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onLine examines all things related to philanthropy and "being online": online marketing, online fundraising, Web 2.0 technologies, new tools, new issues, and new strategies to help nonprofits find their audience, philanthropists find their causes, and technologists and marketers understand the Web.

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February 10, 2010

"Outlook for Online Donations Is Cloudy, Experts Say"

"Outlook for Online Donations Is Cloudy, Experts Say." This was a headline in a Google Alert in my inbox today. Of course, my first reaction was something like charities must be worried that overall giving will be down in 2010 following such a massive response to the Haiti earthquake. But as I clicked through to the article, I was surprised to find that it was dated March 21, 2002 and was discussing what would happen to online giving after the tremendous response following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

For a moment, I was taken back to 2001 when I was working at the AOL Time Warner Foundation on, the precursor to Network for Good. In the months before 9-11, enabled individuals to donate to any 501(c)3 charity in the US. The idea of donating online was new to the Internet and was launched just as a majority of online users were beginning to get comfortable buying Omaha steaks using their computers and venturing into online banking. Online giving, at that time, was possible, but the nonprofit community had only just begun to consider how to integrate a Donate Now button on their website or strategically use email to cultivate constituents. And the general public had yet to be asked to make a gift online in any significant way. A Chronicle of Philanthropy report dated June 15, 2000 found that 252 large nonprofits in 1999 had raised just under $7 million in total online. Clearly, there was room to grow.

And then, September 11, 2001. Online giving literally grew up overnight. At, I watched reports of dollars donated jump from a few thousand dollars to more than a million dollars per day. In that same cloudy outlook article was this quote from my management at the time:

"The biggest question, said David Eisner, senior vice president of the AOL Time Warner Foundation, is how the nonprofit world can move online giving from crisis giving to more normal day-to-day giving."

As we approach the 1-month mark following the Haiti earthquake and I look back on disaster giving in the nine years since 2001, I'm confident that the nonprofit world has answered whether they can integrate online giving into a normal, every day experience. Network for Good has raised over $300 million for charities since its launch, online giving continues to grow year over year, and the response to disasters has been greater and greater each time:

  • September 11th: $215 million donated online of the $2 billion collected in total
  • Indonesia tsunami: $311.4 million donated online of the $1.27 billion collected in total
  • Hurricane Katrina: $500 million donated online of the $3.27 billion collected in total

And now, as social media and mobile giving are poised to take their place in the day-to-day normal giving operations of the nonprofit world, I am hopeful and encouraged by what the next nine years will bring.

February 08, 2010

Making the Silo Break

Last week's Economist featured a special report on social media which argued that "social networking technologies are creating considerable benefits for the businesses that embrace them." This is nothing new to nonprofits, philanthropists and foundations. From America's Giving Challenge to Twestival, social media has been an intrinsic part of our narrative.

And it has always made sense. Unlike the corporate world, which is uniformly driven by profit, the nonprofit world is misuniformly driven by popular thought, social need, leadership and the responsible organization of resources. It's a realm where communication is planned yet organic, opportunistic but not disingenuous. Social media couldn't have a better home.


But there remains a relatively uncharted territory: "Enterprise 2.0" technologies, which last week's Economist described as the "social networks of the workplace." Networking suites like IBM's Lotus Connections, Salesforce's Chatter, Yammer and BlueKiwi, have become solutions for corporations like Netherlands-based Océ, whose use of Yammer helps them prevent duplicated efforts and enhance sales prospecting.

According to a study cited in the Economist, corporate workers spend between six and ten hours per week hunting for information that they could otherwise communicate to one another seamlessly in the Facebook/Twitter-like sphere of Yammer.

And what Enterprise 2.0 tools provide that Twitter and Facebook don't is security - online communities where ideas are exchanged freely without fear of breaking confidentiality, or letting sensitive information slip. They make silo-thinking an excuse of the past, and bring an organization closer to operating like a coordinated, central nervous system.

Of course, what leads these respective businesses to choose the tools they use is as important as the tools themselves. The France-based Dannone corporation, for instance, is currently experimenting with an in-house solution to make an online community of its 90,000 employees in 100 countries.

Now take this model to the nonprofit/foundation world, where executives, trustees and board members are vested with not only communicating, but managing social need. Without the right tools and practices, a board of directors with even the greatest credentials and prominence can sit by powerless as their organization runs into the ground.

An undeniable challenge the nonprofit/foundation industry faces is a rapidly shifting culture of information sharing. And just as the industry belatedly takes cues from the business world in things like "sales"/donor prospecting and management practices, it may be high time for nonprofits and foundations to make the silo break.

It may be of little coincidence then that last Friday someone on the Progressive Exchange listserve - which reaches over 5,000 nonprofit/foundation professionals, consultants and enthusiasts - asked if anyone had examples of nonprofits using Yammer. People responded with interest but had little to offer by way of example.

The most tangible one came from Jon Stahl, a senior strategist at Groundwire, a nonprofit that helps environmental groups. He said: "We have 20+ people in 3 offices, and we find that [Yammer] provides a simple, multi-platform, low-intensity 'water cooler' that lets us share ephemeral information without contributing to email clutter.  We're obviously a pretty tech-savvy organization, and we've got 100% adoption, total message flow is probably 10-20 posts per day, total.  It's a minor tool in our constellation, but we like it."

I also spoke with Tarek Rizk, the Aspen Institute's Director of Interactive Services. Tarek is a proponent of leveraging internal networks, like Basecamp, to enhance workflow and efficiency. He said Aspen recently started relying on Twitter to update staff when Blackberry email access is down - "it's not like they're going to get the email, ya know?" He's also implemented an intricate social bookmarking system for Aspen using Delicious and LinkedIn.

However, Tarek cautioned that the when planning Aspen's internal social media strategy, "it's hard to know which coat tails to follow." He added, "You can compare your strategy to another organization's, but in the end it's their mission distinction that dictates which tools they use and what decisions they make. The way a tool gets used depends on the path people took to use it - you can't just chase the first shiny object you see on the roadside."

Tarek and Jon are not the first nonprofiteers to think outside the social media box of marketing, fundraising and public relations, in order to think inside the box of their organization's strength and efficiency. And they certainly won't be the last.

Services like Yammer or BlueKiwi are nonprofit friendly in that they offer a free basic service plan. And for nonprofits who were wise and tech-savvy enough to board the Drupal/Wordpress train, modules like Organic Groups or BuddyPress can be used to create virtual board rooms or chapter meetings.

Last May, the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative launched a joint pilot project with 14 foundations called Philanthropy 3D Michigan, which enlists trustees as strategic foundation communicators.

According to a blog post by CMF's Rebecca Noricks, "3D's goal centers on developing a new communications model for philanthropy, one that we believe has the potential to radically change the traditional foundation communications approach of relying primarily on grant announcement news releases."

3D Michigan will be ongoing through the spring of 2010, so there is yet much to develop out of this initiative. CMF and some of the pilot foundations, including W.K. Kellogg Foundation, already use Twitter externally, but it will be interesting to see if the 3D project encourages them to make their own silo breaks. There's nothing like external communications to drive home the importance of internal housekeeping.

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