Online Fundraising Resources Center


Cybergifts, Part 8:

Copyright 2000 by Adam Corson-Finnerty

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On February 3, 2000, the Ford Motor Company announced that it is going to buy high-speed computers for every one of its 350,000 employees. Worldwide. Including factory workers in places like Poland and India. The computers will also come with color printers and unlimited Internet access for $5 a month, possibly less in Third World areas. The employees can take the computers home, and allow family members to use them.

Ford is doing this for several stated reasons: (1) to promote computer literacy, and (2) to save money on communications with workers. Some observers have suggested that Ford will also create a "company store" on its Web site, and earn money from retail sales. And that Ford will use this site as an experimental e-commerce arena for its own marketing ideas.

One can imagine many more benefits. Employees who are wired can also push ideas up the chain. Innovation becomes democratized. Rewards and recognition for cost-saving ideas and new manufacturing tricks can be granted rapidly and very publicly. "Virtual teams" can be formed and reformed, and the ones that work will save millions in travel fares and travel time. No wonder, then, that Delta Airlines has already decided to make the same offer to its 72,000 employees, that Intel followed Ford with a similar announcement, and that GM and United Airlines are thinking fast about this bit of "enlightened self-interest."

The Ford "company store" will be very different from the old Company Store of mining legend. Employees who don't want to buy from the Ford site will be only a click away from thousands of alternatives. Don't like the book prices at Try, or Ditto for cars, credit cards, music, home mortgages, and so on.

The fact is that if Ford wants to make money from its employees' purchases, *it will have to give them a better deal.* And that, in fact, is what the real deal is about. These companies will be able to leverage the collective buying power of their employees in order to get attractive discounts. Ford may be creating a giant buying co-op, with the company getting a little piece of every transaction.

This is a very bold move. Ford is giving its workers the most powerful worker-organizing tool ever invented. Armed with the power of email, Ford workers, on their own time and in their own homes, will be able to communicate with every other Ford worker in the world. This can include health and safety issues, grievances, complaints, organizing wildcat walkouts, and challenging the UAW leadership. Pretty gutsy.

Mark this well. Ford, a company that prides itself on having good union relations, has launched itself into completely new waters. This computer giveaway program is not just a narrow "company store" play, it is a brilliant reinvention of the corporate enterprise in the era of the Internet.

There are people who think that the Internet is so revolutionary that it will generate new socio-political forms. Might the 20th century corporation become the kernel for a new, and even primary, form of identity in the 21st century?

There are interesting signs and compelling forces which trend in this direction. First of all, the modern corporation is almost by definition a "wired" corporation. For some, computer connectedness is already ubiquitous. Virtual meetings and virtual teams are a reality; and business is occurring 24-7-365, at home, on the road, in the car, at the table, and on the can.

And if Ford can see employees as a customer base, then the definition of who-is-what-to-whom is up for grabs. Could Ford create one big happy family, to which even former employees might continue to adhere? And if Ford can do it, why not any wired hub? Perhaps Penn State could do it. Perhaps the U.S. Postal Service could do it.

I believe that such wired communities will prove to be fairly stable, and fairly "sticky." Meaning that, even though members could theoretically leave at any time, they won't. They won't, because the benefits will be too good, the support will be too valuable, and the switching costs will be too high.

Let's face it, at present, participation in the wired economy is awkward, cumbersome, and fraught with real and imagined perils. Computers go down, software freezes up, viruses eat documents, teen-age thrill-seekers plant denial-of-service "bombs," Russian smart-Alexes kidnap credit card numbers, and nobody knows whether you are a dog, a strawberry blonde, or an FBI agent posing as a teenie-bopper. The not-so-intrepid surfer needs a little security, maybe some support, perhaps a sense of trust in who and what is out there.

Take for example a hardened Internet warrior with whom I am intimately familiar: me. I have four email accounts, two personal/professional web sites, a Pentium computer at home connected to a cable modem, a work multi-media laptop that can be connected by modem or Ethernet, a work multi-media DVD drive desktop that is Ethernet connected, a Palm Pilot, a digital cell phone, a Rocketbook. I subscribe to at least a dozen listservs and e-journals, and I post articles to the Internet. I even dole out advice on getting "wired." But, without the very extensive support that I receive from my cyber-tribe (a university), I would be S.O.L.--a cyber-wannabee.

