail as a research tool

The Internet and its killer application, electronic mail, offer totally new research opportunities. Access to information has increased as has access to and discussion with those working in similar areas. Another aspect of cyberspace which presents enormous possibilities to the research community is the use of the Internet to reach individuals as research subjects. A potentially vast population of all kinds of individuals and groups may be more easily reached than ever before, across geographical borders and continents. Using e-mail as a research tool potentially offers many advantages. The medium offers significant research benefits when the subject of study is normally difficult to reach and/or the issues being researched are of a sensitive nature (Coomber, 1997).

Due to its relative simplicity and effectiveness, e-mail has quickly been integrated into business and commerce as well as being widely adopted by private individuals and the academic community. Response rates to e-mail questionnaires tend to be favourable (Selwyn and Robson, 1998) as does the ease of distribution and response times. Research presents several arguments to support the idea the e-mail offers promise as a means of administering surveys. Past studies found that direct marketers can collect data more quickly by means of e-mail than with postal mail methods. In the studies that reported response time results, e-mail responses were collected significantly faster than postal mail responses. Subjects are not constrained to synchronous communication but can respond when and how they feel comfortable (Thach, 1995).

Sheehan and Hoy (1999) identified two possible limitations to e-mail-based research; unsolicited surveys may be considered inappropriate by respondents and, due to the changing nature of the Internet, e-mail addresses may change frequently. A similar volatility characterises e-mail communication itself. Thach (1995) points out that e-mail messages can be deleted as quickly as they were sent and, unlike the standard mail questionnaire or interview, the respondent can discard e-mail at the touch of a button. Another possible disadvantage of this approach is the vast amount of mail that people receive on a daily basis that easily results in information overload. Yet, the advantages of e-mail clearly outweigh its limitations in many cases.

Following trends in market research there have been tentative moves toward using e-mail as a research tool, primarily in the form of quantitative instruments such as electronic questionnaires and also, to a lesser extent, qualitative methods such as electronic interviews and electronic focus groups. Early quantitative studies indicate that electronic questionnaires had a very favourable response rate when compared to the typical response rates usually achieved by conventional mail surveys (Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias, 1996). My own experience with electronic communication within the context of this research project is equally positive. Coomber (1997) warns of the inherent risk of sampling bias when using e-mail as a research tool because contact can only be made with those who can and do use the Internet. This has clear implications in terms of background, education, gender and resources. Yet at other times, Coomber notes, users of advanced communication technology may be exactly those individuals that the research is aiming to reach. This is clearly the case in this particular research project given the relative exclusivity character of the e-mail discussion forums.

Virtual communities

The new opportunities the Internet offers for peer-to-peer communication have caused an explosion in the number of new virtual communities. Digital communities are becoming increasingly important, both as a form of social interaction and as a platform for the exchange of information. Reid [3] points out that rather than being constrained by the computer, the members of online communities creatively exploit the systems' features so as to play with new forms of expressive communication. In her research on Internet Relay Chat networks, Reid (1991) was among the first to acknowledge the relationship building potential of computer-mediated communication. Personal relationships amongst participants can be deep and emotional. Individuals may explore possible public identities, create otherwise unlikely relationships, and create new behavioural norms. In so doing, they invent new communities.

Virtual communities are both cultural products and cultural entities. The use of the term virtual is metaphoric and merely stands in for the uncertainty in relation to time, location and presence (Hine, 1998). Online communities transcend the physical and spatial boundaries that have defined communities throughout history. Oldenburg (1989) stresses that while modernity has established a culture in which the home and the workplace remain as the only two interactive spheres of existence, a broader sense of community, a public sphere, is still very much needed. Hence, it is not surprising that people turn to the Internet to establish online communities and other forms of computer-mediated communication in order to recreate this lost public sphere.

The Internet has enabled new channels of communication that largely bypass the traditional journals. Researchers and social scientists are discovering a wealth of data in Internet group postings. The interpersonal dynamics of these groups are increasingly coming under the scrutiny of academic research (King, 1996). Archived records of Internet virtual communities are being analysed for a variety of research interests. Researchers in past decades have taken many approaches to analysing 'virtual' communication on computer and networked communication systems, using a variety of frameworks for defining units of analysis within different communication settings. This has lead to new insights, but little theoretical integration or comparison of results from study to study (December, 1996). It is documented how phenomena being studied are modified by the very act of observing them during participant observation (Kerr and Hiltz, 1982). Moreover, virtually no experimental hypothesis can be generated that cannot be supported (Gergen, 1982).

"Verstehen", to understand (Weber, 1922), therefore appears more important in this context than putting too much emphasis on research methodology. Perhaps the most rewarding research approach to achieve this Weberian understanding of a subject as volatile as Internet communication is to be "shamelessly eclectic" [4] in one's use of methods, design a methodology mix that works and try to model what is happening from there. Mixed methods approaches have proven to work well in research situations such as this one where norms of respect and collegiality prevail, and when an attitude of healthy scepticism about both theory and method exists. Peer review can provide valuable guidance within this new digital landscape. In order to avoid the pitfalls of digital information gathering in terms of relevance, credibility and validity I have attempted to include informal elements of peer review by the individuals within my focus group on the Cybergifts and Online Fundraising Forum. They offered valuable opinions.

The grounded theory method, also known as the constant comparative method, was developed by Glaser and Strauss well over 30 years ago (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). Grounded theory does not start with a hypothesis or research question. Rather, its starting point is a phenomenon inadequately explained in theory and a defined research problem. This makes it a highly appropriate technique to be used to develop a theory and to ground the theory in the data in order to support a theory. Strauss and Corbin (1990) described the use of literature within this methodology. To develop theoretical sensitivity to the area, to develop secondary sources of data such as quotations, questions for use in gathering additional data, and to develop and validate a theory. By combining field research methods with the use of literature - "triangulation" - the validity, reliability, and credibility of the research can be supported. However, it is of critical importance that the researcher clearly states his or her biases concerning the research subject.

Digital ethnography

Ethnography is defined by Marshall as "the acts of both observing directly the behaviour of a social group and producing a written description thereof" [5]. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has recently been the focus of many ethnographic studies. A significant amount of this research has looked at the ways in which people communicate within a virtual environment. In these studies, researchers have found that text-based virtual environments are places where users can experiment with identity and gender (Reid 1991; Turkle 1995), form new friendships (Baym, 1996), and interact constructively within virtual communities (Rheingold, 1993).

Applying ethnographic methods to virtual environment poses problems that are likely to be different from those encountered during off-line research. Turkle [6] notes that virtual reality poses a new methodological challenge for the researcher - "What to make of online interviews and indeed, whether and how to use them". Rather than focusing on the construction of predictive models of computer-mediated communication, Baym [7] feels that a "more naturalistic, ethnographic, and microanalytic research" will lead to a better understanding of influences and outcomes, an approach quite reminiscent of Geertz' notion of "thick description" (Geertz, 1973).

