Great Lakes Environmental Directory Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes grants exotic species water pollution water export drilling environment Great Lakes pollution Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario ecology Great Lakes issues wetlands Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes watershed water quality exotic species Great Lakes grants water pollution water export oil gas drilling environment environmental Great Lakes pollution Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario Great Lakes ecology Great Lakes issues Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Resources Great Lakes activist Great Lakes environmental organizations Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat air pollution alien species threatened rare endangered species ecological Great Lakes information Success Stories Great Lakes Directory Home/News Great Lakes Calendar Great Lakes jobs/volunteering Search Great Lakes Organizations Take Action! Contact Us Resources/Links Great Lakes Issues Great Lakes News Article About Us Networking Services

What use is the Internet to a
grassroots organization?

This document attempts to clearly define the current and possible benefits for not-for-profit and public sector organizations using online technologies, as well as to dispel myths surrounding what such agencies can expect out of the Internet.

This document started in early 1996 as a small file with a few quotes from people on; now, it's substantially bigger, divided into two files, and has a lot more quotes from others in support of its points, as well as links to other Web sites with essays and studies weighing in on the subject.

Online technology can be a great asset to not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) and other community-service agencies.

However, visions of becoming a super-efficient organization, reaching vastly larger numbers of new donors and clients, raising enormous amounts of new money and effortlessly administering an agency will not come to pass with an Internet account.

While online technologies do offer lots of benefits, most nonprofit professionals agree that none of the things for which they use the Internet has altogether replaced faxes, phone calls, press releases or face-to-face meetings, nor will they ever.

Nor will the Internet solve all organizational problems -- for instance, if board members or staff have poor communications skills offline, that probably won't improve just because everyone gets an e-mail account. Or, that snazzy new volunteer or donor management software won't automatically compel staff to gather the information needed to make the database useful.

Every not-for-profit or public sector organization has two primary resources: people and their ideas. What the Internet offers is an easy, immediate, extremely efficient way to connect with people and ideas.

Even well into 1999, the Net population is still fairly small (when compared to the number of people offline) and the majority of the target population for not-for-profit or public sector organization services is often not online. The value of using the Net as a way to distribute information to the general public or to reach new donors/volunteers remains relatively small, but it is ever growing every minute. The Net as a way to network with peers is already invaluable, as is the access to various online information depositories that can drastically reduce time needed for research.

Almost everyone agrees that, as the Net continues to grow exponentially, its value continues to increase immeasurably, and community-serving organizations need to have access to online resources NOW. Every major federal agency is already online. With political pressure ever-increasing for NPOs to take the place of the government in deliverying critical services, with "efficiency" becoming the mantra of more and more elected officials, it is even more essential to NPOs and the public sector to look to new ways to deliver more with less. The Internet can already serve as a critical tool in this quest. One contributor to this thread on the newsgroup commented in 1996, "I have a feeling of urgency about the subject of NPOs on the 'Net: that as technology continues to accelerate, we could very easily be left behind if we do not develop our own survival strategies."

Putnam Barber of the Evergreen Society and maintainer of the FAQs noted in a post to the Cyber-Accountability Internet discussion group a common misconception that nonprofit organizations can have regarding going online:

    Many colleagues seem to have given themselves very limited opportunities to benefit from using the net and to have absorbed a distorted impression from brainless hype and shameless fear-mongering in the more breathless departments of press and tv "journalism." A frequent version of this problem is e-mail from someone who says something like "Our organization just received word that a large grant will not be renewed. Where can I find information online about emergency sources of funding. I have been holding back from wasting time with this internet thing, but now I need to learn about it in a hurry." (!)


Examples of Tangible Benefits of Being Online
  1. Immediate, one-on-one communications / e-mail.

    Yes, Web sites are wonderful, but when all is said and done, e-mail offers a simple, quick way of communication between people, and is, still, the biggest benefit of getting online. Michael Gilbert of the noted in a post to

      Web pages are important, but they are overrated as an organization's first entry into online communication. First web pages are often like brochures. Without e-mail (and associated habits and systems for using e-mail), web pages don't offer the ability to form relationships with people.

      E-mail is two-way communication. e-mail offers the ability to push content into people's mailboxes. e-mail forces an organization to keep things alive and current, unlike many web pages. Take a look at the Nonprofit SiteAnalyzer Project for some studies about this.

