The Nonprofit Internet FAQ 

What Can a Web Site Do For Your Nonprofit Organization?

Like commercial endeavors, nonprofit organizations need to market themselves and their services. Their credibility as a service provider, authority in a given area, or worthiness as the recipient of financial contributions hinges on effective positioning in the public arena. Unlike many commercial web sites that may use gimmicks to attract users,  nonprofit organizations offer content consistent with their mission to serve the public. 

Let's look at some examples.  A nonprofit service offering shelter to battered women needs to provide sound informational content to educate the public on the grave problem of domestic abuse and post help lines for those in crisis. On the other hand, a nonprofit children's museum might feature fun, interactive educational games for children on their web site that are consistent with the museum's mission.

A nonprofit site will have more than self-promotion as its goal; it supplies helpful information or resources that give back to the community.  In this way, a nonprofit web site invites community participation in its cause.

The benefit of organizational web sites is that they provide a nonintrusive means for nonprofit organizations to market their cause and demonstrate their expertise by offering solid information about their services and the issue at hand; whether it is homelessness or child abuse. This information can be more in-depth than facts contained in a printed brochure. Also, information can be updated more frequently and more cost-effectively on a web site than with printed materials.



How are Nonprofit Organizations Using their Web Sites?


  • Advocate for important causes

  • Educate the public

  • Attract & inform new donors

  • Cultivate & educate existing contributors

  • Provide mission-centered service online

  • Generate revenue through secure transactions from resources offered online

  • Invite corporate sponsorship

  • Provide helpful public information

  • Gain feedback from supporters & the general public

  • Test the appeal of various fundraising projects

  • Attract volunteers to worthy organizations

  • Provide research and  information about social problems and their remedies


Integrating the Web Site with the Organization's Overall Promotional Strategy

A web site can be coordinated with other promotional methods. For example, if the Salvation Army runs billboards announcing its annual fundraising campaign, the billboard might include the organization's web site URL. The web site might then satisfy a prospective donor's thirst for more information by including further details about the programs the campaign supports, how much has been raised to date, and how (perhaps online) an individual might make a donation or volunteer time.

Donors, like consumers, are now more information-driven in their choices.  This is true in the services they use or the charity they support! On a web site, information about a particular charity is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Most web sites also include an interactive component as simple as dropping a note in the organization's e-mail that can be followed up by a phone call from the development department. This way, web sites, become an integral part of an institution's "fundraising mix." Web sites can be used in conjunction with special event fundraising, corporate affinity programs, press releases, or even capital campaigns.

Similarly, nonprofit organizations might utilize a web site to promote public advocacy on a particular issue---drug abuse, for example--- or provide helpful data on AIDS. The Arthritis Foundation might host an interactive online discussion list for arthritics on such topics as medication, diet and exercise; or the Red Cross might provide updates on military personnel stationed in foreign countries.


Boosting Your Nonprofit's Public Relations Power With A Web Site

Carmen Liimatta, President, InfoWeb Services Corporation

Early last year I was pondering the mysteries of nonprofit organizations and their hesitance to adopt new technology. I was feeling a little disheartened. Then, what should appear in my mailbox, but a flyer entitled, "Nonprofits Online - Second Annual Conference" to be held in Washington, DC. Listed as a workshop was, "Hawking Your Message in the Virtual Marketplace: Using Your Web Site as a Marketing Tool."

Over the past few months a lot has been written in nonprofit periodicals about the charitable foray into the online world. Charities have used their web sites for everything from cause-related marketing to "e-fundraising" (The national office of the American Red Cross raised nearly $100,000 in credit card gifts for emergency relief in the first year their web site offered secure on-line donations). Despite these spectacular stories, people often forget that web sites have an even more powerful function. That function is to inform and create public awareness.

While corporate web sites use all varieties of frivolous gimmicks to attract visitors, nonprofit web sites provide socially-redeeming information. Yet, investing in Public Relations and Public Awareness Programs are difficult decisions for many nonprofit organizations. The benefits of Public Relations are often long-term. And on the face of it, a Public Relations Program will seem like a cost center rather than income center for nonprofit organizations with a short-sighted perspective.

However, public relations affect the ability of nonprofit organizations to raise money. For example, businesses have long known that the positive effects of marketing, advertising, and publicity are cumulative. In other words, today's marketing efforts do not result in today's sale;   but if awareness is not created today, there won't be sales tomorrow.

A parallel is applicable to  nonprofit organizations. Can a nonprofit organization mount a major capital campaign if their organization does not have the "image" in the community worthy of major gifts? It may not be that the organization has a 'bad image.' Nevertheless, local people are not aware of the good work the nonprofit organization is doing in the community.

The primary goals in business marketing are: creating awareness, creating positive image and creating preference for a given product. How many people in your community are aware that an accountable nonprofit organization helping local people exists in their own backyard?

As a nonprofit organization, several things set you apart from other social agencies. Can your community articulate the distinctives of your nonprofit organization's mission?  What image do you have in your community?

A web site can be a cost effective method to let your light shine by defining your niche, advocating for your cause, and creating a basis for financial support.

Here are some strategies for using your nonprofit organization's web site as a Public Relations tool:

P.R.Strategy # 1: Position your organization as an expert. A recent study of Internet users revealed that 75% regularly used the Internet to look up information regarding their local communities. The information for which they searched most frequently included local news, information on local government, and information on community civic and social services. That's a tremendous opportunity for local nonprofit organizations!