The post-modern wave in ethnography has produced even more diversity of representational modes and devices. Simultaneously, the widespread influence of computer-assisted qualitative data analysis is promoting convergence. The traditional ethnographer could well become a dreadful anachronism (Coffey et al., 1996). Paccagnella (1997) gave a detailed overview of different attempts to apply ethnographic approaches to Internet communities. Initial studies of computer mediated-communication developed from studies of human-computer interactions: Much research into how people use computer-mediated communication concentrates on how individual users interface with their computers, how two persons interact online, or how small groups function online. Research on computer-mediated social networks and how they affect the structure and functioning of social systems has rapidly developed in the past twenty years, principally in sociology and communication science (Garton et al., 1997).

Considering the volatile nature of my subject of study I have chosen a narrative, ethnographic research approach on the brink of media studies, economics and social sciences. The impact of the effects of new technology on society and culture can hardly be captured in any other way. Van Maanen (1988) stresses that ethnography focuses on culture and has the potential to access the cultural in all its complexity and depth. Dicks and Mason (1998) argue that the strategies for researching a cultural phenomenon such as the Internet require a form of "thick description" (Geertz, 1973) which does not reduce it to purely functional roles. Ethnography can be seen as a form of mediation, the practice of translating one form of knowledge, attitude, or perception into another. But writing ultimately means authoring. This poses a methodological problem for producing a strongly authored narrative. On one hand, the author is forced to be descriptive, using the narrative as a primary mode of telling a story. On the other hand, a strong authorial narrative carries the risk of inappropriate claims to monologic authority in which the voice of the author subdues other voices (Atkinson, 1990).

Dicks and Mason describe how ethnography is searching for a style of writing that can do justice to these diverse forms of data without reducing them to a thin narrative. They note that claiming the title of author in the first place may suggest "an egoistic desire to cover the ethnographic subject with one's own fingerprints, thus obscuring or repressing its diversity and complexity" [8]. They therefore propose a "hands off" ethnographic approach and the application of textual strategies that acknowledge the diversity and complexity of the subject. The academic requirement to produce a narrative in a predefined printed form limits the exploration of digital ethnography methods since it does not permit the use of hyperlinks or other forms of multimedia presentation. The dilemma remains how to maintain a structure of argumentation whilst accommodating a complex and multi-layered object of study such as this one. I have attempted to approach the "utopia of plural authorship" [9] through an attitude of showing rather than telling, whilst taking the necessary risk of adding bias by applying the inevitable processes of selection and interpretation.

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The Political Economy of the Internet

Theorising technology

The rapid permeation and convergence of media technologies has lead to the emergence of the Internet as a single, all-encompassing communication platform in an increasingly global informational economy. Even to those sceptical of the Internet's potential, it is apparent that the Internet plays an increasingly important and indeed pervasive role in the global distribution of information. But technologies are not neutral. Critiques have emerged from a wide range of perspectives to theorise the Internet and its related subjects in order to model what is happening and to predict developments.

The academic debate on the subject, dominated by warnings of blatant technofetishism and cautious contemplation on its effects on the public sphere, contrasts sharply with the approving arpeggio that simultaneously can be heard from its stakeholders in the marketing and e-commerce arena, where research is primarily looked upon as a precursor state of product development. The debate over these new technologies poses two major challenges to critical theory. First, how to theorise the dramatic transformations that the new technologies are producing without falling into either technological or economic determinism, and second, how to utilise these new technologies to promote progressive social change at the beginning of a century marked by the seeming victory of market capitalism, a condition that Kellner (1997) criticised as a new era of virtual capitalism in which information society discourse tends to be techophilic and uncritical.

A world of bytes

Parallel to the emergence of digital technology and the accompanying societal discourse, which tends to see new technologies as inevitable and beneficial, the academic debate on the subject has become increasingly critical. The concept of the information society, in which knowledge and information are the crucial economic factors (Webster, 1995) dates back to 1970s post-industrial society theory (Bell, 1973). During the 1990s, new criticism emerged towards technological determinism as the road to the global information society and its subsequent hyping by the media corporations that own the majority of its infrastructure. Webster (1995) sees new technologies primarily as capitalist tools and argues that the imperative of generating maximum revenue has the potential to undermine public debate and deteriorate the quality of information. The Habermasian notion of "critical publicity" [10] is violated by public relations agencies and advertisers disseminating targeted commercial information.

The Internet is a world of information rather than physical objects, or as Negroponte (1995) put it, a world of bytes rather than atoms. Kollock (1999) optimistically pinpoints the ability of the Internet to facilitate collaboration. Fundamental features of online interaction change the costs and benefits of social action in dramatic ways. To an extent, Kollock argues, the information provided in cyberspace is a public good that anyone could benefit from. Any piece of information posted becomes a public good as it becomes available to the network. Yet central questions of access and equality get new dimensions in the perspective of the digital economy (Wilhelm, 2001). Information and communication technologies have the potential to reinforce existing power structures and perpetuate disparity and social exclusion. The global flow of information is characterised by inequality, as Hamelink (1996) has shown. The gap between the information-rich and the information-poor is growing, both on an individual and on a regional level.

Technocapitalism and the public sphere

Capital is restructuring itself as it is implementing new technologies into the public sphere. Media ownership and commodification (Golding, 1990) pose serious threats to citizen participation and to the free flow of information. Kellner (1997) argues that the paradigms of the information society have emerged as a new dominant ideology of contemporary technocapitalism as it advocates a deregulated capitalist market system while effectively lacking a mechanism to promote a democratisation of these new technologies. Kellner makes an important point when he argues that the notion of a friction-free technocapitalism (Gates, 1995) is incompatible with capitalism's inherent structure of self-interest, as it is based on competition and a Darwinian logic of the survival of the fittest. New technologies have drastically altered the public sphere and created a new one. Computer-mediated communication has taken the place of Habermasian coffeehouse discourse.

New media are radically reshaping how people think. On a material level, the Internet also poses new questions concerning its role in the distribution of goods and services due to its all-encompassing network structure. Digital technology enables global distribution of information in real time, eliminating intermediary structures (Tapscott, 1997). Networks are the appropriate organisation for this interconnected global economy and have therefore become the predominant organisational structure in post-modern society (Castells, 1996). Their unprecedented economic potential lies in their ability to boost productivity by closely linking intelligent processes and physical production and feeding back knowledge. Networking pervades the entire social structure. Never before in history has the organisational structure of networks become so powerful. The network itself has become a social actor. Networks and society are closely interrelated in a process of interchange and mutual dependence (Dijk, 1999).

The network society

A new type of organisation, the network enterprise, has emerged - a virtual organisation composed of individual nodes, tied together by a network. The performance of these individual network components depends on how well they are connected, and to what extent their goals are consistent with the goals of the network as a whole. Innovation has become the single most important competitive force. In his analysis of the social impact of technology and global capitalism, Castells (1996) argues that competitiveness in the network economy depends on the ability to generate and process electronic information on a global scale.

Enabled by advanced information technology, the digital economy restructures economic activities based on the aggressive exploitation of these new productivity potentials. Perhaps the most significant implication of Castells' discourse of the global network society is that it is not inclusive. Networks presuppose the availability of a functional communications infrastructure to participate, which is not globally available. Their nodes and hubs, the majority of Internet servers and network connections, are concentrated in a handful of affluent regions and technopoles. Networks have the potential to exclude or disconnect the components that are no longer relevant to their purposes at any given time.