When I have problems with hardware, software, connectivity, email, new applications, crashes, deadends, searching, surfing, or catch a virus-I have about ten technical staff who I can call upon, in addition to office mates, colleagues in the building, and colleagues across campus. When I undertake research, I have one of the finest digital libraries in the world at my disposal (much of which has been licensed exclusively for members of my cyber-tribe).

The nice thing about my cyber-tribe is that it knows who I am in cyberspace. I have a username and password, as well as a unique ID number, and these give me access to many resources that are only available to my group. I use a company purchasing card for online and offline acquisitions, and I am able to update some of my HR and address files electronically. I even get a few discounts in cyberspace because of my affiliation with my employer.

Thus far, what I am describing is similar to millions of other office workers, and may soon apply to every Ford employee, even the janitorial staff. The wired "workspace" is already a reality, and that workspace extends to home and to the road. For employees like the ones at Ford, the workspace will expand to include shopping, play, communicating with family and friends, getting health advice, banking, bill-paying, doing homework, asynchronous learning, even finding a new job.

And, I predict that it will also be the primary center for charitable giving.

Workspace Giving

We all are familiar with "workplace giving," primarily in the form of annual United Way campaigns. These involve volunteer teams, departmental goals, mailings, contests, events, prizes, and encouragement from the company. Sometimes this encouragement includes a company matching gift.

In the not-too-distant-future, workplace giving will transmute into "Workspace Giving". Simply put, employees will have the opportunity to donate through their desktop or home computer, and have their gift counted as part of an annual or special corporate drive. Millions and millions of dollars will be involved.

Giving through the workspace will be simple, secure, and efficient. Furthermore, corporations may provide incentives for giving, particularly gift-matching programs. The Internet provides a very easy way for employees to designate a gift, have the company match it, and have it taken out as a monthly deduction from their payroll. Or, employees can make a credit card gift, and have that automatically matched.

Companies that want to focus their giving in particular areas can tailor their workplace campaigns accordingly. For example, many companies like to match gifts that help schools and children. A workplace campaign could limit giving options to this type of organization; or could limit geographically, or could single out a small number of selected charities. Another approach would be to "flag" those non-profits that meet the company's matching profile, but also allow employees to select any charity or educational institution that has Federal tax-exempt status.

*Any* charity? Sure, why not? Companies could say that they are trying to empower and encourage employee giving across-the-board. The employee chooses the charity, the company gives the match, or at least enables the gift. That would mean the employee could choose a local cat shelter, a right-wing think tank, a left-wing environmental action group, a community choir, Planned Parenthood, a right-to-life coalition, whatever. has already been thinking about this. In fact, they had mounted an excellent demonstration site that showed what could be done through the Web. As of February 22, 2000, the demo pages were taken down, perhaps to avoid giving too much away to a competitor.

However, it takes no great act of imagination to postulate how a workspace giving site might be constructed. Lets suppose that Ford decides to organize its annual giving drive during the month of March, 2001.

On March 1, an email goes out from the CEO. The Ford employee community is encouraged to give "to the charity of your choice," and a worldwide goal of $50 million is set. The email contains a clickable link to the Charity2001 website, where the goals are explained and online donations or pledges can be made.

At the same time, a button appears on the main company Web page: Charity2001. Click on the button and you are taken to the charity page.

Once you arrive at the Charity2001 page, you are asked to "choose your charity." A database of 700,000 charities is available to be quickly searched by location, type of program, or name. In India, the database is tailored to Indian non-profits; in Poland for Polish causes, and so on. Charities that are eligible for the Ford Company match are highlighted, flagged, featured on the Charity2001 page, or even the main company page.

After the first week, a giving "thermometer" appears on the main page, showing how close the Ford community is to reaching its goal. Another round of emails is sent out, this time by local or departmental or shop representatives. "We want to make sure that every Taurus worker participates. You can give to the charity of your choice, and the gift counts toward the community goal. When you give through Charity2001, every cent goes to the charity. The company pays the bank or credit card processing fees, and your charity does not have to bombard you with 'snailmail.'"

Further along in the campaign, email can be used which has a direct hotlink to the giving form itself. Click on the link, fill out the form, select "donate now" and you are done. Giving could not be easier.

And so on. Games could be played online, with charity getting the benefit; high-responding units could be featured; prizes could be awarded-including flooz-type certificates; and a final thank you video message could be streamed to each worker. March 31st comes and the Ford community has raised $63.5 million.