      Don't get me wrong. I'm a believer in the use of the web. I've just worked with too many organizations whose first online communication was a web page that was little more than a obligatory brochure. That's just not enough.

    E-mail provides access to all the other numbered benefits listed below, there's no receptionist to get messages confused, there's no paper to get lost, it often fosters immediate action/response, it saves time and, therefore, money. A word of caution: most people don't like to read large bodies of text on a computer; sometimes, it will be necessary to print out information. So remember that when you post something online.

    Participants of various NP-related Internet discussion groups have said they were using e-mail to:

    • "send out agendas, meeting notices and minutes to board members"
    • "shorten meetings by using e-mail to educate participants and develop consensus before meetings"
    • "leave e-mail to my boss about why I'll be late"
    • "with one message, send the same information to lots of people much more quickly than 'phoning or faxing around!"
    • "subscribe to a list" (discussion groups or announcement lists via e-mail focusing on marketing, fund raising, technology, policy issues, legislation, etc. Almost every interest or topic has an online group)
    • "request information on grants, application deadlines, federal resources, etc."
    • "remind volunteers to check in with their hours of service, progress reports, etc."
    • "send an electronic newsletter to a targeted online audience (volunteers, donors, board members, etc.), with information on program updates or new information on our Web site"
    • "send a message to supporters regarding upcoming legislation in the state house or senate and how they can contact their representatives"

    In response to someone who questioned if using online technologies actually adds any sort of value, Jim Miller of Liberty Savings Federal Credit Union in Jersey City, NJ wrote on

      "I run computer systems for a non-profit financial institution and tend to ignore a lot of hard copy stuff I get. Any sales/marketing materials that come via USPS are immediately discarded. I don't have time to deal with an alleged technology company that uses paper mail....

      "While not always the best means for delivering services, it's great for delivering materials, marketing, and reaching people who otherwise wouldn't know what you're doing.... Like anything else, it takes time to find out how it can be useful."


  2. Research

    You can eliminate HOURS AND HOURS of library time with Net access. Again, time and money saved. Participants of various nonprofit-related Internet discussion groups said they used online technologies (lists, newsgroups, gophers and web pages) to research various topics, including:

    • how to get funding for a position
    • where to find certain government documents
    • things to remember when developing a database
    • mortality rates of children in comparison to other cities
    • current legislation concerning welfare costs
    • what other agencies are doing about crack cocaine
    • where to find grants to buy a computer system
    • info about a problem with word perfect
    • tips for creating a newsletter
    • latest stats on the Nuggetts for a group of kids I'm working with
    • volunteer recruitment and management information
    • cool graphics for the agency xmas card
    • why NPOs should get on line!

    Chesapeake Area Recovery Communities, a not-for-profit provider of housing for alcoholics and addicts, had a particularly interesting benefit to relate regarding its use of the Internet in 1996:

      "Last fall by chance we stumbled over information on Attention Deficit Disorder and that this disorder is linked to the presence of particular gene.

      The gene identified happens to be the same gene other medical researchers have identified as being present in hereditary alcoholism. Accessing the Internet through a local university, we researched the Cork database at Dartmouth on alcoholism, found information on ADD at a web page at MIT and checked out the Web page from the Genome project.

      "Were it not for the access to the free flow of information provided by the Internet we would not have been able to make this correlation. Nor would we have been able to learn of medical professionals interested in this subject.

      Thus at least for us, the Internet has had a significant impact if only for the availability to information which we would never have known about."


  3. Networking

    The Internet provides an easy, efficient medium of exchanging thoughts with people who we would otherwise probably never have had the opportunity to meet. These benefits include:

    • experts can be just an e-mail away.
    • easy to interact with like-minded groups and peers around the country or around the world without having to attend far away, expensive conferences
    • starting or participating in conferences about a subject of interest to you or your agency


  4. Posting information

    The ability to disseminate information efficiently supposes that the organizations and/or individuals who want the information are also online and checking their e-mail regularly, or visit your Web site regularly. The target groups for most NPOs are too often NOT networked. Most agreed that this is the least benefit of being online, but that it is something NPOs should utilize NOW, as more and more people get online and chose the Internet as their primary method of getting information.

    Before your NPO starts posting information, either on a Web site, in appropriate Internet discussion groups and electronic bulletin boards, or direct e-mails:

    • Review the information you can provide and assess its need in the community. For example, you may have information on public hearings; pending legislation; recreational or cultural events. You may also want to sponsor discussion groups on certain topics. Whatever you do, do it strategically and make sure it relates to your mission.