Ambiguity in the public sphere

However abstract, the implication of these developments is that non-profit organisations are both subjects and actors in this process of commodification of the public sphere. These issues are directly related to the concept of branding and the emergence of brand realities as a result of marketing efforts targeted at the public sphere (Klein, 2000). The problem with these new brand realities is that they subdue the visibility of the actual societal and economic interactions of organisations. Klein mentions the emergence of perceived positive brand realities such as Nike World, which distract from their actual activities, such as the manufacturing of goods in sweatshops under harsh labour circumstances.

The case in point here is that non-profit organisations play an ambiguous role in this process as they increasingly thrive on these constructed brand realities in order to achieve their mission statements. Sexton notes that people generally trust non-profit organisations due to the "socially responsible" nature of their mission; "There is a "halo effect" attached to non-profit organisations, particularly those with a well-known brand" [11]. Developing public-private partnerships with commercial organisations is undoubtedly an effective non-profit strategy in order to better achieve mission statements. Yet by participating in projects such as Network for Good or TechSoup, non-profits are actively collaborating with the organisations that can be held responsible for sustaining and deepening the digital divide through their policies of commodification of the Internet and through their media ownership.

Disruptive technology

The Internet provides a more pervasive environment than previous generations of information- and communications technology. Christensen (2000) takes a historical perspective as he distinguishes two distinct types of technological innovations; technologies that are "sustaining" and those that are "disruptive", and gives examples of both categories. Sustaining technologies are those that allow an organisation to improve its product, enhance its production processes, or improve the efficiency of some other organisational aspect. By contrast, disruptive technologies are the ones that cannot be easily integrated by existing organisations, and allow new entrants to enter and eventually dominate a market.

Disruptive technologies are therefore radical in their impact by definition. Christensen argues that the Internet belongs to the category of disruptive technologies. Its emergence requires new organisational models as it enables new types of organisational structures to compete with and significantly disrupt the economics of existing ones. Yet the Internet might just as well be considered sustaining following Christensen's definition. Sustaining in a sense that although modest from a technical viewpoint, the Internet provides humans and organisations with a set of tools that enhance productivity and efficiency, and generally enables a variety of new forms of communication within existing organisational structures.

Either way, the Internet can be considered a disruptive force in its tremendous impact on the economy and on society as a whole, which may disrupt certain areas of the non-profit sector as well (Corson-Finnerty, 2000). Yet while the Internet has a tremendous potential for improving performance on various levels, the Internet does not have to be disruptive to non-profit organisations when the medium is used to reinforce a distinctive strategy, Porter (2001) argues. The Internet seldom fully destroys resources of competitive advantage. Contrary to popular belief, it makes an organisation's traditional strengths and resources even more valuable.

The Internet has the potential to amplify these advantages, but is unlikely to supersede them. Once universally adopted, the Internet will effectively be neutralised as a source of competitive advantage. Gaining competitive advantage through the Internet does not demand a radically new approach. Rather, it can be viewed as a tool to enhance the proven principles of an effective and continuous strategy. The concept of disruptive technology thus remains a relative one; technology changes, strategy does not. A strong case can be made that as information-driven organisations, the advantages of the Internet as a strategic tool for non-profits can be tremendous.

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Non-profits on the Web

A lack of empirical studies

To date, very little empirical material exists that assesses the actual presence and performance of non-profit organisations on the Internet. There is hardly any published material to document the use and effectiveness of Internet tools and strategies employed by non-profit organisations. Although there is increasing evidence to prove their usefulness, it is not exactly known how effective technologies such as e-mail and customer relationship management or the outsourcing of electronic services to application service providers may be for mission-driven organisations.

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation (Clohesy and Reis, 2000) published a narrative report in which they documented the broad spectrum of existing non-profit activities on the Web. This report was the first attempt to assess their significance and conceptualise the different domains of activity emerging online. Nearly 140 non-profit Web sites were reviewed in order to attempt a first classification of the different types of Internet-based services that are emerging in the areas of philanthropy, volunteerism, and knowledge-sharing activity on the Internet.

The sites were divided into eight different categories: E-commerce, fundraising, philanthropy and donor services, knowledge and capacity building, volunteering and service, social advocacy and action, events and auctions, and portals. This categorisation was intended to show emerging patterns of energy, focus, and resources within this early stage of development. Further, Clohesy and Reis describe the issues and opportunities in the field based on interviews with the stakeholders involved in these projects.

DiGrazia (2000) published a snapshot review of 20 non-profit Web sites, focusing on the relationship building potential of the Internet by means of one-to-onemarketing principles and customer relationship management (CRM) technology. The purpose was to assess the extent to which these sites identify and differentiate among their visitors, how they interact with constituents and to what extent they offer customised content.

Details of their "proprietary" [12] research methodology were not disclosed. DiGrazia found that many non-profit Web sites presented the electronic equivalent of what visitors would have received had they approached the organisation with a request for printed information. A majority of the reviewed sites did not recognise visitors. On the positive side they found that many sites have a knowledge base that can be accessed on the Internet and allow constituents to review their donation history online. A majority of the reviewed Web sites customise their e-mail communications to constituents.

Sexton (2000) investigated how non-profits are applying CRM strategies and tactics to improve the relationships with their constituents and the ways in which technologies are enabling the application of CRM practices. She posed the question how non-profit organisations can apply the concepts to better achieve their strategic objectives and explored the significance for non-profit organisations of the "lifetime value model", a for-profit marketing concept to measure the value of a customer over the length of a relationship. Sexton advocates a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the strategic value of constituents, including the cost of establishing and maintaining a relationship, profits from donations and membership fees and the time and skills the contributor is willing to devote to the relationship.

Sexton offers some practical advice for strategic non-profit CRM implementation; a good plan is necessary in order to identify measurable objectives and outcomes. She refers to Seth Godin's concept of permission marketing (Godin, 1999) as one of the first steps to be made towards a successful CRM strategy. Permission marketing revolves around the concept of individuals giving their permission to organisations to collect information about them in return for the benefits of a personalised dialogue and treatment that is typical of a 1to1 relationship (Peppers and Rogers, 1995). Non-profits should rise to the challenge of applying technology to facilitate this dialogue. Implementation time and costs will be lower when an existing IT system can be upgraded to accommodate CRM software rather than starting over from scratch.

In this aspect, Sexton concurs with Frost and Sullivan (2000), that made similar recommendations for the adaptation of CRM by for-profit organisations. Yet unfortunately, Sexton's research results indicate that most non-profits have not yet implemented CRM practices in any significant way. Nevertheless, she concludes [13] that "nonprofits understand well that relationships determine the future success of any organisation. With strategic application of technology, mutually one-to-one relationships between nonprofits and their contributors are within reach."

E-mail as a strategic tool

Gilbert (2001a, 2001b) surveyed 900 non-profit organisations the first large-scale e-mail survey of its kind. Preliminary results reveal that most non-profits have not taken advantage of the benefits of e-mail as a relationship building tool. Although the majority of surveyed non-profit organisations have do their own Web site, many of these do not systematically collect e-mail addresses on their site, nor do they have a complete record of their constituents' e-mail addresses on file. A majority of the surveyed organisations admitted to be unable to survey their stakeholders online, and the vast majority - 78 percent - of the surveyed non-profit organisations do not have a declared e-mail strategy. Gilbert concludes that despite the clear strategic benefits of e-mail as an online marketing tool, non-profits have failed to act upon this knowledge: "To the extent that non-profit organisations have not integrated e-mail into the management of their stakeholder relationships, they remain profoundly disconnected."

