MONEY ON THE NET
In a few short years a lot of non-profit organizations will be reaping a large harvest of direct gifts through the Internet. We are talking millions on the individual institutional level, and billions on aggregate. This money will come in the form of many small gifts-from ten cents in digital cash to $250 or more in credit card or online pledges. With the advent of TV-web systems, people will literally make a gift to your institution using their remote controls. So you should start setting up your online gift systems now!
This is the place to begin for every institution that wants to allow for direct online gifts. No muss with credit cards, no fuss with digital cash. Those can come later.
Wake Forest University [http://www.wfu.edu/alumni/giving/] decided to try such an approach, and within a short period of time received several pledges, ranging from $50 to $2,500. Not bad!
The people of the tiny island of Eigg found out how powerful an online pledging system could be. This remote island, off the coast of Scotland, has only 60 inhabitants. The island has been owned by a succession of absentee landlords and was in a state of decay. The inhabitants and interested friends put together a web-based effort to raise 1.5 million pounds to buy the island and create a wildlife trust. They took pledges and credit card gifts [http://nutmeg.bureau.pipex.com/eigg/main.shtml] and used the press and friends to beat the drum. By April 7, 1997 they had raised the money, and made a successful bid to buy the island [http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/RJWinters/eigg.htm]
When it comes to major gifts, and especially major-major gifts, "people give money to people," and the bigger the gift, the more direct personal involvement will be required. You can't expect to put a few pictures on the web, add some compelling text, and expect the big bucks to roll in--any more than you would let a few brochures carry your entire fundraising burden.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish not to set up an online pledging site on your homepage. Here are some sites to review:
As people become accustomed to using credit cards online to buy football tickets, T-shirts, and toasters, they will be more likely to make an "impulse" gift (or a pre-determined gift) at your web site. Such gifts will probably be in the $25-$250 range, but you'll take a few hundred of those, won't you? The Red Cross ([http://www.redcross.org] ) thinks this is a distinct possibility, and has established a straightforward online mechanism for making online credit card donations. At present, there is a strong resistance to using the Internet for credit card transactions. The ostensible reason is security. Potential customers (read "donors") are concerned that their credit or debit card numbers will be hijacked in cyberspace. Providers (read "your non-profit") are concerned about wholesale theft, and massive losses. As a consequence, heroic efforts are being made to create "secure" transactions over the Internet, so that the public can be assured that all is safe, and providers can manage their risk.
This is silly. First of all, if you accept 100 charitable donations online, and two of them turn out to be fraudulent, so what? You haven't delivered any merchandise to those perpetrating fraud. You haven't lost anything. The risk for you as an institution is negligible.
The risk for the customer in online credit card transactions is also negligible. Take out the credit card brochure you received when you first signed on--you, know, the brochure with the small print. You will find a sentence that reads something like this: "In the event that this card is lost or stolen, customer's liability shall not exceed $50."
A fifty dollar hit is not exactly a cause for panic. Every year millions of people gleefully order billions of dollars of merchandise over the phone. They hand their credit cards to their kids. They leave them lying on counters. They sign their names to millions of slips of paper that carry their number and their expiration date, and casually drop their receipt in the wastebasket.
The real reason that people have not started using the Internet in massive numbers for commercial transactions is that it is a new activity and it involves money. Remember the first time you used an automated teller machine? Or the first time you proffered your debit card at the supermarket? It takes a while for people to get comfortable with new mechanisms for commerce; in fact, it takes a while for people to adjust to any new technology.
More and more people are purchasing gizmos online. They are buying and selling stock. They are ordering and downloading software. These same people will be willing to make charitable donations online. Every major bank and every major Internet player is pushing hard to help institutions like yours to take credit card gifts online. Netscape has a system, and so does Microsoft. Visa and MasterCard have the SET (Secure Electronic Transactions) system. IBM wants to hold your hand.
