Online Fundraising Resources Center



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



OK, so I'm on the Metroliner, heading toward DC to spend time with a friend who is the Development VP for a museum.  He's going to give me advice on how to use an upcoming gala to raise money.  At the end of the day we did talk about the gala, and I did get some great ideas, but that's not what *really* happened that day.

What really happened was that I started thinking about e-fundraising.  Not just gifts online, but something bigger than that.

When I travel I usually take along a lot of  computer and business magazines, and use the time to catch up on new ideas.  I grabbed some coffee at 30th Street Station, claimed a spot at a table in the food car, and started reading an article in Internet Week about a new software product called "FirePond."

Here is some of what the article said:

      "FirePond, Inc, recently released an e-commerce suite designed to help users move traditional marketing and sales to the one-to-one Web model.   … Firepond executives contend that simply building web front ends is not enough.  Companies need to recognize that the Internet has fundamentally changed relationships with customers.  …'You have to drive the enterprise from the outside in, focus on the conversation with the customer and get very deep informational value from them in exchange…'"

      It goes on "…Firepond designed its FirePond Application Suite to create a personalized relationship with each Web customer.  The system collects real-time profile and user-preference data; integrates that data with back office data, such as sales forecasts or inventory ability; and then delivers to each customer configured product recommendations."

      Finally, "Savings Bank Life Insurance Fund is using the suite to help manage its sales force and move into Web sales.  'We looked for a low-cost-per-seat-basis system we could install that would allow us, in effect , to push to agents their sales activity, sales history and forward all the leads we generate to them….'" said a company rep.

This is not a plug for FirePond, though I should mention that it will be generally available in October. (

Next thing that happened:  My brain started cross-tabbing.  Running in the background since June has been the breakthrough news that the Red Cross raised over $1 million for Balkan Relief through online gifts.  Cybergiving has become a reality.  Then there is the interesting fact, shared at a recent conference, that the Princeton Alumni department is devoting 25% of its staff time to Tigernet, its interactive Website.  Tab again to Cisco systems, which is selling the majority of its products online.  Billions of dollars worth of products, and in at least one instance, a customer ordering over $100 million worth of product without ever needing to interact with a live human being.

Perhaps, I thought, when we think about what the Internet is bringing to fund-raising…perhaps we are thinking too small.

So I sat there looking off into space, while the train hurried between Wilmington and Baltimore.  Sat there thinking of nothing and everything.  Seeing business types and Washington types doing their various tasks in the food car of the train.  Not much food was being consumed, but a lot of laptops were crowding the tables, and a lot of phones were going in and out of pockets.

Then I took Patricia Seybold's ** out of my briefcase.

There is a story that Rabbi Hillel was once asked if he could recite the wisdom of the Torah while standing on one leg.  He raised one foot from the ground and said "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…  the rest is commentary."

But if the question is  "What must I do to achieve e-fundraising perfection?" then the answer--while standing on one leg--is:  "Apply the dictates of **….  the rest is commentary."

** is published by Times Business Press.  Throw the other Internet books away.  Instead, read this one twice.  Then persuade your CEO to read it.  If you "get it," and your CEO doesn't, think about finding a new job.

Here is the thesis in a nutshell:  e-commerce is currently being thought of tactically rather than strategically.  Says Seybold:  "Internet commerce needs to be part of a broader electronic business strategy—a strategy that embraces all the ways that you let your customers do business with you electronically:  by Touch-Tone phone, by fax, by email, by kiosk, via handhelds, and via the Web."    She continues, "…In order to really use the Internet and the Web effectively, you're going to need to redesign a number of fundamental, customer-impacting business processes.  …if you do it right, the changes you'll make will pay off every time you touch the customer in any way."

Alumni Relations

Let's take college alumni as our case in point.  Something I know a bit about, since I work for a large University.  Until very recently, a college's ideal plan for its alumni could be summarized thusly:
    1.  Leave happy.

    2.  Come back occasionally, preferably for a maximum of one weekend every five years.

    3.  Say good things about the school to everyone you meet.

    4.  Send money.

With a big emphasis on number 4:  send money.  In fact, it is around point number 4 that most alumni programs seem to be organized.  If not blatantly, then subtly.  If not directly, then indirectly through the college's Development Department.

Alumni aren't dumb—at least, most of them aren't—and they get the picture.  "The only time my college gets in touch with me is when they want money," is a sentence I hear only too often.

However, times are changing.  The Internet allows teaching, learning, and research to happen 24/7.  Pretty much anywhere in the world.  Voila!  Your alumni can become students again.  Repeat customers!  Repeat customers who have money, or whose employer will pay for them!