This is remarkable as e-mail is a low-cost tool and its benefits are well documented, as discussed earlier. Not surprisingly, Gilbert strongly advocates a consistent e-mail strategy for non-profits and suggests that an Internet presence be constructed around an e-mail strategy rather than the other way around. Resources spent on e-mail strategies tend to be more cost effective than the same resources spent on web strategies alone. Gilbert presents a series of simple, yet compelling arguments. People visit fewer Web sites than they get e-mail messages. E-mail is a personal and effective way of communication that stimulates action. Moreover, e-mail can be handled within a familiar user interface and does not require browsing for information. It combines the power of personal communication with economies of scale [14]; "Non-profits know how to mobilise people on a personal level. By using the Internet appropriately, they can do so on a scale never before possible."

The dying donors

Non-profits have been struggling to keep their established donors while pursuing new ones, but the costs of that pursuit using traditional fundraising channels are significant. Allen, Warwick and Stein (1996) showed that non-profit organisations can reach a totally new audience through the Internet; "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."

Non-profit organisations need to continuously examine the changing needs of society in order to redesign their organisational structure (Perlmutter and Gummer, 1994) such as to provide effective and relevant service to their communities. Perlmutter and Gummer highlight the impact of globalisation on non-profit organisations. There is no aspect of contemporary life that is not affected by the globalisation of national economies. Increasingly, non-profits are ready to reap the rewards of the digital economy (Hoffman, 1999).

Johnson (1999) researched the readiness of visitors to a non-profit Internet site to make a donation online and the issues they identified as being of concern if they are considering making an online donation. Johnson also investigated the phenomenon of the "dying donors" and described the tremendous potential of the Internet to reach a new generation; "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."

The market-driven non-profit organisation

Commercial organisations have a natural advantage towards mission-driven organisations when it comes to their ability to generate revenue and their access to the capital markets. Not surprisingly, for-profit enterprises have been fast to recognise the potential of the Internet for crucial activities such as revenue generation, customer interaction and distribution of goods and services. Moreover, the Internet is enabling individuals to provide feedback more easily, quickly and accurately than ever before (Chisholm, 1998).

These developments have lead to a new climate in which non-profit organisations are forced to adapt to the changing climate, to become familiar with and invest in new technology. Non-profit organisations are faced with a new and different set of problems since they usually do not have the same resources as commercial enterprises. For-profits have long discovered the non-profit sector as a marketing tool, while non-profit organisations often have difficulties in order to generate the necessary financial means.

Charities have been slow to realise the unique capability of the Internet to create relationships that may produce income. However, this is changing. They are seeing that the Internet can enable them to create new mechanisms for charitable giving (Hoffman, 1999). Non-profits are realising that the combination with CRM technology offers a platform for interacting with donors and for on-line fundraising. Non-profit organisations need a robust Web intelligence model capable of accommodating new strategies and technologies (DiGrazia, 2000). The borders between for-profit and non-profit are by no means fixed.

Concepts and tools from the commercial sector have the potential to profoundly affect research and practice in the non-profit sector. Recent growth in social marketing is addressing this gap. This transfer has not been unidirectional; important concepts have migrated from the non-profit to the commercial sector, as well. Moreover, the migration of basic concepts and tools from private sector marketing to the non-profit sector has the potential to profoundly affect the ways in which the latter operates and can be expected to accelerate in both directions (Andreasen, 2001).

The necessity for change

Although the structural differences between for-profit and non-profit sectors are inherent, there is a clear organisational trend towards more marketing expertise in the non-profit sector. Non-profit organisations that acknowledge the strategic necessity to counteract the particular challenges it faces in understanding, attracting, and keeping its constituents may choose to develop towards a more market-driven business model in order to better face the new challenges of the Internet.

Two pressures initiate a change process in non-profit organisations; its inclination to focus inwardly on one hand along with external market, technology, and competitive forces on the other (Day, 1999a, 1999b). The interplay of these forces leads to the necessity for change. The proliferation of Internet technology plays a role in both since it enforces change, both in internal and external communication processes of non-profit organisations. Non-profit organisations face further significant change as a result of globalisation, consolidation and increasing competition.

Understanding the need for change is essential for the ability to successfully cope with these challenges. Kanter (2001) envisions that over time, there could be only three types of organisations left - pure Internet companies, their enablers in the guise of technology- and service-providers, and everyone else. They are divided by their contrasting styles, reflecting the sharp contrast between those reluctant to let go of the past and those that envision the future. Organisations that were not born digital will need to reflect on change in order to survive: They need coherent strategies to address and aggressively implement these changes.

Relationship marketing

Hoffman and Novak (1996) were among the first researchers to propose a structural framework for examining marketing activity on the Web. They explored the Internet's role as a medium for communication and argued that the interactive structure of the Internet would end the traditional passive role of individuals as receivers of communications. At the same time, the Internet enables interactive access to larger quantities of information than any traditional medium. Hoffman and Novak's work was also groundbreaking in another sense: They were among the first to recognise the tremendous potential of the Internet for decision making and developing relationships. Peppers and Rogers (1993; 1997) claim that the Internet represents a total transformation of the marketing paradigm, that is a shift away from mass marketing and its predominantly one-way broadcast model towards unique, interactive and personalised one-to-one relationships.

Modern marketing can therefore be defined as an interactive process of dialogue and exchange. Not surprisingly, the importance of forming and maintaining marketing relationships, combined with the creation and dissemination of information and knowledge, has received increasing attention among researchers lately (Barwise et al., 2000). One of the crucial research questions is how the Internet is being used as a channel to support this process and how interactivity might further reshape the marketing paradigm. At the same time, the so-called new economy is still subject to the old laws of economics, as Shapiro and Varian (1998) noted, an economy in which non-profits increasingly participate. The question how to create an effective online marketing strategy for non-profit organisations is therefore an important one.

Non-profits on the Web: The audience

The rapid development of the Internet has created a pool of potential online donors and activists that is at least as large as the pool of people currently being reached by direct mail. Johnson (1999) investigated the issues Internet users identify as being of concern when asked to make an online donation. In his survey, Johnson found that most visitors to non-profit Web sites are willing to make an online donation, provided that concerns about security and privacy are answered to their satisfaction. The Mellman Group (1999) conducted a series of focus groups and a survey among individuals with Internet access who are engaged as donors and/or volunteer activists on social issues. They found them to be a younger, more ideologically diverse group than the traditional direct mail donor population; 85 percent of socially engaged Internet users were under the age of 60, the average age of this group was 42.

This group of socially engaged Internet users is more demanding than their direct mail counterparts when it comes to organisations demonstrating progress and being accountable to donors. In exchange for their loyalty, this group expects non-profit organisations to be accountable and to demonstrate progress toward their goal. In the U.S., where non-profits are perceived to have an obligation to create value for society by using their resources effectively, overhead spending is a widespread concern for charitable donors.

