"The Internet is about connecting humans, not machines"
--Jayne Cravens, owner of Coyote Communications, a consulting service for not-for-profit organizations
The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool that organizations in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors must learn to use properly. Online community outreach involves a lot more than putting up a website. It requires strategic planning and it should be proactive, interactive and ongoing. As information becomes more readily available on the Internet, potential donors, volunteers, and supporters are seeking organizations that are credible and worthy of their attention.
The Internet is invaluable to non-profit organizations because it is relatively inexpensive and it can extend local outreach efforts to a national audience. Many NPOs already successfully use the Internet to enhance fundraising efforts, but there are still some that are ambivalent about changes that force modifications to familiar, time-tested approaches that have long been effective. As money continues to move into the hands of the wired generation, online fundraising will become a major source of revenue for NPOs and those hoping to share those revenues should start learning immediately.
However, it is unwise to view the Internet and email primarily as fundraising tools. Instead organizations should consider them relationship-building tools used to fill the communication needs of their audiences and information-gathering tools used to develop programs that fulfill their missions.
The next two sections discuss ways to implement these tools into your organization.
However, the growth and development of the technology also means the users standards of what makes a good website are higher.
In order to compete with the millions of websites on the Internet, NPOs need to build stylish pages, but they also must contain accurate and timely information that reinforces their missions.
It is recommended that public relations personnel work with and direct the technology staff to ensure that all online communications coincide with organization's established image in print communications.
Flashy is nice, but "content is king" on the World Wide Web.
The following are relationship-building items that can be placed on the organization's website:
- Organization mission/description
- List of programs, resources and services offered
- Contact information (mailing address, phone and fax numbers)
- Volunteer opportunities and information
- Event announcements
- Press releases
- Articles from publications (newsletters, annual reports)
- Letters or articles by staff or from board members
- Job openings
- Staff list and email
- Announcements about events that are related to your organization's cause
Virtual communities exist when online consumers exchange ideas with one another. By providing the forum for this exchange, non-profit organizations hope to build loyalty among its publics which will hopefully increase support and participation.
Virtual communities are interactive spaces that have a distinctive focus. They integrate dynamic content that engages communication among their members. The compelling feature of these communities is that members can contribute their ideas.
Some virtual communities are open to the general public while others limit access to the community by requiring a password.
Before building a virtual community, a non-profit organization must consider its mission and customers. It must also evaluate its cyber-mission and its cyber-customers. The missions can be different so the organization must decide what kind of information and exchange would be relevant to the potential community members' lives.
Some examples of virtual communities include:
- Threaded discussion or bulletin boards-allows users to respond to other members' comments
- Chat Rooms-can be used for live forums or Q&A sessions with guest speakers
- Opinion Polling-quick and informal way to gather input on decisions
- Active Calendars-publicize events or meetings and build awareness of the organization's activities
- Email and Listservs-easy way to exchange information and ideas