Web Tangling

January 1, 2002       Todd Cohen      

Boosting charitable giving, volunteering and advocacy, and helping charities do a better job, are the goals of a Web site launched by a nonprofit partnership spearheaded by three giant tech firms. The new site, at netnetworkforgood.org, builds on helping.org, launched two years ago by the AOL Time Warner Foundation to connect donors and volunteers with charities, and provide charities with online resources.

Helping.org, which was integrated into the new site, generated $20 million in contributions and helped connect 175,000 volunteers to U.S. nonprofits, according to the foundation.

The new site to be based in San Francisco and operated by a new nonprofit named Network for Good, aims this year to nearly double helping.org’s 2001 results, excluding the surge in activity following the September 11 terrorist attacks, said Chris Sinton, who as senior director of the ePhilanthropy office for Cisco Systems, serves on a voluntary basis as full-time president and CEO of Network for Good.

Network for Good, which Sinton said has lined up “tens of millions” of dollars in grants and in-kind support over four years, is the product of a partnership involving Cisco and its foundation, AOL and its foundation, and Yahoo!, plus 23 nonprofits and associations. A majority of its seven-member board will represent nonprofits.

The new site consists of two “portals” – one for consumers and one for nonprofits – that collect and publish a broad range of information and tools available elsewhere on the Internet or developed by Network for Good and its partners. Network for Good, for example, lets visitors find out about, and make donations to, nearly 850,000 charities listed in the database at GuideStar.org.

Charities get 100 percent of donations made by credit card at the new site, with Network for Good subsidizing all transaction and credit-card costs.

The site also lets charities recruit volunteers through a database, provided by VolunteerMatch, that features tens of thousands of volunteer opportunities. And, it aims to boost online advocacy, helping individuals find and communicate with elected officials and news reporters, and provides tips on online activism. The site also provides resources for charities on topics ranging from fundraising and volunteerism to advocacy and technology.

This year, through a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., Network for Good will focus on adding content and tools for nonprofits after studying their interests and needs, Sinton said.

“It will require the nonprofit Internet data community to come together and work together,” he said. “What Network for Good is and needs to be is collaborative.”

A key goal, said Tom Reis, a Kellogg program officer, will be to develop an electronic system that lets charities publish information at networkforgood.org about their mission, focus, activities and impact – and helps other charity Web sites also publish it.

Because the new site’s three founding tech firms “command a great share of the eyeballs” on the Web, Reis said, the site can become a “traffic hub” that will expand and improve philanthropy, collaboration and the sharing of knowledge.

And by helping charities publish online data about themselves, he said, the site can deliver “pragmatic knowledge that funders, nonprofits and individual donors are after.”

Online tech store
TechSoup, a Web site at techsoup.org that features technology information and resources for nonprofits, soon will let nonprofits order discounted software, hardware, Internet connections and tech training online.

The new service, known as DiscounTech, was scheduled to be launched this month and expands a discount software program offered by CompuMentor, a San Francisco nonprofit that operates TechSoup.

DiscounTech will include advice on buying, installing and using technology. TechSoup, which provides much of the technology content for the new Network for Good philanthropy portal site, also plans to give tech-assistance groups access to its products, let them publish its content on their own Web sites and work with them to expand its content on best technology practices, said Matt Florence, TechSoup’s director.

Online skill-building
Online tools and professional services for nonprofits in Britain are the focus of a new portal being developed by a startup charity backed by a handful of corporate sponsors.

CharitySkills, which has been piloted last fall and this winter and will be launched in February, aims to plug a gap in continuing professional development for people working in the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom, said Meirion Harries, a co-founder of the new charity.

Other UK nonprofit trade groups — such as the National Council for Voluntary Organizations and the Charity Finance Directors’ Group — offer information and resources, but mainly in printed form and using telephone help lines, Harries said.

“The sector has been very slow to harness the Internet for training and information provision,” he said.

CharitySkills is targeting the UK’s charitable sector of about 450,000 organizations, particularly those that can’t afford specialists. The group aims to help organizations with annual spending of less than 20 million British pounds, or about $28.8 million, reduce their overhead, particularly in the areas of personnel, real estate and professional services. The group’s business model includes corporate sponsorships and an annual membership fee of L250 British pounds, or about $360.

A staff of 10, supported by eight to 10 people from each of the sponsors of CharitySkills, is working to develop content.

The site, to be located at charityskills.org, will feature an online toolkit for nonprofit professionals; online training based on the toolkit; best practices from U.S. nonprofits, particularly in the areas of leadership, governance and fundraising; information published online by government agencies; and online clinics provided by charity leaders in the United States and Britain.

Topics will include human resources; management; fundraising; taxes, accounting and investment policy; law; risk management and insurance; property; and technology.

Sponsor Booz Allen & Hamilton, for example, is developing a management toolkit that provides a methodology for devising a management strategy, along with tools such as project-management training; financial-management accounting; time management; and negotiating skills.

And a human resources toolkit, developed by CharitySkills and Nicholson Graham and Jones, its law sponsor, will include a “complete profile of materials that an established human-resources director would have in their filing cabinet,” Harries said, such as standard-form employment contracts and guides for organizing pension plans.

David Newkirk, senior vice president in London for Booz Allen and a co-founder of CharitySkills, said Britain’s charities face big gaps in their management skills and in professional advice available to them. “Our hope is to raise the quality of professional management,” he said.

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

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