The convenience of quick transactions and e-mail notifications, along with a reduced overhead, appear to be the most compelling reasons for individuals to contribute online. Privacy concerns remain an important obstacle to fundraising and the sharing of personal information. A majority of the individuals surveyed by the Mellman Group is willing to share information, but remains concerned about privacy issues. However, a majority of respondents indicated that future contact would be appropriate from an organisation to which they had previously made an online contribution. This signalled acceptance offers new opportunities for e-mail as an additional tool for relationship building and fundraising.

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The Potential of Technology for Non-profits

Non-profits as technology providers

The Internet is transforming the traditional paths of communication and increasingly becomes a vital tool for transaction. It is starting to offer promising solutions to persistent challenges for groups that have access to these technology tools. While there is increasing evidence indicating that technology can have significant positive impact on any non-profit organisation's ability to achieve its mission, currently there is very little measurable data supporting this assumption.

Non-profit organisations do not operate in vacuum, doing good deeds while being safely shielded from the outside world. Rather, they are actors within this environment, actively involved in these developments as they aggregate and facilitate the sharing of information and resources. Non-profit organisations are an intrinsic part of the social economy, and encompass a broad range of organisations. They represent a broad range of humanistic and social change organisations, concerned with delivering health care, education, welfare, and cultural services. Non-profits are characterised by an emphasis on social objectives over commercial interests, although commercial goals do exist within the context of these social objectives. They may act as community access and technology providers or as investors to seed creative applications and to incubate public-interest content on the Internet (Wilhelm, 2001). Non-profit organisations are also providing the links, information, and resources that connect local organisations to the tools they need to build their technology capacity, sharing vital information within and across sectors.

Open source software and the emergence of an open, XML-based standard for data exchange are significant developments in this area. These have a strong potential to empower no-profits with the low-cost technology tools they need while safeguarding independence from proprietary software platforms. General public license software allows mission-driven organisations to share their limited software development resources. Application service provision enables more reliable and lower cost information technology solutions through economies of scale and outsourcing. Each of these technologies has the potential to enable non-profit organisations to serve and build communities, and, in general, to pursue their mission statements more effectively.

Application service providers

Application service providers (ASPs) are a relatively new breed of Internet service providers that deliver application-hosting services to their customers. Applications are treated as a network service rather than a stand-alone or client-server application. Both software and data reside with the application service providers rather than on personal computers or local servers, accessed via network connections. Typically, they are paid for on a subscription or per use basis. In essence, the ASP concept is very similar to the pre-PC era concept of mainframe computing and timesharing, which was generally considered cutting-edge technology in the 1960s and 1970s.

Application service providers deliver and manage applications and computer services from remote data centres to multiple users via the Internet or a private network. Obtaining these applications from an outside supplier can be a cost-effective solution to the demands of systems ownership, such as up-front capital expenses, implementation challenges, and a continuing need for maintenance, upgrades and customisation. An ASP may be a commercial entity or a not-for-profit or government organisation supporting end users. Commercial ASPs offer leasing arrangements to customers, whereas non-profit or government organisations may provide services free of charge.

The advantage of this approach for non-profit organisations is that it enables access to a technology infrastructure that was previously out of reach for smaller organisations. Non-profits can - partly - outsource the hardware, software, and maintenance such applications require, and focus on activities that are central to their mission. However, at this time it is unclear if the particular needs of non-profit organisations will be fully met by the market. Their needs in terms of computing infrastructure and services are diverse and currently not well researched. Since ASPs tend to focus on business customers and non-profits are generally under-funded, these specific needs may not be fully met. Still, application service providing may well live up to its promise of enabling a network of supporting organisations, resources, and activities, offering a productive new approach to sharing technology infrastructure while overcoming the inherent small scale limitations of most community-focused organisations.

Customer relationship management

Another significant development in the technology arena is the emergence of Web-based customer relationship management (CRM), a set of technologies designed to automate so-called front office tasks. CRM has been around for many years in the form of separate functions such as sales force automation, marketing automation and help desk software. Only recently have these applications been integrated in order to share information throughout the organisation. Application functions incorporated into CRM systems may include contact, activity, account, opportunity, quotation, mail merge, marketing campaign, telemarketing, technical support, report management, Web, e-commerce and finance integration.

Frost and Sullivan (2000) carried out a study in order to gauge CRM end users' experiences. They found that from an end user perspective, CRM currently does not live up to the hype. There is no product on the market at present that can claim to be complete and therefore the needs of CRM users are not always fully being met. Whilst users expressed relative satisfaction with the technology they are well aware that CRM is still immature. Users are primarily driven by the value the solution offers to their operations in terms of transparency of (customer) information and to allow more flexibility, both in product offerings and in their interaction with customers.

Learning relationships

One of the key concepts inherent in CRM is the notion of the "learning relationship". With every interaction, something new can be learned about the person or organisation involved in a transaction in terms of their needs, preferences or customs (Peppers and Rogers, 1995). When processed and used properly, this information may influence the next interaction, potentially adding "value" for the customer by making the next experience easier, faster, or more rewarding. Eventually, this information will enable a unique selling proposition towards the customer and a significant competitive advantage over any competing organisation. This ability to uniquely identify and segment users makes CRM a viable option as a platform for donor interaction and for online fundraising. As the Internet matures to an all-encompassing communication and transaction platform, this data-gathering approach becomes a necessity.

These developments have profound consequences for non-profit strategy. Day (1999a, 1999b) made an important point when he suggested that non-profits should construct their organisational structure around the needs of their constituents rather than their own organisational processes. A practical way to do this would be the implementation of an interactive Web intelligence model capable of accommodating CRM strategies, as DiGrazia (2000) proposed. The application of CRM technology and marketing practices enables mission-driven organisations to support their goals effectively and to develop relationships on a much larger scale. CRM enables relationships on a much more customised basis than traditional non-profit marketing, while increasing the lifetime value of contributors.

Many non-profits feel that these concepts are relevant to their organisation, and appear receptive to learning more. Moreover, CRM implementation does not necessarily involve a comprehensive, all-or-nothing technological operation: It can be integrated in existing information systems in a series of incremental projects. Yet, there is still a large gap between theory and practice. Most non-profits have not yet implemented the concepts of CRM and one-to-one marketing into their organisations in any significant way, as Sexton [15] found: Non-profits "have always focused on contributor relationships, but their strategies have been one-by-one, rather than one-to-one."

Seybold (1998) gives a down to earth definition of the challenge:

"In the electronic commerce world, knowing who your customers are and making sure you have the products and services they want becomes even more imperative than it is in the 'real' world (...) The corner grocery needs only to approximate what customers really want because the convenience factor brings in the business. But when you eliminate this advantage - when customers can go anywhere to get what they want - you'd better know what they're looking for."

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Building Relationships on the Internet

Social marketing

Social marketing involves the application of marketing principles and techniques, developed in the private sector, to social issues. Like regular marketing, is not a theory in itself. Rather, it is a framework or structure that draws from many other disciplines such as communications theory. Its concept is based on the voluntary exchange of costs and benefits between two or more parties, its essential mechanism is exchange. In 1971, Kotler and Zaltman defined the term social marketing for the first time as "the design, implementation and control of programs calculated to influence the acceptability of social ideas and involving considerations of product planning, pricing, communication, distribution and marketing research" [16]. They argued that marketing does not occur unless there are two or more parties, each with something to exchange, and both able to carry out communications and distribution.

