Online Fundraising Resources Center


Dinosour Development

[This article is copyright 1999 by Adam Corson-Finnerty.  Comments are invited.  Please send them to Adam Corson-Finnerty

Is your Development Shop a dinosaur? What do I mean by dinosaur? Just this: Are you totally reliant on pre-Internet strategies and methods for raising money? If that's the case, you are losing money, you are losing constituents, and you are losing "mindshare."

Every for-profit business is waking up to the fact that if it has not made the Internet a key component of the strategic plan, then extinction is a real possibility. The situation is not as dire in the Development Business, but if you are "blind" when it comes to the Internet, then you should be prepared to be "blindsided" in some very unpleasant ways.

In a cover story entitled "Are You Next? 20 Industries About to be Fossilized by the Net," the magazine Business 2.0 paints a scary picture for many traditional enterprises. We all know about how Barnes and Noble has been upended by But there are many more examples of such surprises-in-the-making. Chemical companies have been shaken by, which slashed commissions by 80% and has an online catalog five times larger than any paper catalog. And the bread and butter of the newspaper industry-classified advertisements-is being taken away by the likes of and (Business 2.0, March 1999.)

New Rules, New Game

The Internet is becoming so pervasive, and so important, that leaders of institutions large and small are waking up to the realization that they must re-think their whole game plan or watch themselves become "dinosaurs" almost overnight. And we know what happened to the dinosaurs.

In Larry Downes and Chunka Mui's new book, Unleashing the Killer App, the authors preach a new gospel that turns corporate planning on its head. They argue that the Internet itself is a "killer app," and that it is transforming the very environment in which buyers and sellers interact. "In industries as varied as banking, insurance and utilities, competitive advantage is being wiped out as new, sometimes bizarre, competitors quickly produce new value chains that use digital technology to alter the equation radically." (Unleashing the Killer App, Harvard Business School Press, 1998)

Look at traditional drugstores, like CVS and Rite Aid. Two new online startups are poised to steal away their customers. Of these new challengers -- and -- Walter Mossberg writes in the Wall Street Journal:

They offer prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and health and beauty products. They even remember which products you buy regularly, and can remind you when it's time to order more. You can shop for intimate or personal items and even email pharmacists for confidential advice, or look up thousands of pages of information on drugs and illnesses, all without worrying that a neighbor will see or hear you. (WSJ, April 29, 1999)


All well and good, but does this affect the Fund-raising Industry? You bet!

The revolution that is affecting commerce will also change the model for fundraising. As more and more people use the Internet to make purchases and gather information, so will they also use the net to make donations. Are you ready to receive them?

They will also expect to be able to learn a great deal about your organization through its web site. Is your "story" online?

Further, they will want to interact with you through your web site. Are you prepared to respond?

In some cases, they may want to purchase goods or services through your site. Are you fully geared up for e-commerce? If you currently offer location-bound workshops, seminars, and courses -- are you ready to conduct them online?

If the answer to most of these questions is "no," then you are already losing money, constituents, and mindshare. Here's how.

  • Losing Money: One day in the not-too-distant future, your constituents will be as comfortable giving you an e-donation as they would writing you a check. Already, credit card donations and pledges are being made online. The sooner you have user-friendly and secure method for receiving online gifts, the sooner money will start coming in.

    If you are in a highly competitive field, like disaster relief or environmental activism, you may already have lost donations to organizations with a better Web presence. And in the next five years, when high bandwidth and net-on-TV comes to most American homes, you may lose untold amounts if your prospects cannot "click here to donate."

    Right now, with very little effort, it is possible for any non-profit to receive "surprise" donations through the Internet. There are a number of organizations which use a charitable tie-in to promote Internet commerce. is one such start-up. Shoppers who purchase flowers, toys, personal care products, and more through the Greatergood store can choose for some of their purchase to go toward their favorite charity. Greatergood says that charities will receive between 5% and 8% of receipts (depending on their vendor agreements). Once you sign up with Greatergood, you can also put a "button" on your website which allows your visitors to "shop" on your behalf. Does that seem a little crass? Big Brothers and Big Sisters don't think so. Nor does The Wilderness Society.