Talk to your Information Systems manager, or your head of computer security, and then take the plunge. Another route is to talk with your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Many of the ISPs are all geared up to offer e-commerce options for an additional fee.
Here are some additional credit card gift sites for review:
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp in the new world of cybercommerce is the notion of "digital cash."
At its simplest, digital cash is just a unique electronic message--a message that says "I am worth [say] one dollar," or "I am worth five cents." In the not-too-distant future, we will send such electronic messages to each other, to stores, to our alma mater, to our favorite charity, as freely and confidently as we swap three bucks at the market for a gallon of milk.
After all, paper money is just a "message." In the United States, and in most countries, such printed messages are treated as though they have real value--and because they are treated that way, they do!
Suspend for the moment your disbelief. People were pretty dubious about paper money when it was first issued! But rest assured, digital cash is coming, and it will reshape the marketplace. Media conglomerates will make money from it; Mom and Pop homepages will make money from it. Non-profits will get their share as well.
Ideas for Fundraising with Digital Cash
So how can your institution make money from digital cash?
The short answer is, nobody knows yet. Digital cash is being talked about; it is being experimented with, but it is still in the early stages of experimentation. Nevertheless, we can begin to imagine the possibilities now, and some of them will come true.
The key thing to keep in mind is that digital cash fundraising is at the opposite extreme from major gift fundraising. It will focus on gathering up many small gifts, perhaps as small as 10 cents per donor, and in many cases these gifts will be anonymous.
Many of us have already made an electronic cash gift--or at least have been given the opportunity to do so--at our local supermarket. While going through the checkout line, nestled among the copies of TV Guide and eyeglass repair kits, customers sometimes will find a packet of tear-off coupons that contain a bar code. In our region, the "Check Out Hunger" campaign has coupons for $1, $2, and $5. "Cashier will add amount to your purchase," says the small slip of paper. And indeed, the market tots it up along with the apples and Cheetos, and transfers your electronic gift to a cumulative account. The transfer is anonymous--it doesn't have your name on it--and thus it assumes the aspect of digital cash. Our local Pathmark chain gathered 60,000 such electronic gifts for the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank during the Thanksgiving season. Not bad!
Let's do some digital cash brainstorming:
Possibility 1: Good Old Sywash U. has decided to adopt a mascot--after 150 years without one. After all, the football team has been doing well, and so has women's hockey. Yet, people keep calling the teams the "sywashers" and the students are fed up. The Sywash Alumni Association announces a participatory contest. Should the University use an eagle for its mascot, or a bear? And what should the mascot be named? Alumni and other loyal fans are invited to vote by clicking over to the Alumni Homepage. Each vote costs 50 cents in digital cash, the proceeds to be used for the new athletics house. Would the loyal alum also like to suggest a name? For $2.00 a name can be submitted to the alumni judging panel; the winner gets season tickets for life.
Possibility 2: The visitor to the St. Bartholomew's Hospital Homepage has many options to choose from. There is the prayer room, an ask-the-doctor section, a patient registry, a virtual tour of their planned new pediatrics wing, and... the Bingo Game. Click on Bingo and you will find that a new game starts every ten minutes. Each game is a dollar, payable in digital cash. Prizes range from $50 (payable to you in digital cash) to the grand prize for the week of $1,000 (payable by check). Since the hospital has started online bingo, they have raised $400,000 toward their new wing. And that has been done in three months!
Possibility 3: The Alice Paul Shelter for Battered Women is running out of funds. The demand for services has been high, and state funds for such programs have been reduced. The Director sends out an urgent appeal on email to the Shelter's mailing list. Friends of the Shelter are asked to click to the Alice Paul Homepage and give whatever they can, even 25 cents. An "Emergency" icon has been created which leads to a pledging and gift site. The Shelter also persuades the local radio station to broadcast its appeal, and its URL, as a public service. The station also places an emergency appeal icon on its homepage. By the end of the week, some 3,000 friends have made cash donations ranging from a quarter to $20.00; and several large pledges have come in from new sources. The crisis has been met, and overcome.