Until the 1970s, marketing was primarily seen as a set of activities that managers in commercial organisations pursued in order to achieve corporate goals. Marketing obviously involved markets and this meant buying and selling. A societal perspective was virtually non-existent. In a classic article Kotler and Levy (1969) argued that "marketing is a pervasive societal activity that goes considerably beyond the selling of toothpaste, soap, and steel (...) An increasing amount of society's work is being performed by organisations other than business firms (...) Every organisation performs marketing-like activities, whether or not they are recognised as such." Over the last 30 years, the nature and extent of marketing has evolved from a purely economic discipline to one that is concerned with the relationships of organisations in the broadest sense. Social marketing was born.

Intersector transfer of marketing knowledge

Because of this broadening definition, marketing is now assumed useful to all kinds of organisations and transactions, whether economic or non-economic. Andreasen (2001) defined the new discipline as the application of commercial marketing concepts and tools to programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences. Its primary objective is to improve the welfare of the target audiences and/or the society of which they are a part. This definition further extended the domain of marketing to include not only non-business and mission-driven organisations, but to any organisation involved in planning and implementing social change. Consequently, marketing concepts and tools have had an important impact on the study and practice of non-profit management.

The market-driven non-profit organisation

Commercial organisations have a natural advantage towards non-profit organisations because of their ability to generate revenue and their easier access to the capital markets. Not surprisingly, for-profit enterprises have been fast to recognise the potential of the Internet for crucial activities such as revenue generation, customer interaction and distribution of goods and services. Moreover, the Internet is enabling individuals to provide feedback more easily, quickly and accurately than ever before (Chisholm, 1998).

These developments have lead to a new climate in which non-profit organisations are forced to adapt to the changing climate, to become familiar with and invest in new technology. Non-profit organisations are faced with a new and different set of problems since they usually do not have the same resources as commercial enterprises. For-profits have long discovered the non-profit sector as a marketing tool, while non-profit organisations often have difficulties in order to generate the necessary financial means. Charities have been slow to realise the unique capability of the Internet to create relationships that may produce income. However, this is changing. They are seeing that the Internet can enable mission-driven organisations to create new mechanisms for charitable giving (Hoffman, 1999).

Non-profits are realising that the combination with CRM technology offers an efficient platform for interacting with donors and for online fundraising. At the same time, the borders between for-profit and non-profit are by no means fixed. Concepts and tools from the commercial sector have the potential to profoundly affect research and practice in the non-profit sector. Recent growth in social marketing is addressing this gap. This transfer has not been unidirectional; important concepts have migrated from the non-profit to the commercial sector, as well. Moreover, the transfer of marketing concepts and tools between non- and for-profit organisations can be expected to accelerate in both directions (Andreasen, 2001).

There is a clear organisational trend towards more marketing expertise in the non-profit sector. Non-profit organisations - that acknowledge the strategic necessity to counteract the particular challenges it faces in understanding, attracting, and keeping its constituents - may choose to develop a more market-driven business model (Day, 1999a, 1999b) in order to better cope with the competitive forces that threaten to pull any organisation out of alignment with its present market. The rapid proliferation of Internet technology poses additional challenges. The interplay of these forces leads to the necessity for change. The Internet plays a role in both since it involves both internal and external communication processes of non-profit organisations. Understanding the need for change is essential for the ability to successfully cope with these challenges.

Strategic philanthropy: one-to-one marketing

One-to-one marketing essentially means treating different constituents differently. The idea behind this customer-focused marketing model is to establish relationships with customers on an individual basis, and to use the gathered information about these customers to create a unique, personalised experience (Peppers and Rogers, 1999). According to this theory, the exchange between a customer and an organisation becomes mutually beneficial, as customers give information in return for personalised service that meets their individual needs. At its current growth rate, the Internet is likely to become the most widely used means of measuring customer satisfaction early in the 21st century (Chisholm, 1998). New, Internet-based marketing strategies may offer mission-driven organisations a way to effectively address the threats of competition and commodification that they are facing.

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Conclusion and research recommendations

Conclusion

In 1999, a local grassroots non-profit organisation in Berlin asked me to help them develop a strategy to address a new, younger audience. Up until then, I knew very little about what non-profit organisations were doing. It was not until after I had enthusiastically said "yes!" that I was told that there was no budget, no plan and no secured funding. My colleague Suzanne and I were left to our own devices. We soon agreed that one of these devices was going to be a new computer since we did not have one. We spent our last money on it.

The second thing I learnt is that the public is not necessarily interested in the issues that non-profit organisations advocate. Only a handful of people showed up at our first carefully arranged press conference. The local celebrity that I had engaged to speak, using my full repertoire of PR rhetoric, disappeared from the scene once the press conference was over and would not return telephone calls afterwards. Something had to be done, and quick. Our Internet strategy was born.

This situation is typical for many small grassroots organisations. Regardless of their size, non-profit organisations all over the world are essentially facing the same challenges - carrying out their mission with limited resources, communicating the issues they advocate to their stakeholders and to the media, and raising the funds that they require to do so. The Internet offers new tools and promising opportunities for mastering these challenges. It plays a critical role as the information infrastructure for creating and supporting positive change in society.

For this research, I have drawn on literature and other sources from a variety of disciplines, both academic and non-academic, in order to explore the interrelationships between the developments discussed. I believe that mission-driven organisations can gain new insights by drawing on current media and marketing research, and will benefit from adapting the Internet strategies as they are practised by for-profit organisations and by an increasing number of their peers.

In return, for-profit organisations can learn from the innovative community building and collaboration strategies as they are successfully practised by the non-profits. While uncritical technology worship should be avoided, the Internet offers a versatile platform for creatively sharing ideas. If the terms media and marketing are allowed in their broadest interpretation, to include all communication and attempts at consensus formation, there is not much that does not come into being.

Research recommendations

Many more conceptual and practical issues deserve immediate attention. While there is increasing evidence indicating that technology can have significant positive impact on any non-profit organisation's ability to achieve its mission, currently there is not much reliable data available supporting this assumption. A careful examination of the specific risk and benefit factors involved in both CRM and the ASP model for non-profit organisations is needed. Another interesting, yet complex topic for further research is the relationship-building aspect of these technologies.

Open source software and the emergence of an open, XML-based standard for data exchange offer new opportunities and important synergies to community-serving organisations. Since collecting and sharing of information across organisations is essential for achieving missions, research, discussion and support, further research on the use of these technologies as a means rather than an end, their relationship building potential and the purposes to which the information has been put, would be useful.

Further initiative to promote non-profit relationship and capacity building, collaboration and technology transfer to increase organisational effectiveness in the sector are much needed. More research is needed to establish "best practice" resources that provide relevant how-to information and case studies of successful projects by innovative early adopters to the community. Promising first attempts have been made in this direction despite the technology gap experienced by many non-profits. Considering the rapid pace of development in the field, regular follow-up and updates on the challenges and opportunities related to e-philanthropy are imperative.

Currently, most organisations are not adequately addressing privacy concerns. Although there appears to be a strong awareness among most non-profit organisations that their contributors have privacy concerns with regard to Internet transactions, this awareness has not sufficiently translated into action. More research is needed with regard to the privacy implications of the random gathering - and, possibly, sharing or selling - of data which are inherent to the concepts of both CRM and one-to-one marketing and offer potential for abuse. So far, these privacy issues have been hardly more than a by-line in the literature.

