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First, eCommerce. Now welcome ePhilanthropy

March 14, 2005

For small to mid-size non-profit organizations wanting to take their fundraising to the Internet or wishing to improve their current results, the build or acquire decision is becoming a lot easier, thanks to a handful of socially responsible, e-commerce-savvy businesses.

The story of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is pretty typical. Formed in 1998 by the merger of two local children's hospitals, Children's which has 430 licensed bed in two hospitals, 5,500 employees, access to 1,400 doctors, and 20,000 volunteers was quick to jump on the e-philanthropy bandwagon.

Not having the manpower or expertise to do the job in house, the healthcare center hired a company to help it with its online fundraising. Because there was no one in house who was familiar with e-philanthropy, still a relatively new concept in 1999, the hospital relied heavily on the e-commerce company. A little too heavily.

As Children's manager of special projects Karen Nicolas says, "Tracking the money was a big issue. We still don't know where half that money went. We're not sure what they had told us what we raised is what we raised."

So when Nicolas came on board in 2000, spearheading online philanthropy initiatives, she fired the e-commerce company. But she didn't lose faith. She just needed to find a company that really got what e-philanthropy was all about.

Children's already had a Web site and a dedicated Web team. What she needed was "a partner who could enhance what we were already doing."

That partner turned out to be, the socially responsible arm of Open Consult, a Georgia-based Web and e-commerce consulting company., which works with dozens of nonprofits, from the Alzheimer's Foundation of America to the Volunteer Center of North Texas, describes itself as "a complete e-commerce system for the nonprofit and educational community." It provides the infrastructure for allowing nonprofit organizations to raise money though the Internet through e-commerce hosting and technical support, allowing nonprofits to accept online donations, memberships, event or conference registrations, even set up e-commerce stores for fundraising, all for a very modest fee.

"We try to make it extremely easy for the nonprofits," explains president Ronald Pruitt. "The only technology thing that they ever have to do is create a link on their site."

Once the link is established, the process is simple. The donor goes to the nonprofit's Web site, clicks a "DONATE NOW" button to get to the secure Web site, which customizes, and the donor then fills out a form. The user then clicks to review all their information and gets a confirmation page. If the user clicks to confirm, securely passes all the information to the credit card processor, through the merchant account of the nonprofit. After the donation is accepted, the donor gets a page that can be printed as a receipt.

The donor also gets an email receipt that is customized to look as if it's coming directly from someone at the nonprofit. The nonprofit gets an automatic email notifying it about the donation. stores all the data in a backend database. The nonprofit can log into a reporting center to either view the collected data online or download as an Excel file.

Since signing up with in the summer of 2000, Children's has raised over $500,000 online. From 2003 to 2004 alone, Nicolas says, the healthcare center saw a $90,000 jump in donations.

Children's also recently conducted two radio-thons with's help, which brought in $60,000 in just three days almost all of it online.'s Pruitt was right there to help with, or answer, any technical questions around the clock, says Nicolas.

A good deal of that success can be attributed to Nicolas and her team's energetic fundraising efforts. Put another way, she gets it. As Nicolas explains, "To us, e-philanthropy is not just about online giving. It's a slew of avenues to give online," which, for Children's, includes online stores where you can purchase tickets, buy cards, and do straight online giving.

For Nicolas, using a company like is a no-brainer. For about $250 month (a combination of a one-time set-up fee, a monthly fee, and a $0.25 per transaction fee), Children's gets a total e-commerce package, plus seemingly unlimited technical support and has raised, on average, $9,000 per month as a result. ('s more basic Donation Pro service is available for a one-time set-up fee of $495, a monthly hosting fee of $35, and then $0.25 per transaction.)

Says Nicolas, "We're definitely getting a good deal."

Across the country in San Francisco, Joanne Fedeyko, executive director of the San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of Girls on the Run (and, tells a similar story.

"When we were setting [our Web site] up, we needed a vehicle to accept donations," explains Fedeyko. "Something where people could go and donate now."

As at Children's, Girls on the Run San Francisco, an after-school running program for girls in third through eighth grade that helps build self esteem, hired a company to help them out - and quickly ran into difficulty. Basically the company was more work than it was worth.

Then in early 2004, Fedeyko found Active Giving Solutions (, a division of San Diego-based The Active Network.

Active Giving, which serves more than 1,500 nonprofit clients nationwide, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, enables organizations to quickly and easily build fundraising programs online. (It also offers nonprofits custom Web site services.)

As Active Giving Solutions director Mark Kuusik explains, "Active Giving offers a whole suite of products and services for organizations that want to build an online giving community.

So organizations will have access to things like online event registration, fundraising management, ticket and event sales, membership services, technology integration, all sorts of things."

For Fedeyko and Girls on the Run San Francisco, the partnership has been a great success. Thanks to Active Giving, Fedeyko is able to quickly post new requests and events online and get donations in faster. As a result, more people are donating, and donating online.

Fedeyko is also very happy with the level of service she receives.

"They are there every second that I need them - and I need them a lot of seconds," she reports. "There are a lot of nuances. I could be on the phone at least once a day, if not more."

The bottom line, says Fedeyko, is Active Giving makes her job easier.

"It takes away so much of the headache. If I had to go in and manage this myself, make the changes, which I used to have to do with the other service, [nothing would get done]. You'd have information that's outdated, or people donating to something that no longer is happening," she says.

"With Active, they have been there to set up seven or eight different campaigns. It's pretty intensive on the front end of it. But because they know what they're doing, it makes it so much easier. They're incredibly responsive," says Fedeyko.

She adds that overall income from donations has definitely gone up since she started using the service.

Source: eCommerce Guide

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