    Other shop-for-charity sites include,, and an Internet start-up which I am currently advising called "click4kids" which plans to offer a 20% charitable-purchase arrangement for non-profits, starting with K-12 schools ( ).

    Another avenue for revenue comes through and (Barnes & Noble). If your organization currently recommends books to your constituents--or would like to do so--it is easy to become an affiliate of these two e-stores. Every visitor to your page who clicks to order a book that you have recommended brings you from 5-15% of the purchase price, plus 5% of any other book that they purchase. This is "easy money" indeed. (See their websites for directions to become an associate/affiliate).

    (Late flash: Believe it or not, the staid British Library has an up-front affiliate agreement with The link is featured on their "search the catalog" page. Thanks for the alert to Peter Scott, University of Saskatchewan Libraries. Peter has assembled a site which indicates other public libraries that have affiliate programs, and the booksellers that offer them. See:

  • Losing Constituents: Imagine for a moment that your institution was so "old-fashioned" that you did not have a phone system. That there was no way for anyone to call you to ask a question, share a concern, or respond to your mailings. Do you think that this might have an affect on your prospect base? Well, today, if you don't have easy ways for your constituents to reach you through the Internet, you are probably losing friends at a rapid rate-especially younger friends.

    Here is a clue. Taken from the library world. At Penn, as at most academic libraries, we are working very hard to bring our entire collection online. That means electronically cataloging millions of books and journals. The last time I checked, we had about 90% of our items online. Not bad. The other 10% are easily accessible in our now-smaller card catalog. Can't find a book online? Please check the card catalog, we say.

    But for undergraduate students, if it doesn't exist online, it doesn't exist. They sit at the computer and do their initial research, and if a resource doesn't appear, they assume it isn't on our shelves. They will do this even when the card catalog is ten feet away, and when the book they want is just one floor up.

    Guess what? These people are your future donors. If you are not on the web, or if you have a primitive web site-you don't exist! Yes, many of them will respond to your future mailings. And many will use your 800 number to make donations. But more and more, if you want to reach them, you will find them on the web.

  • Losing Mindshare: Recently the Director of the Penn Library and I met with the CEO of a "Fortune 500" company. We had asked for an introductory visit and expected it to last 15 minutes. Instead it lasted an hour and a half! The reason: the two CEOs got into a very stimulating conversation about "managing technology." Not only did we leave with some new ideas, and a new prospect, we left with a new piece of his "mindshare." That is, we had made the impression that we were a sophisticated player in the networked world, and therefore "relevant" to his broader interests.

    Increasingly, the very top prospects in the corporate and foundation world are acquiring a "wired" mentality. They see the revolutionary potential of the Internet, and realize that it will transform every major institution. If you are not a "player," If you are not "with it" in this area, then there are some very important people who will dismiss you and your institution.

    Furthermore, a lot of money is being made in the high-tech arena. These newly-minted "silicon millionaires" are very hot gift prospects. Given how they have made their money, and what they think about night and day, if you are "primitive" in your approach to using the Internet, they will lose respect for your institution. And they won't think twice about donating to another institution which appears to be "cool" and "doing something" with the Internet-even if, for example, it is not their alma mater.

Two Months to E-Engineer

AlliedSignal is a company that makes airplane and car products, chemicals, and the like. One wouldn't think that the Internet would have much effect on a heavy-duty manufacturing company like this. Wrong. AlliedSignal's CEO, Larry Bossidy, has decided he has to move fast. "Every company has to have an Internet strategy," says Bossidy. "If you don't, somebody's going to come along and do a Dell Computer on you and destroy your business." (Business Week, April 12, 1999)

Bossidy called in all his top managers for a pow-wow. After they had heard from two practitioners of the "new" economy -- Michael Dell of Dell Computers and John Chambers of Cisco Systems --the CEO gave his chiefs a major homework assignment: Come up with an e-strategy for their units within two months.

What if your CEO gave youa similar assignment? Would you be ready to produce an Internet strategy for your Development Shop in 60 days?

