Tracking Impact

February 1, 2002       Todd Cohen      

Helping.org, the AOL Time Warner Foundation Web site dedicated to giving, volunteering and nonprofit resources, posted steady traffic and growth in online giving during its two-year run, despite tough times for e-philanthropy, the foundation said.

The site, which in November 2001 was folded into a new site, networkforgood.com, also showed that e-philanthropy is here to stay and will be driven by causes, not simply by the impulse to give, said David Eisner, the foundation’s senior vice president.

“People aren’t motivated by the action of giving,” he said. “They’re motivated by the cause they care about.”

The helping.org site, launched in October, 1999, generated $20 million in donations and connected 185,000 volunteers with nonprofits. Three-fourths of those donations were made after the September 11 attacks, which also prompted a five-fold increase in volunteering inquiries.

helping.org attracted about 500,000 visitors a month before the attacks, said Eisner, a member of the board of San Francisco-based Network for Good, a nonprofit created by AOL, Cisco Systems, Yahoo! and their foundations and partners to run the new site.

After September 11, Eisner said, monthly traffic grew to about 10 million visitors.

Online giving grew steadily at helping.org, he said, from about $500,000 in its first year-end holiday season in 1999 to nearly $2 million for all of 2000, including more than $900,000 in December alone, and to about $3 million in 2001 until September 11.

In December 2001, online giving totaled more than $2 million for both sites during the transition to the new site.

“At a time when theentire industry was in turmoil, when big players like Charitableway went out of business, the fact that we were the number-one driver of giving online and the number-one contributor to the number-one volunteer engine [VolunteerMatch.org] made us feel very positive about really what was a very nascent product,” Eisner said.

“We’re really trying to do something that’s very hard and hadn’t been done before,” he said. “The trick is to continue steady growth.”

AOL, with more than 25 million users, generated most of helping.org’s visitors, he said. “Whenever AOL featured it was when we had the highest level of traffic,” he said.

AOL donated more than 1 billion “impressions” – pages, each viewed by a single person, containing links such as ads promoting helping.org or news stories referring readers to the site. “What worked best was connecting into news stories,” Eisner said.

The foundation set no targets for use of helping.org, he said, although it designed the site to handle online giving and volunteering that “dramatically exceeded” the actual results by about half. “That was fine because if we had hit them, then we would have been out of capacity,” he said.

Generally, he said, people initially responded to e-philanthropy and to helping.org much as they did to e-commerce three or four years ago – “window-shopping” at different sites, reluctantly using them because of fears about security and privacy, and visiting helping.org mainly to find information before following up by taking action offline.

Persuading other sites to point to helping.org was tough, he said, until the September 11 attacks triggered a surge in links and referrals, and in online donations. That increase, he said, signaled the arrival of online charity.

“Generally, the use of e-philanthropy broke through several levels of public adoption as a result of September 11,” he said. “There’s a much broader awareness in the public about how the Internet can fulfill their desire to help out.”

While e-philanthropy ultimately may take many forms, he said, helping.org “showed that there is an opportunity for the Internet to play a role in democratizing philanthropy,” connecting people with smaller nonprofits that might not be able to afford to reach them using media such as direct mail or TV.

IBM focuses on Web
IBM this year will launch Web-based tools to expand its efforts to boost the performance of students and teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade. Based in Armonk, N.Y., IBM also is refining a new tool to give senior citizens and people with disabilities easier access to the Web. And, it is expanding initiatives to boost early-childhood computer learning and help science and technology museums use the Web.

“We are applying technology to social problems,” said Stan Litow, IBM’s vice president for corporate community relations.

IBM announced in June it would spend $25 million on its Reinventing Education initiative during the next two years in addition to $45 million it has invested since launching it in 1994-1995.

New efforts include making available to teachers-in-training online tools used by classroom teachers; creating an “educational operating system” providing access to IBM’s full suite of online education tools; and launching a “change-management toolkit” to help school leaders adopt IBM’s online education tools for their school systems.

IBM, which in 2002 expects to match the estimated $130 million in corporate giving it contributed in 2001, will select teacher-training institutions, school districts and state education departments as partners to make available to prospective teachers Web-based tools developed as part of its Reinventing Education initiative.

Those tools are designed, for example, to help teachers plan lessons, assess student work, evaluate digital student portfolios of their work and identify best teaching practices.

The company also is developing a single “Wired For Learning/Learning Village” platform to bring together Reinventing Education tools it has developed to help teachers carry out a broad range of tasks such as finding educational data, making decisions, assessing student and classroom needs, holding online conferences with parents, contacting mentors online and identifying best teaching practices.

Working with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, IBM also has developed an online toolkit to help school leaders manage change. The toolkit, to be tested in selected states this year, aims to help leaders of national, state and district education systems navigate the process of changing their strategies on topics ranging from training and assessing teachers to scheduling classes and getting parents more involved in their children’s education.

IBM also plans to refine a “transcoding” tool it has developed to make the Web more accessible to groups such as senior citizens and disabled people who may face hurdles in using it.

The tool, which IBM piloted in 2001 with San Francisco-based SeniorNet, can perform a range of tasks, such as summarizing written text or converting it to voice, resizing type, and reformatting pages and paragraphs.

IBM also will launch a Web site for – and double – its Kidsmart initiative that has donated 6,000 early-learning computer centers in the United States and 2,000 abroad.

And it will donate online kiosks to more than 100 science and technology museums participating in tryscience.org, a virtual-museum that targets youngsters eight years old through middle school.

The kiosks will let the museums build the virtual site into their own exhibits. Created by a partnership involving IBM and an association representing 450 museums, tryscience is available in six languages and lets museums team up to create exhibits and share materials.

The Reinventing Education initiative recently landed IBM the 2001 Annual Excellence in Corporate Citizenship Award of the New York-based Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy.

The company also was cited in a new study by The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College as a “particularly strong leader in international corporate community involvement, with well-developed strategies, management processes and programs.”

By gearing its technology to social needs, Litow said, IBM has adapted its corporate strategy of applying technology to business problems.

The key, he said, is “getting people in the community involved in this process.”

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Nonprofitxpress, an online newspaper at www.npxpress.com. He can be reached at tcohen@ajf.org