Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sharpening Your Internet Prowess: Using the Web to Fundraise and Further Your Mission

I originally published the following article in Inspire Change, May 2007. Please visit http://www.inspirechange.net/ for the full journal.

Sharpening Your Internet Prowess:
Using the Web to Fundraise and Further Your Mission


In March 2007, Netcraft.com reported that there were just over 110,000,000 Web sites on the Internet. A month later, that number had climbed by over 3.2 million. In a world this saturated with data, how can you find what you need quickly and efficiently?

Thankfully, the Internet is not just growing: it’s evolving. In the world of “Web 2.0,” there are many tools available to help you sift through the massive amount of information available. Below, I focus on four general types of tools that go a step beyond what is offered through most basic browsers and search engines. These tools can provide fundraisers, donors and community leaders with the ability to maximize their time online so that they can be the most effective offline (where, we must remember, the majority of the real work gets done).

Public Information
This first type of Web site is one that aggregates specific types of public information into useful packages. Generally aimed at meeting the needs of niche audiences, these sites provide specific information about certain groups or people. They can be immense time-savers while frequently providing the best data available. Examples include:

  • GuideStar.org: This free service provides Form 990s on foundations and non-profit organizations. They also offer fee-based services that provide more data and that allow deep searches of Form 990s; comparable services are also offered by groups such as FoundationSearch.com and FoundationCenter.org (the latter of which also has some nice free features).
  • DCAD.org: This site provides the value of any home located in Dallas County. A nice way to get an important data point for gauging donor capacity (and also for helping find addresses).
  • TAD.org: Similar to the site above, it provides the value of any home located in Tarrant County.
  • OpenSecrets.org: One of many sites that provides a list of political contributors. A good resource to see which side of the political spectrum your major prospects fall on.
Deadlines
Unfortunately, far too few grant-makers even have their own Web site, let alone one that clearly lays out their interests, priorities and relevant application guidelines. There are dozens of companies that offer subscription services that provide notices of RFPs as well as reminders of upcoming deadlines: if your organization has the capacity, these services frequently come bundled with the services mentioned in the section above. However, the following are two free resources that should provide more than enough opportunities to fill any grant writer’s calendar:News and Articles
If you’re like me, you receive more magazines, newspapers and eNewsletters than you’ll ever be able to read in this lifetime. However, we all have our favorites that we try to keep up with regularly (i.e. Robert Miller’s column in The Dallas Morning News is a virtual must-read for non-profit professionals in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area). There are several ways to keep up with what’s going on in the media:
  • RSS Feeds: Short for “Really Simple Syndication,” an RSS Feed appears more daunting at first than it really is. Basically, a news site or a blog posts its articles to an “RSS” service that allows its content to be sent the content automatically. For example, rather than browse to Robert Miller’s column every day, I have it emailed to me along with several dozen other “feeds” that are of interest. Best of all, they are all included in a single email. I use the free FeedBlitz.com service, but there are many others (i.e. Google Reader allows you to post all of your RSS onto one page rather than have them emailed to you).
  • News Aggregator Sites: There are many Web sites out there that pull stories from all over the world that address a specific niche. For the non-profit world, the best ones that I’ve found are the Foundation Center’s “Philanthropy News Digest” (FoundationCenter.org/pnd/news/) and The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy Today” (Philanthropy.com/news/). Both are also available as RSS Feeds.
  • News Alerts: The single best way to ensure that you stay connected to the issues that matter to you is an alert service such as Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts). These services will automatically email you whenever any Web site, blog or news items mentions your search. For example, you could have Google email you every day with a list of the Web sites that mentioned your organization today, or even your top donor prospect. Be careful – this can quickly result in dozens or hundreds of emails, depending on your search. Thankfully, these services can aggregate all of the “hits” into a single email on a daily or weekly basis.
Blogs
According to Technorati, there are over 50 million blogs on the Web . . . and 15,000 more are created every single day. Short for “weblogs,” these blogs are revolutionizing the worlds of media and journalism. Blogs are also going to play an enormous part of our industry’s changing future, both as hubs of information for professionals as well as communities for donors/clients. There are many types of blogs being used in our sector:
  • Personal Blogs: These include staff writing stories of their struggles, clients writing about their successes and everything in between. Blogs can be highly effective means of engaging the general public in discussion related to your mission, and can also be leveraged to raise significant funds for your agency. For example, Larry James’ Urban Daily (UrbanDaily.org) ran a campaign in 2006 that asked readers to donate to Central Dallas Ministries; the effort raised over $75,000 in a little over four months. Be warned – blogs also require an incredible commitment of time and energy from their author. They are not worth doing unless you can commit a few hours per week to writing and replying to comments.
  • Industry Blogs: Some of the most important discussions of the future of our sector are taking place online at blogs like www.GiftHub.org and www.DonorPowerBlog.com. When you find a blog that you like, look at their “blogroll” – the list of links to other blogs. Or, use a search like Google’s Blog Search to scan the blogosphere for conversations related to your hot issues. Most blogs allow you to comment without creating a user identity, so you can jump right into the conversation.
  • Connector Blogs: These blogs, such as the one I recently launched, do not seek to provide their own content as much as they seek to connect their readers to content that might interest them. One of the best connector blogs available is “Give and Take,” from The Chronicle of Philanthropy (http://www.philanthropy.com/giveandtake/).
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of opportunities available online for people involved in non-profit work. This article is offered as an attempt to help you utilize the Internet as a powerful source of gathering the information necessary for you to make the best decisions in the real world.

Good ‘net, and good luck.