Possibility 4: Imagine that the American Heart Association has a special relationship with game designer Sara Fernholt. Not only is she a large and regular contributor, but she has offered an exclusive on her new game, Myhrvold's Secret. Here is how the deal works. For two weeks, the Heart Association has exclusive preview rights to the new game. Web cruisers who travel to the Association's homepage can play the game at 10 cents a minute. Their usage will be metered as they play, and the cash will be automatically deducted every minute. Fans of Fernholt's previous hit, Gates and Devices, flock to the Heart Association's site and the march of dimes begins.
Possibility 5: A Collection Box. Most of us have seen the Plexiglas donation boxes at the entrances to art and science museums. It would be easy to create a "donation box" icon on the Library's homepage, or to have it appear when you exit a session of searching. A freewill offering could be made by the grateful patron, using digital cash. A more sophisticated version could look like this: a Library might run a series of special appeals for needed items. Let's say the library needs $4,000 to purchase special computer equipment for the visually impaired. A special appeal icon could be mounted on the homepage. When the patron clicks, she sees a picture of the equipment, a brief statement of the need, and is given an opportunity to make a cash donation on the spot. Further, there is a graph which shows how much has been raised so far in the drive, and how much has been donated thus far today.
Possibility 6: An online auction. Just as organizations hold charity auctions, using donated goods, so can this be done in cyberspace. Once the online bidding period is over, gifts can be made in cybercash or through credit card.
It will take a while for online cash gifts to catch fire. Our guess is that this technology will lag behind credit card gifts by about three years. Nevertheless, pioneering charities are already gearing up to accept such offerings:
We haven't quite come across a church bingo parlor in cyberspace, but we have no doubt something like it will appear at any time. While we doubt that libraries will dive into online raffles, we have no doubt that some charities will use "take a chance" strategies to raise money. Consider the following:
Serious gambling is happening on several sites that are based in other countries, but available to players worldwide. The Interactive Gaming and Communications Corporation, based in Grenada, runs Global Casino at http://www.gamblenet.com. Tiny Liechtenstein has started a world lottery at http://www.interlotto.li; and the Antigua-based World Wide Web Casinos hosts Net Pirates at http://www.netpirates.com. Such enterprises are working to create a consensus that allows and validates Internet gambling. If that happens, watch for charities to establish bingo parlors in cyberspace.
So there you have it. Gambling, games, and cybercash. The Internet awash in money--or at least that's the vision for the future. If this vision seems far-fetched, consider this fact: a stupendous amount of electronic money is already flowing online. This flow is between banks, as they use private wires to shift funds between themselves. Credit cards are also plugged into this system, as are the central banks of each nation.
To give our readers some idea of the enormity of this flow, consider two figures: several nondescript buildings in Secaucus, New Jersey, are the central switching stations for interbank electronic transactions. This "Secaucus Corridor" handles almost 90% of the routine monthly deductions and payments that people establish through their checking accounts--or three billion transactions a year. The Secaucus Corridor moves more than $600 billion each and every day, and across the river in New York, $2 trillion is handled every day (New York Times, 2/18/97). The Banks and the major credit card companies are quite used to handling money over the wire, and as soon as the Internet "wire" becomes a little more secure and a little more robust and a little more comfortable for consumers--big sums will begin to flow.
As we have indicated, electronic commerce should lead to electronic charitable giving. The more people pull out their cyberwallets or click the "ecash" payment option, the more they will consider sending money to your institution, school, or cause. You can bet on it :) and now is the time to start thinking about possibilities for your own fundraising operation.
From the CD version of Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web: A Handbook for Libraries and Other Non-Profit Organizations. ALA Editions, 1998. Copyright © 1998, Adam Corson-Finnerty and Laura Blanchard, all rights reserved.