Internet-facilitated e-philanthropy, volunteerism, and social change organisations exist in the impetus of for-profit and non-profit organisations. Intersectoral partnerships in this area are a relatively new phenomenon. The commitment and accountability of these hybrid models would offer rewarding topics for critical investigation. Last but not least, disparity is still a major issue in the New Economy. The digital divide which separates people and regions also separates organisations. Non-profits are often so underfunded or otherwise disconnected that their lack of resources blocks or threatens their Internet presence. Networks have a tremendous potential to exclude. End of article

 

About the Author

Pieter Boeder is a journalist and PR consultant, based in Amsterdam and in Berlin. As a freelance journalist he wrote for several Dutch and German print media; areas of expertise include ICT and telecommunications, innovation and technology. Previously, he was responsible for press and public relations at the Berlin branch of the Dutch-German Chamber of Commerce. In October 2001, Pieter finished his MA research project at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. His professional interests include communications management, disparity issues, and all things digital.
Web: http://www.boeder.org.uk
E-mail: pieterboeder@yahoo.com

 

Acknowledgments

This paper is based on a dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MA in Journalism Studies degree at Cardiff University.

 

Notes

1. DiGrazia, 2000, p. 9.

2. Fisher et al., 1996, p. 22.

3. Reid, 1995, pp. 164-183.

4. Rossman and Wilson, 1994, pp. 315-327.

5. Marshall, 1994, p. 158.

6. Turkle, 1995, p. 324.

7. Baym, 1996, p. 161.

8. Dicks and Mason, 1998, p. 2.2.

9. Clifford, 1988, pp. 50-51.

10. Habermas, 1989, p. 248.

11. Sexton, 2000, p. 9.

12. DiGrazia in an e-mail to the author.

13. Sexton, 2000, p. 34.

14. Gilbert, 2001a, p. 1.

15. Sexton, 2000, p. 4.

16. Kotler and Zaltman, 1971, pp. 3-12.

 

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Appendix: Site reviews

Discussion

The following Web site reviews give an impression of current online activities by non-profit organisations in the field of e-philanthropy, volunteerism and social changemaking. The information is descriptive and does not claim to be an authoritative analysis. It is intended to document the challenges and opportunities that non-profit organisations are facing on the Internet and to highlight the strategies and solutions that they have implemented. The sites have been randomly chosen after consulting with my focus group, which offered valuable suggestions as to which sites to include in the review. They are examples to show the variety in non-profit Web sites as they exist today. These sites have been included:

After doing a random search of sites in the categories of interest I found that it would be more efficient to focus on carefully selected sample sites to document the many different aspects of non-profit organisations on the Internet. Clearly, there is no way to make a comprehensive review of all non-profit Web sites, which have gone from being hardly visible in 1999 - at the beginning of this research - to having an established Web presence and generating millions through online fundraising within just two years. The main purpose of these narrative reviews is to give an impression of the broad spectrum of non-profit Web presence as it exists today, to highlight the variety in approaches, and to encourage further exploration of this exciting field.

ÆGiS

 

 

The AIDS Education Global Information System (ÆGiS) is the largest knowledge base on the Web on HIV and AIDS-related information and news, including prevention and treatment of the disease, clinical trials, HIV politics and legislation.

Sister Mary Elizabeth founded ÆGiS in 1990 as a simple electronic bulletin board system (BBS), along with her fellow Sisters of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in San Juan Capistrano, California. Today, ÆGiS has matured into a robust, one-stop shopping information service with a global network of over 270,000 users. Its technological infrastructure consists of a combination of FidoNet bulletin board and Internet communication tools.

Its mission is to fight AIDS and relieve the human suffering and isolation it causes by transforming information into knowledge, and to foster the understanding and knowledge that will lead to better care, prevention, and a cure. People with a complex disease such as HIV greatly rely on timely and adequate treatment information in order to be able to slow down the progression of the infection while maintaining quality of life.

ÆGiS makes a clear statement on its Web site that the information presented there is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between patients and their doctor. However, this presupposes adequate information and treatment: Considering the suboptimal or even non-existent HIV health care in many countries, the Internet is likely to be the single source of credible and timely information for many people living with the disease.


American Red Cross

 

 

The American Red Cross are working to ease human suffering on a global scale - to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.

Their site is arguably the flagship of non-profit Web sites. Much thinking on Web usability principles and work on their practical implementation has been done in order to provide the user with a functional and pleasant online experience. While rich in content and information-dense, the American Red Cross site never appears loaded. Visitors can easily navigate through the presented information, whether they want to donate money, blood or tissue, or simply find the information they are looking for.

The American Red Cross has been exceptionally successful at online fundraising; its famous "Donate Now" button triggered record online donations. By 30 September 2001, the Red Cross had raised over US$200 million in response to the September 11 disasters, 30 percent of which came from online gifts. By comparison, the total of online gifts during 1999 was only US$2.5 million. The movement towards online giving was so massive that for the first time, online gifts to the Red Cross outnumbered donations made by telephone.

In 2001, the Red Cross started used chat room technology and instant messaging services to develop an online discussion forum moderated by employees. The Red Cross intends to extend the use of these technologies to connect volunteers with co-ordinators and to let the public directly communicate with Red Cross employees over the Web.


Association for Progressive Communications

 

 

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is a non-profit association of member and partner networks around the world, dedicated to empowering and supporting groups and individuals working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment, through the strategic use of ICT and the Internet.

APC assists in capacity building among existing and emerging communication service providers, strengthening indigenous information sharing and independent networking capacity, and provides the tools and the knowledge infrastructure to meet the unique needs of mission-driven groups and organisations. APC defends and promotes non-commercial, productive online space for mission-driven organisations and collaborates with other organisations that are committed to freedom of expression and exchange of information on the Internet.

Founded 1990, APC was the first global non-profit network of groups working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment. In these days, the APC was offering ICT services, Internet access and Web development services to the non-profit community. While still committed to its grassroots principles, currently APC is moving into relatively new areas such as monitoring ICT policies, issues of gender, freedom of information and access, and the role of information and communication technology in developing countries, promoting gender-aware Internet design, implementation and use.


Charity Village

 

 

Founded in 1995, Charity Village has quickly become Canada's major online resource for the non-profit sector. It offers over 3,000 pages of non-profit news, information and resources. On average, the site is accessed nearly eight million times a month, which makes it one of the largest sites in the world devoted exclusively to non-profit issues. The site is easy to navigate and links to everything non-profit. Its impressive online resources include directory listings of Canadian charities and non-profits, a calendar of events, and a directory of downloadable online publications. Charity Village provides its own weekly newsletter and access to a broad range of e-mail discussion lists, newsgroups, chat rooms and Web-based discussion forums.

The library section contains listings of non-profit reference materials and periodicals, along with literature reviews and links to Web development and non-profit marketing resources. Non-profit employment opportunities are advertised in the career centre; its bulletin board displays volunteer opportunities across the country, both virtual and non-virtual, along with offers and requests for donations or help on specific projects.