Developing an Internet Strategy is not as simple as creating a web site and hoping somebody comes to see it. You need to re-think everything you are doing in light of this new tool. Some people are calling the process "e-engineering," as a play on the term "re-engineering."

Obviously the strategy for a disaster relief organization will be different from the strategy for a college. And a good Internet plan for a regional Food Bank will not be the same as one for a regional Hospital. You need to think about who your constituents are, about how they use the Internet, and about how that all might change in two to three years.

The best way to begin on an Internet Strategy is to be guided by three simple phrases:

  • Do It Yourself. Anyone who wants to lead their unit into cyberspace must be familiar with the territory. Reading a book about the Internet, or attending a seminar, is not going to help you understand what's going on. The only way is to "do it yourself." Get out there on the net and explore. Be willing to play, to get lost, to make mistakes, and to feel frustrated.

    Make sure to buy something online. Anything. See how easy it is. Then think about how easy it would be for people to send *you* money with a few keystrokes and a mouseclick. A GREAT place to start is the path-breaking online bookseller, (, which now has also branched into music in a BIG way (like, 225,000 sound samples online!)

    I mentioned a recent chat with a Fortune 500 Company CEO. This man's time is worth a fortune. Yet he didn't hesitate to go on the net for five hours recently buy himself a personal computer. Why? "I saw it as market research. I wanted to know who had the best site, the best product, the best price, and the best customer service. And I wanted to get ideas for my company."

  • Ready, Fire, Aim. Many people think that it is essential to first figure out what you want to do on the Internet -- even if it takes six months of planning. Wrong. If you want to work with the Internet, the best tactic is to just do it. Throw something up as a web page. Set up a way for your visitors to give you feedback, and then innovate like mad.

    The beauty of a web page is that you can change it within a matter of minutes. A few months ago I was talking to the secretary of an executive who we had invited to speak on campus. I referred her to our web page announcement of his talk. She looked it up as we talked and informed me that we had spelled his last name incorrectly. I called this information across my office to one of our web designers. Two minutes later, and while the secretary and I were still talking, I asked her to look at the site again. The name was now spelled correctly.

    Another example: The Penn Library recently received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to put new history books from Oxford University Press online in full text. This site, developed in partnership with OUP, will be restricted to the 40,000 users in the Penn community. But we wanted to publicize this pioneering work. Our long term vision for a "PR" site is to have one of the books online in its entirety, plus sample chapters from six or ten other books, plus descriptive pages on the project and its implications. We realized that would take us months, especially since the "model" book to mount in its entirety hadn't even been selected!

    So we put up scans of the covers of the three books that we had already networked, and made the image of each book a link to our online press release. When our systems manager did a project presentation to Educom, we linked to his outline of key features. Next we will get a chapter up from our three books, and then we will add items as they become available. Over the next several months we will have an exciting and rich PR site. But in the meantime, we are up and "out there" and already receiving feedback from people who are intrigued by the initiative.

  • Imitate, Imitate, Imitate. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. On the Internet, imitation is a matter of survival. This medium is so new that a fabulous idea is born every minute. And the beauty of it is that people usually put their greatest ideas out there for everyone to see. The easiest and most efficient way for you to design your new or renewed website is to imitate the four or five websites you like the most. Take a navigation idea from one, a feedback mechanism from another, a customer service style from a third, and so on. In general, it is childsplay to save a page, look at its creation code, and build something like it yourself.

    Is this plagiarism? Not in the sense that it is illegal or immoral. Quite the opposite. The Web has grown through a public sharing of ideas, and through a code for html and java creation that is freely shared. Some people regard it as a courtesy to inform the creator that you are imitating or capturing her/his underlying structure. (Don't steal images, of course, since that's a different matter altogether.)

    The point is that you should be constantly scanning the environment for good ideas and new concepts. The technology is changing daily, and web surfers are still learning new conventions for navigation. "Benchmark" on the sites you like, and keep measuring yourself against them. When people start benchmarking against your site, you will know that you have "arrived."

A Few Good Sites

There is much than can be learned by cruising a few sites. In my research with Laura Blanchard, we have found a number of good fundraising sites, and they can be found at

Some great sites that we have recently discovered include a super alumni home page for Colby College ( At this site, Colby maintains an online directory of alumni ("what ever happened to good old Fred?") as well as a "Virtual Soapbox" where anyone can swap ideas about anything on their mind.