Most colleges think this is a good thing.  In fact, they are falling over themselves to make sure that they capture this repeat business, rather than let it go to some poaching institution.  The big Universities are wondering if this could be a source of significant revenue.  Perhaps they should act quickly to establish their "brand" in this new market.  Maybe they should poach other alumni.  Need a refresher?  Surf on over to Sywash U!

One graduate school with which I am familiar has been trying out a new motto:  "You are always a student with us," they tell their incoming class.  Meaning that they see matriculation as the beginning of a lifelong relationship.  The student is not just a two- or four-year customer, but someone with whom you can do repeat business year after year.  Oh, and who might also decide to give you $2 million to endow a professorship, and leave the rest to you in his estate.

Student, alumni, donor = Customer.  But that's not all.  Perhaps your alum is also the CEO of a major company with which you want to do business.  Or a principal in an Internet start-up that has some software you could use.  Or has distinguished herself in some important field, and might be willing to teach via the Internet, or collaborate on a research project, or open some doors in Washington or London or Peking.

In the Internet era, every college and university should want a full, rich, and informed relationship with its alumni.  A mutually-rewarding relationship.  And the Internet can be the key to making that happen.

So is Princeton wasting staff time by devoting 25% of FTE to Tigernet?  Not a bit.

Making It Happen

Seybold's book provides case studies of companies that have adopted a smart approach to customer interaction.  These institutions range from American Airlines and to the National Science Foundation.  From each she gleans some insight into attitudes and practices that can be transferred to your institution.

Apologies to readers who may not be in college fundraising.  I took this path because the insights and proscriptions of ** are readily translated into the academic setting.  But let's say your institution is a museum.  Like the one that I visited—during which I had a great conversation with the Membership Director.  If you are a Museum, then a good portion of your customers are your visitors (they have millions, both real and virtual), who you hope to upsell to membership (they have 220,000), who you then hope to upsell to donorship (they are raising really big bucks).

In the Museum context, it is stimulating and instructive to substitute "visitors" for "customers" and re-work Seybold's chapter headings.

Part One:  Five Steps to Success

    Step 1:  Make it Easy for Visitors to do Business With You.
    Step 2:  Focus on the End Customer for Your Services
    Step 3:  Redesign Your Visitor-Facing Electronic Processes from the End Customer's Point of View.
    Step 4:  Wire Your Institution for Profit:  Design a Comprehensive, Evolving Electronic Business Architecture.
    Step 5:  Foster Visitor Loyalty.

Part Two:  Eight Critical Success Factors

    Factor 1:  Target the Right Visitors
    Factor 2:  Own the Visitor's Total Experience with Your Museum
    Factor 3:  Streamline Business Practices that Impact the Visitor
    Factor 4:  Provide a 360 Degree View of the Relationship with Your Visitor/Member
    Factor 5:  Let Visitor/Members help Themselves
    Factor 6:  Help Visitors Accomplish Important Tasks
    Factor 7:  Deliver Personalized Service
    Factor 8:  Foster Community
Not only does Seybold provide a great book, she offers a great website as well.  The address:   You will find plenty of free advice on her site, and she offers premium services for a fee.  And she and her staff will be happy to consult with you and your CEO, perhaps run a workshop for your key staff and volunteers.


Yet the point of this article is not to tout the book.  The point is to get us in dialog about the broadest possible concept of e-fundraising.  (Or, we could call it e-development, though "development" means something different in IT circles, and in Business circles, and this term may end up confusing us all.)

So here are a few discussion questions:

What do you think?  Is this a worthwhile concept or not?

Are you aware of any non-profit institution that is trying to adopt a "" approach to fundraising?

Are you aware of any fundraising consultants or consulting firms who are advocating this approach, or able to advise on this approach?

Are you aware of any non-profit CEOs or Development VPs who have a broad vision for e-fundraising, and are trying to do something about it?

Patricia Seybold might say that I have been mis-interpreting the Gospel.  Her thesis is aimed at the entire company, and its entire cast of current and future customers.  For a University, the customer base is enormous, and includes students, parents, grandparents, visiting faculty, potential faculty, alumni, corporate research partners, patients (if you have a hospital) or their owners (if you have a Vet School), readers (if you own a Press), members of the community (if you want to keep town-gown relations smooth), and so on.  A true approach to your University would take *all* of these customers into account.   Know anyone who is thinking about *that*?


Adam Corson-Finnerty


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