Does this scenario seem likely? I think it is almost inevitable. The workspace will be a highly logical place to make and keep charitable intentions, even signing up to volunteer. Count on it.

Who Will Lead the Way?

The only question is: who will organize this form of giving, and which non-profits will benefit?

The fact is, the "Workspace" is the United Way's to lose. Who has more experience with workplace giving campaigns? If I have my history straight, United Ways were formed so that individual charities did not flood companies with requests. The corporations themselves demanded that major area charities approach them with a single federated appeal.

In order for this to happen, the United Way would have to re-make itself into a wired enterprise. It must be prepared to work with individual companies to tailor workspace campaigns to their desires. Some companies will want to benefit certain area charities, some will want to pick a theme, and some will want to give their employees "freedom of choice."

In order for the United Way to do this (and really, we are talking about the hundreds of local United Ways) it must be willing to give up its special relationship with featured agencies, and drive its "pass-through" transaction costs from over 11% to something like 3-5%. It must focus on its "campaigning" expertise, and see how this can translate into running a combined wired/unwired drive for companies and their workers.

According to a major article in the March 9, 2000 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the United Way is not rising to this challenge. Rather than transform itself into a non-partisan "gift-enabling" organization, there seems to be a trend among pioneering local UWs to pick a theme or goal, and focus only on those agencies that address the goal. The San Francisso United Way, for example, has picked eight "needs" to address. Money is being redirected to agencies that share these program goals, and away from those who don't. Atlanta, Los Angeles, and some 350 other local United Ways are in the midst of making this kind of change. Why? So that they can be relevant, and reverse the slide that has reduced their corporate presence from 47% in 1989 to 35% in 1998.

Surprisingly, local United Way leaders seem to have ceded the e-gifts realm to others. "People can give to agencies alone-in fact, the Internet is going to make it easier and easier for that to happen," says Mark O'Connell of the United Way of metropolitan Atlanta. "But the Internet and other ways that organizations raise money are poor substitutes for how communities come together, agree on what the work is and figure out how to do it, and then hold themselves accountable for returns, for results, and impact."

My social change self says three cheers for Atlanta. But my trend-watching self says somebody at the UW ought to contemplate the bit of economic folklore that goes: "The railroad companies thought they were in the railroad business, when they should have realized they were in the transportation business."

(Source: "United Ways Seek a New Identity," by Thomas J. Billitteri, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, March 9, 2000. Cover story)

So if the United Way is going to allow others to take the lead in bringing wired giving to workspaces, who will come forward? Here are my guesses:

A. Companies themselves may organize and manage such drives, tailoring the campaigns to the company's philanthropic goals. This could even be organized in partnership with unions, as could be the case with Ford and the UAW.

B. A new non-profit organization could become the major facilitator of workspace giving, by providing backend tools and customized sites for companies. A group like, put together by the AOL Foundation, the Benton Foundation, and several other groups, could gear up to play this role. already uses Guidestar's charity database of 620,000 non-profits to allow a fantastic range of giving options.

C. One or more for-profit organizations could provide the tools and customization to allow companies to undertake workspace giving drives. is an obvious candidate, but any of the shop-for-charity outfits, like igive and charitymall, or any of the online gift enablers like remitnet and XXX could bulk up to take on this task.

I would guess that all-of-the-above will be tried out over the next five years, and that several models will prove themselves of lasting value.

How any individual charity relates to the development of workspace giving is another matter. Frankly, I can't even guess how that will play out. But "watch this space" as the old advertising gambit advises, since plenty of interesting things will be happening.

Permission is given to forward or copy this article, so long as the author's name, email address, URL, and copyright notice are included. Yes! You can print it out, copy it, hand it around, forward it as an email to someone else, and so on. The only things I don't want readers to do are: Sell it, edit it, put your name on it, or take my name off it. Editors who want to reprint or mount any of my electronic articles should contact me directly. That includes people who maintain Websites and electronic publications.

Back to Part 7 | Continue to Part 9

Adam Corson-Finnerty is Director of Development for the Library of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author of Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web (ALA Editions, 1998). For other articles by Adam Corson-Finnerty, see the Online Fundraising Resource Center website (/musings/index.html).Cybergifts Part 8 is copyrighted by the author, April, 2000 The opinions expressed are those of the author. Adam Corson-Finnerty 215-635-4084



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