A truly pioneering Development site can be found at Wake Forest University ( WFU is one of the first University sites to offer online credit card donation options, as well as online purchasing. Want to purchase a brick for "Spirit Walk"? No problem, you can do it online. Plus you can give them the inscription or dedication in the same transaction.

The American Red Cross ( maintains one of the best fundraising sites on the web. People can turn to their site for the latest word on the latest disaster-and find out what the Red Cross is doing about it. Further, there are easy options to make an immediate donation online. Their site also helps you quickly find your local chapter, and learn about its services and volunteer opportunities.

In all modesty, our Friends of the Library site is very instructive with regard to online membership At our site you can join online, read our electronic Newsletter, RSVP for an event, and become an "e-Friend" with the click of a button. (

In Closing.

In closing, here are a few tips for getting started:

  1. Don't date yourself. I have been very surprised to hear senior Development Officers say "I'm too old to learn about the Internet. I figure by the time I need it, I'll be retirement age anyway." Wrong, wrong, wrong. Unless you are planning to retire in the next 18 months, this notion is completely off the mark. Besides, it's never too late to learn some exciting new tricks. My 80 year old mother-in-law just bought her first computer. Why? "I want to get email from my grandchildren, and send email back!"

    The Internet is a new tool, just as once upon a time the telephone was a new tool. Get your people to start using it themselves. All Development, Alumni Relations, and Public Relations staff should have high-speed Internet browsing capacity on their desktop. And they should be encouraged to spend time each day exploring the Web. What should they explore? Anything that interests them, even "fun" sites like Disney and The Riddler. As they play, they will learn.

  2. Grab a Student. Find a "wired" high school or college kid, and pay them to show you and your staff what's "cool" on the net. At Penn we have a steady supply of sharp "kids" and they have taught us little things like streaming audio and video, dynamic database access, animated GIFs, and a little Java. And don't just learn *from* the kid, learn *about* the kid. How does she use cyberspace? What does he think is "bangin'" (good) and what does he think is "beat" (done, over with, stale). Study these young people like you would study someone from another planet who dropped by your house. These "aliens" are your future.

  3. Get some training. Not necessarily html-authoring training, since it is possible to hire someone to do that. Rather, get some training in how to use the Internet for fundraising. The back section of the Chronicle of Philanthropy regularly carries notices of fundraising workshops. Pick one that suits your needs. (Interested in a workshop on Internet Fund-raising run by me and/or my co-author Laura Blanchard? Go to for information.)

  4. Read a Book. Imagine that! Old technology to learn about the new! My latest hot pick is Unleashing the Killer App, since it profiles net-savvy companies like FEDEX and (Downes and Mui, Harvard Business School Press, 1998). Also look at Net Future by Chuck Martin (McGraw Hill, 1999), Customers.Com, by Patricia Seybold (Times Books, 1998), and by Jeff Papows (Perseus Book, 1998) Or read a magazine. Internet World is very good, but so is Business Week. Currents Magazine from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education has regular and detailed coverage of alumni web strategies.

  5. Most importantly, Start Dreaming. Imagine what it might be like if you could reach your entire constituency at practically no cost. Imagine that you have a global constituency. Imagine that your "customers" could give you instant feedback, and might even help develop your next great idea. Imagine that the people you serve and the people who support you could talk with each other on your web site. Imagine that real money could flow to you through the net, and not just in the form of credit card gifts, but in units of "cybercash" that could be sent in denominations as small as 10 cents. Try that last one as a mental exercise: How could I get one million people to send me 10 cents each?

Finally, don't spend the next year in committee meetings talking about the "right" strategy to undertake. As Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems is fond of saying: "The best decision is the right decision. The next-best is the wrong one, because then you'll learn what the right one was supposed to be. The worst decision is no decision at all."

Adam Corson-Finnerty
Development Director,
University of Pennsylvania Library


Send comments to Adam Corson-Finnerty ( or Laura Blanchard (