NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 51 September 1, 1999
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


New Tips for Virtual Activists
Profiting From Nonprofits
Grappling with Graphics
About NetAction Notes

New Tips for Virtual Activists

NetAction's Virtual Activist Curriculum has been updated to include more tips from Michael Stein on Web-based Outreach and Advocacy Tools. In Part Three of the Virtual Activist Curriculum we have added Michael's detailed outline, "Success on the Internet: Creating An Effective Online Presence," located at:

Readers will also find new tips on developing compelling web site content in "Focus on Content," at

The complete training curriculum is at:

Michael is Internet Coordinator at Children Now, a national children's advocacy organization in Oakland, California. He is the author of two books about the Internet including "Fundraising on the Internet" with Mal Warwick and Nick Allen (published by Strathmoor Press and available via NetAction's bibliography). Michael is a frequent advisor, consultant and lecturer on Internet strategy to nonprofits nationwide. He can be contacted by email at or by phone at 510-883-9530.

Profiting From Nonprofits

Want free money?

Nonprofit organizations have become a popular new target for online business enterprises. It goes without saying that most nonprofits need charitable donations to support their work. That's what makes them such a potentially lucrative moving target of the for-profit sector.

An increasing number of commercial enterprises are offering to help nonprofit organizations obtain donations over the Internet -- just by signing up. It sounds great, but, as always, there's a catch.

Before signing up with an online giving program, nonprofit organizations should investigate and ask questions. If it sounds too good to be true, perhaps it is.

One obvious consideration is how well your organization will be represented by the online giving venture. If your group is one of 640,000 organizations listed in the database, how likely is it that you'll see any revenue? Can you help ensure revenue by asking your members to choose your organization?

Also, ask whether the fundraising options are compatible with your mission, or will your participation jeopardize your organization's credibility? For example, a labor organization might not want to receive donations from purchases made at Nike, Wal-Mart, or other businesses being boycotted for operating sweatshops or engaging in other anti-worker behavior.

The vendor's privacy policy should also be determined. Do visitors need to register to use the web site, and if so, is customer information sold to other marketers? Does the vendor's privacy policy conflict with your organization's stated policy?

Fundraising professionals might also want to evaluate web site giving programs for compliance with the National Society of Fund Raising Executives' (NSFRE) Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice.

The list that follows provides a brief summary of the terms offered by several of the commercial online fundraising sites, and sites for some related services:
This is an online mall where stores with affiliate programs offer a percentage of their sales to the charity selected by the buyer. The percentage donated varies from vendor to vendor, but is typically in the 5-8% range with many in the 10-20% range. The company reports that there are no administrative charges and 100% of donations reach the designated non-profit. The site includes about 30 non-profits in its database.
This is an online mall where stores offer a percentage of the price of their goods donated to the charity of the buyer's choice. The percentage donated varies from vendor to vendor, but is typically in the 2-5% range. If the donated portion of the sale is above 5%, the site operates collect an administrative commission. There are 640,000 non-profits in the database.
The site operators claim nonprofits can raise "$5, $10, or more each month." Contributions range from about 5-15% of sales, and there is no mention of administrative fees. The site lists about 5400 non-profits in its database. The operators of this site disclosed very little about their process for handling donations.
This is another online mall with stores offering typically 6-10% of sales donated to non-profits. The operators of this site retain 50% the affiliate fees from sales, but promise an annual one-time payment if needed to bring the organization's total an amount equal to 5% of sales.
This is an online community for donors. They create a profile of the non-profits they represent, and solicit donors electronically for their affiliated nonprofits. The site owner takes 10% of the proceeds as an administrative fee.

Sites with related resources:
This site provides on-line credit card processing for nonprofit organizations. The service includes on-line receipts and a monthly summary of transactions. Participating organizations can also have a custom designed form for collecting the donor's credit card information. The donor's credit card information is retained on the site's secure server, and the donations are deposited in the participating organization's merchant account.
Guidestar is a non-profit organization which offers potential donors and funders detailed information about the programs and finances of approximately 650,000 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. The information is obtained from the IRS Business Master File, an organization's IRS Form 990 (a public document), and/or individual organizations. Non-profits can post additional information, as well. GuideStar is also developing the capacity to post Form 990s and other legal/financial documents to meet the "widely available" criteria for public disclosure.

NetAction thanks Judi Clark, our webmaster, for her research on this article and the one that follows.

Grappling with Graphics

A few years ago Unisys, the company that owns the patent on the compression method used in creasing GIF graphics, announced plans to charge a license fee to use their GIF-related technology. Controversy developed and the company dropped the proposal. Now, they've revived it and are threatening to sue users of GIFs created with freeware or other software produced by developers who haven't paid for a license to use this technology.

Since well known commercial graphics software programs like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Macromedia are expensive, there is a good chance that some small or cash-strapped nonprofits have been using freeware or other unlicensed software to create GIFs. These organizations need to be aware that there is some risk of being sued for license fees of $5000 or more. This would be a good time to take stock of what software your organization uses to build web site graphics. If your organization is using freeware to develop web site graphics, this might be a good time to switch to one of the less costly licensed graphics software programs, like Paint Shop Pro for PCs.

But even if your organization isn't at risk, Unisys' decision to demand license fees represents a move toward limiting access to technology being used for the public good. Ultimately, this could create barriers to the public interest community's use of technology as a tool for outreach, organizing, and advocacy.

According to various reports on the Unisys initiative, web sites that would be required to pay a license fee include "billboard" sites that are:

Many nonprofit organizations operate web sites that meet this definition.

There are some alternatives for organizations that want to switch to something other than the GIF format. The best option at this time is the .JPG (also referred to as .JPEG) But the .JPG format doesn't allow for transparent backgrounds or animation.

Another alternative is PNG (pronounced PING). While it may eventually prove to be very useful, at present this format is limited because it isn't supported by many browsers. It is somewhat usable with Netscape & IE 4.x & higher, and will be supported in future releases. MNG (pronounced MING) is a related technology that supports animations. It doesn't work with 4.x level browsers but will be supported in future releases.

For more on this issue see: and For Unisys' perspective, see: and

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