    • Determine if you can make a commitment to acquiring the needed skills, and to contributing and maintaining accurate information on-line. Incorrect information can be worse than no information.

    • Make sure you post to the correct forum. Local networks are best. When in doubt, contact the forum's administrator and ask permission. Also, be sure to track the responses that result from your posts.

    • Remember that many people will print out your information if its more than a few paragraphs, so always have contact information about your organization at the end of all your posts.

    There's more information about online promotion on: Outreach Via the Internet for Not-for-Profit or Public Sector Organizations.

  5. Larger NPOs, and NPOs who have been online for many years have also used the 'Net to

    • set up accounts for internal operations in addition to those for public access
    • provide patient referrals
    • match volunteer or staff counselors with clients online
    • become a public clearinghouse for particular constiuency contacts, resources, and ideas
    • sponsor an electronic discussion list with hundreds/thousands of subscribers
    • build a text and image archive for a ftp site
    • hold online public forums
    • involve volunteers virtually

    A note of caution from the newsgroup:

      "Someone in your organization can benefit from this 'whole thing' and you may not be the one." The marketing manager will use online technologies differently than the development director, and the program manager may not use it at all; just as not everyone may use a computer in their job, everyone in your organization may not want or need to use on-line technologies.

    Return to Table of Contents  
    What About Service Delivery Online?

    What's your organization's mission? Whom does your agency service primarily? How do you provide service to that primary community

    Those are the three questions you ask first if you want to contemplate adding a virtual componant to your service delivery. You need to build on what you already do. If your agency wants to provide service online, it should be an extension or augmentation of your organization's mission and existing activities.

    As is mentioned above, many organizations are already using the 'Net to

    • set up accounts for internal operations in addition to those for public access
    • provide patient referrals
    • match volunteer or staff counselors with clients online
    • become a clearinghouse for contacts, resources, and ideas
    • sponsor an electronic discussion list with hundreds of subscribers
    • build a text and image archive for a ftp site
    • hold online public forums
    • involve volunteers virtually

    Rather than cite these organizations individually here, I'll refer you to two other resources that already offer information about organizations who provide some portion or all of their services online:

    • The Virtual Volunteering Project, at

    • Steve Glikbarg's Internet 101, at

    Return to Table of Contents  
    What About Online Activism?

    Many organizations channel the resources of volunteer activists to promote various causes, on and offline. Before you mobilize volunteers online to send e-mails to individuals and Usenet groups on behalf of your organization, however, you need to plan strategically to make your efforts successful and positive. The Virtual Volunteering Project has a comprehensive index of online activism resources at:

    Return to Table of Contents  
    Barriers to Being Online

    The barriers to NPOs access to the Internet include the cost of hardware, software and network connections; lack of computer or network literacy; lack of appropriate and continuing technical support; reluctance from staff and volunteers to support technology; and high turn-over rate for staff and volunteers. Here is advice on how to overcome these obstacles to getting online.

    What About Fund Raising Via the Internet?

    One of the most asked questions at any "Nonprofits & the Internet"-type seminar or on is, "How can I use the Internet to fund raise?"

    I've collected a LOT of resources on this subject -- so much so that I've had to move it to its own page.

    Other Resources

      Many Web sites weigh in on the subject about how not-for-profit and public sector groups can use the 'Net -- so many that I've had to move the list of these resouces to another page.

    Thanks to all who contributed to the original document in 1996 (who aren't already noted above):
    • Clark Dong
    • Munn Heydorn, First National Bank of Chicago
    • Tim Casey, Hemochromatosis Foundation
    • Russell Beck, United Way, Salem, Oregon
    • Lorance A Romero
    • Terry Grunwald, NC Client & Community Development Center
    • Chase Ridgely, Chesapeake Area Recover Communities
    • Howard Lake, Amnesty International British Section
    • Aki Namioka, Seattle Community Network
    • Mark M. Mills, Dallas Computer Literacy Program
    • Ed Schwartz, Institute for the Study of Civic Values
    • Jim Miller, Liberty Savings Federal Credit Union in Jersey City, NJ


    Posted by:
    Jayne Cravens
    Coyote Communications

    Services for Not-For-Profit Organizations

Great Lakes environmental information

Return to Great Lakes Directory Home/ Site Map