If the expertise of a nonprofit organization is assisting the homeless to recover and re-enter society, for example; we do well to show people in the community the types of programs we offer to accomplish that task. Use your nonprofit organization's web site to list results, share testimonies, and provide statistics on homelessness in your community. By providing reliable statistics, you can effectively attract local media members researching news stories. Good statistics show a nonprofit organization's knowledge of the problems and issues of homelessness in the community--- solid information keeps media members coming back.

P.R. Strategy #2: Provide helpful information. Question: What's the primary commodity of the Information Super Highway? If you said, "information"---you're right! By supplying relevant, informational, content to your target audience through your web site, you fulfill the unwritten rule of the Internet. The unwritten rule is: "Give before you get"! If you want people to support your nonprofit organization financially, take the initiative to establish the relationship by giving them something first. The best thing you can give visitors to your web site is information not found anywhere else.

Let's take a fictional example. The Arthritis Foundation determined their target audience included persons afflicted by arthritis and their families, medical personnel, and researchers. With these target audiences in mind, they actively developed informational content that appealed to their audiences. As it turned out, the web site included a "chat area" for arthritis sufferers on medication, diet and exercise; journal reprints on arthritis research for healthcare professionals; and a "Frequently Asked Questions" section for family members of arthritics. The content and structure of the web site was helpful and appealing to these target audiences; and the Foundation effectively established an "expert" reputation on the disease. As a result, regular visitors to the web site were amenable to making financial gifts for arthritis research and giving memorial gifts in the names of loved ones.

What helpful information or public service can your nonprofit organization offer visitors at your web site?

PR Strategy #3: Make it 24 hours a day. No public relations director is on duty 24 hours a day, and even nonprofit organization office hours are generally only 8 hours a day. But consider the advantage of the best p.r. agent, your web site. It's available 24 hours a day, 365 days year, year after year, on weekends and on holidays! Your press releases are downloadable after hours by media members, helpful information is available to those in crisis in the wee hours of the morning, and a potential supporter can make a financial gift on Christmas Day.

P.R. Strategy #4: Make it cost effective. Good media coverage can often be obtained by a nonprofit organization at little or no expense. However, when considering the cost of printed marketing materials such as program brochures or annual reports that do not directly result in donations; a web site is far more cost effective.

For example, nonprofit organizations can never send four-color brochures to every household in their community to create awareness because it would be cost- prohibitive. However, with the World Wide Web, four-color is no more expensive than black and white. And whereas, a brochure or annual report is a "one-use piece" with a limited shelf-life; a web site with basic layout can be easily and inexpensively updated as information changes.

Web site technology forces a new economy of scale. One web site can have wider distribution and a longer shelf-life than several thousand mailed printed pieces. Likewise, a broadcast-quality video, though dramatic in its presentation of a nonprofit organization's cause, can set a nonprofit organization back a minimum of $15,000-$20,000. The video has distribution problems (you have to arrange for someone to show it); not to mention a limited shelf-life, which means re-filming whenever information changes. Web site updates are cost-effective compared to the video or print mediums.

PR Strategy #5: Make it in-depth. Not only are we in the Information Age, but a new generation of supporters known as the "Baby Boomers" are requiring more information before they extend their loyalty to a charity. Most commercial web sites reflect a similar driving force: consumers want in-depth product information before making a decision to purchase.

In-depth information about a nonprofit organization cannot be contained cost-effectively in a space ad nor an appeal letter. However, a nonprofit organization's cross-promotional efforts can direct readers of both appeal letters and space ads to more in-depth information contained at its web site.

Many nonprofit organizations claim current or prospective supporters do not use the Internet because they are in older age categories. However, many nonprofit organizations would be surprised to find how many supporters actually exist on-line. If 30% of your donors are on-line now, how many will be there in another year? Two years? Almost guaranteed, your current numbers will double in just a year. Also, if younger generations are the primary users of the Internet, shouldn't your nonprofit organization begin now to utilize a medium that appeals to them as future financial partners?

P.R. Strategy #6: Make it interactive. Mal Warwick, nonprofit fundraising and marketing consultant, says the Internet beats direct mail in the interactive category. According to Warwick, "With direct mail---we write to prospective donors and they write back---using something called a response device. As highly evolved as direct mail has become; that's as good as it gets. We call that interactive."* With the Internet, however, supporters can make a gift on-line, sign a guestbook, send an e-mail to the nonprofit organization development director, or fill out a survey. Not only that, electronic mail often gets a more immediate and personal response than supporters ever receive through direct mail.

In conclusion, it is important for nonprofit organizations to advocate for their cause and create public awareness about social problems and issues. Internet Web sites are a viable and cost-effective option in a nonprofit organization's public relations toolkit.

*Mal Warwick, Fundraising on the Internet, Strathmore Press, 1997.

As the President of InfoWeb Services, Carmen Liimatta assists the nonprofit community to develop web sites that fit their unique goals and objectives. Her professional career experience in nonprofit environments runs the gamut from work in healthcare to education and social service institutions.

Carmen holds a Master’s in Public Administration, NonProfit Management from the University of Missouri Kansas City and a Certificate in NonProfit Fundraising from the Midwest Center for NonProfit Leadership.



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