Seth Goldberg, a New York executive with a medical malpractice insurance company, is a self-described Internet "news junkie." He had followed reports of the North Korean famine with great concern. So when an October 1997 North Korea news story he read on the Yahoo Web site linked him to the World Vision (WV) Web site, Goldberg decided to give $5,000 for relief efforts with a few strokes of his keyboard. "That made the difference to me, that I was able to get enough information to come to a decision," he says. "It was a very intelligent, easy way [to donate]."
Confronted with donor attrition and the increasing cost of direct mail, Christian nonprofits are turning to technology, especially the Internet, to attract new donors such as Goldberg.
World Vision U.S. (www.worldvision. org), which has had a Web site since April 1997, created an emergency campaign on its site for Sudan, with facts, photos, and video clips of relief work. In July, nearly 170 people donated $70,000 to World Vision through its Web site, about 10 percent of the total amount the agency raised.
The four-year-old Web site of Food for the Hungry (www.fh.org) already has become the group's second-largest source of new child sponsors, nearly doubling to 7 percent over 12 months and generating annual income near $190,000.
Web sites with .org in the domain name (typically used by nonprofits) have grown from a few hundred in 1992 to 115,000, according to Network Solutions, Inc., the company that registers new Web sites. Most of those that accept online donations use secure sites with encryption technology. But not all organizations have been successful in recouping the cost of Web site creation and maintenance. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) added a donation page to its two-year-old Web site (www.billygraham.org) in August, but has received few online gifts. The BGEA, though, believes the purpose of the site is evangelism, not fundraising.
NO FAST MONEY: Those looking for quick financial returns from the Web will be disappointed, industry experts say. Tom McCabe, CEO of KMA, a direct response agency based in Dallas, advises clients, including World Vision, American Bible Society, Concerned Women for America (CWA), and Trans World Radio (TWR), to invest in a Web presence as an information tool to reach a younger, technology-savvy audience.
Brian Kluth, president of the Christian Stewardship Association (CSA), says organizations that clearly communicate ministry goals using the Internet could see an increase in donations through traditional means.
The 182-year-old American Bible Society (www.americanbible.org), with donors on the average in their sixties, launched its Web site last year with daily Scripture readings and a catalog of Bibles and Bible products to try to attract younger donors.
CWA (www.cwfa.org) uses its site as a lobbying tool to inform constituents about pending legislation and link them online with members of Congress. The site also sells resources such as books, cassettes, and bumper stickers.
For organizations without traditional products to sell, "virtual" gifts such as goats or medical checkups for poor families purchased in someone's honor provide direct donations to the organizations and Christmas cards to the gift recipients (CT, Oct. 26, 1998, p. 14).
World Concern (www.worldconcern. org), which has had a Web version of its Global Gift Guide since 1996, raised more than 7 percent of its total 1997 catalog income from online donations, up from less than 1 percent the previous year.
GOSPEL STUMBLING BLOCK? Not everyone is thrilled about the potential of the Web for fundraising. Robby Richardson, director of the three-year-old Gospel Communications Network (GCN), believes Internet fundraising could be a "stumbling block for the gospel." GCN (www.gospelcom.net), which is part of Gospel Films, is a network of 112 Christian nonprofit Web sites. GCN covers the $1 million per year total maintenance costs for the organizations in exchange for their adherence to GCN's doctrinal statement and guidelines of no political activity and no fundraising. "We didn't want to minister with one hand and ask for donations with the other," Richardson says.
TWR, which uses GCN's Internet service, would like to use the Web to raise money for missionary support but cannot afford the high cost of maintaining its own Web site, says spokesperson Rich Greene. But the organization (www.gospelcom.net/twr) has received 25 Web inquiries from potential missionary candidates.
E-MAIL APPEALS: The passive nature of the Web means it does not pose a direct threat to traditional fundraising methods such as direct mail, industry experts say, but many are convinced the Web will increase in popularity for charitable giving as electronic commerce continues to grow.
Some organizations are considering blending the directness of mail and the immediacy of the Internet to send requests for donations via e-mail. WV Internet programming manager Larry Short says WV already has collected 5,000 e-mail addresses on its Web site and is discussing an e-mail appeal strategy. The plan may include renting lists of e-mail addresses, a controversial new practice among some Christian nonprofits, even those that regularly rent lists for direct-mail appeals. But Tom Watkins, who has collected thousands of e-mail addresses as TWR's director of donor services, sees e-mail appeals as a matter of financial stewardship. "Our donors recognize it as an economical way to communicate," he says.
CREATING COMMUNITY: Short sees the Web as building virtual communities. "I know the technology has the ability to increase global relationships." He points to WV's online guestbook during the height of its Sudan campaign where supporters could write notes of encouragement to workers in Sudan. Short predicts a new form of child sponsorship that will use an extranet to link a community of sponsors with a community of children through posted messages, photos, and video.
Organizations need to focus on the interactive, relational aspects of the medium, says CSA's Kluth, who sees the fundraising pendulum swinging back from direct mail to relationship-building. But fundraising methods are not as important as ministry. "Trust the Master, not the methods," he says.
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