Charity Village funds itself through the sale of advertisements on the site and from revenue from its virtual bookstore. Its primary purpose is to encourage, support and service the Canadian non-profit community, though the site gets visitors from all over the world. While the site offers few customisation options for unique visitors, it is currently beta testing a new architecture that enables more interaction and flexibility.


GuideStar

 

 

GuideStar is the most comprehensive resource for detailed financial information on non-profit organisations in the U.S. Its mission is to contribute to the evolution of an increasingly efficient non-profit sector by providing readily accessible information about the operations and finances of non-profit organisations. Participating in GuideStar enables non-profit organisations to streamline their grant application process, publish information online and post classified ads for contributions, donations, staff and volunteers.

Information on non-profit financial performance is becoming increasingly important for individual donors and corporate sponsors alike. There is a clear demand for more professionalism in the non-profit sector. Donors evaluate and compare charities, monitor their performance, and generally require more effective operating practices. They demand greater accountability in order to make a balanced decision as to where their money should go to, and to be able to give with greater confidence.

The GuideStar database contains detailed reports on over 850,000 non-profit organisations in the United States. These reports include information about the organisation's mission, current and planned programs, and staff. In many cases, GuideStar also has detailed financial return forms and balance sheets on file for those charities that are required to file with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. These reports give a detailed overview of their financial condition and allocation of resources. By the end of 2001, the GuideStar Web site was averaging four million page hits per week.


Idealist

 

 

Idealist is an independent organisation that offers a comprehensive directory of global non-profit and volunteering resources on the Web. Its mission is to help close the gap between technology-rich and technology-poor organisations by allowing any mission-driven organisation a presence on the Web - whether they have a Web site of their own or not.

The Idealist Web site, an Action Without Borders project, includes over 24,000 non-profit and community organisations in 153 countries, which can be searched by name, location or mission. The information is available both in English and in Spanish. No bells and whistles here. Idealist does not do any fundraising on its site. Rather, it enables people to register to receive information that interests them and deliver it. This information includes volunteer opportunities around the world, non-profit careers, and useful resources for managing and funding non-profit organisations. Visitors can subscribe to the Idealist newsletter by entering their e-mail address or personalise the news feed according to their preferences.

Idealist currently gets between 12,000 and 15,000 unique visitors a day, and over 500,000 page views a week. It is an open system which enables anyone to enter information. Resources include information on starting, running and funding a non-profit organisation, recruiting and managing volunteers, management and technical support to non-profit and community organisations. Non-profits are invited to post information about their mission, services, events and volunteer opportunities free of charge.


Network for Good

 

 

NetworkforGood.org, an independent non-profit organisation, was founded by the media giants AOL, Cisco Systems and Yahoo! in collaboration with several top-notch non-profit organisations, including the American Red Cross, Benton Foundation, GuideStar, TechSoup and W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

The portal targets citizens and non-profit organisations alike, as it aggregates content and resources in one location. Its aim is to foster the informed use of the Internet for civic participation and philanthropy by engaging citizens to participate in social causes and non-profit organisations - to donate, to volunteer, and to speak out on issues. Network for Good provides news on relief efforts around the world, along with information on how citizens can help. Rather than merely asking for money, it aims to increase citizen participation in non-profit issues with links to donate, volunteer and interact. Visitors that consider making a donation can research the charities they are interested in, make a donation or find local volunteering options. They can sign up to be a "virtual volunteer", allowing them to contribute their time and skills online.

The site provides a set of tools and resources to help non-profits integrate the power of the Internet into their operations, establish their own online presence and receive donations through Network for Good or through their own Web site. It provides tools and information for non-profits on advocacy issues, a database of media and government contacts and offers an opportunity to recruit volunteers online.


Second Harvest

 

 

America's Second Harvest is the largest domestic hunger relief organisation in the U.S. Its mission is to end hunger in America. Through a network of over 200 food banks and food-rescue programs, food is being distributed to 26 million hungry Americans each year, eight million of whom are children.

Second Harvest has a dedicated section for food and grocery donors on its Web site, along with a separate Web-based donation and allocation system. This area is only accessible to regular donors and network affiliates of the organisation, which makes the process of donation easier and more efficient. Second Harvest has found that it encourages donors to give more and more often. Online credit card donations are also accepted and processed through eContributor.net.

The organisation sends out a quarterly newsletter, Hunger Digest, with articles about current issues and programs in its network. At the end of most articles, readers are referred to the Web site and are invited to make a donation. Second Harvest created a dedicated Web page for the newsletter readers with links to further information on the topics that were covered in the newsletter. The address of this gateway page is only printed on the newsletter; there are no links to it from other sections of the site. This construction enables the organisation to track how many people are visiting after reading the newsletter and which articles they find to be of particular interest.


TechSoup

 

 

TechSoup is a technology portal for the non-profit community. Its mission is to provide technology information and advice to non-profit organisations and to provide access to low-cost technology tools, assistance and training for non-profit organisations. Non-profits are frequently struggling with limited budgets and a lack of dedicated technology staff. TechSoup's aim is to provide non-profits with the technology expertise they need in order to more efficiently and effectively achieve their missions. It does so by engaging in public-private partnerships with industry giants such as Adobe Systems, AOL Time Warner, CNET, Microsoft and Novell.

Information on the site includes news and articles on non-profit technology issues such as open source software and alternative operating systems, the Digital Divide, technology planning, Internet connectivity, computer hardware, fundraising software, online fundraising and grant-writing. The site provides resource lists of discounts offered to non-profit organisations by hardware and software companies, and by technology assistance agencies.

Community building features on the site include interactive message boards on a variety of topics, ranging from application service providers and alternative software, databases and disaster recovery plans, using e-mail as a tool for online activism, through technology planning, system administration and virtual community building, to the pitfalls of Web site design and creation, and other important questions such as what to do with a dead computer.


World Wide Fund For Nature

 

 

The World Wide Fund For Nature is an independent foundation registered under Swiss law. Its mission is to halt and reverse the destruction of our natural environment and to ensure a healthy future for animals, plants, and people. WWF operates in around 100 countries and is currently supported by nearly five million people worldwide.

WWF maintains a global network of interconnected sites with localised content in a multitude of languages. Its central site is http://www.panda.org/. Content on this site is in English and partly available in French and Spanish. Multimedia resources on the site include a photo gallery, a video library and educational materials. "Act Now" icons encourage visitors to become involved and take immediate action.

The main WWF site offers several options for online giving. It includes a searchable database on environmental and conservation issues and features a members-only section that gives access to additional features. Visitors can sign up for customised e-mail messages on the topics of their choice, surveys and action alerts based on their preferences and type of involvement.

Panda Passport is WWF's virtual campaigning and fundraising tool. Passport holders receive occasional e-mail alerts and about environmental emergencies, enabling them to respond and act immediately. Taking different actions results in different types of stamps in the Passport, and additional status for the holder. Passport allows WWF to directly communicate with its constituents, track their behaviour and preferences and encourage participation and donations.


Editorial history

Paper received 30 March 2002; accepted 14 June 2002.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Copyright ©2002, Pieter Boeder

Non-Profits on E: How Non-Profit Organisations are Using the Internet for Communication, Fundraising, and Community Building by Pieter Boeder
First Monday, volume 7, number 7 (July 2002),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_7/boeder/index.html





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