Online giving expands options for charities

online giving

Billions of dollars are donated online each year. Credit: Pixelbliss

The growing prevalence of online giving is helping small charities cast a wider net for potential donors and enabling emergency-aid groups to spring into action as soon as donors submit their credit card information.

Experts say these are just some of the implications being realized by fundraisers as more donors turn to the Internet when the impulse strikes to support a cause.

Online giving rose by 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent review by the Chronicle of Philanthropy of gifts made to 115,000 U.S. charities. Donors gave more than $2.1 billion online to these charities, up from nearly $1.9 billion the previous year.

The world of philanthropy has come a long way since the advent of the Internet and the early days of social media and mobile technology. Causes years ago primarily relied on door knocks, telephone calls and mailers.

Much of today’s fundraising stems from virtual solicitations in pop-up ads, trending Twitter hashtags and Facebook posts.

The digitalization of philanthropy has touched all types of giving as charitable auctions turn to Skype and relief groups encourage supporters to text designated keywords to five-digit numbers known as “shortcodes.”

Empowering small charities

Mike Montgomery, a fundraising consultant at Montgomery Consulting in Huntington Woods, Mich., said this new philanthropic behavior has been particularly helpful for smaller charities.

The reach of the Internet gives these kinds of groups the ability to promote their cause to large numbers of prospective donors. Only major charities had the money and manpower required in the past to fundraise on a large scale, he noted.

“An organization with little or no staff can receive gifts through their website and yet still assure donors of timely acknowledgment and tax receipts for their gifts,” Montgomery said.

Shortening response times

Allan Luks, former director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and a visiting professor at Fordham University, said the rise of mobile apps enables donors to make contributions almost instantly — even as a major disaster is still unfolding.

This speed allows relief organizations to spring into action quickly because the donations aren’t pledged but given at the moment, making funds available almost immediately. The ease of use and accessibility of apps means there’s a means of donating whenever the impulse strikes.

Challenges remain

One challenge associated with the speed of online giving is the likely presence of a few bad actors whenever a disaster strikes, Luks warns. Unscrupulous organizations may be able to get away with a large sum in a short amount of time before they are identified.

“Eventually, some of these scams make the news, but it is too late for donors to recoup their money,” Luks said. “This creates an environment of cynicism among donors, who will tend to stay away from smaller, legitimate organizations in the future, wary of being scammed. They’ll only donate to the larger, well-established one.”

Luks also advises that charities maintain traditional avenues of giving for donors who are not comfortable donating virtually.

“Any technology or innovation that makes donating to a charitable organization easier is always a good thing — but it is not always the best thing for some donors or charities,” he said.

Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.

Andrew King
Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.
Andrew King
Tags: Business,Corporate Responsibility,Downtime,Mobile Apps,Social Media