The Virtual Activist

A Training Course

Part 4: Membership and Fundraising

The Internet provides activist organizations with new ways of communicating with members, recruiting new members, and soliciting contributions. With some exceptions, Internet membership building and fundraising activities will mostly have an incremental effect in the short run, and it is too early to predict what will occur in the long run. Organizations that start now to integrate an online presence into existing activities will be in the best position to capitalize on the technology as it evolves.

Your Membership

Keeping Track

A free tool is available on the Web for non-profit organizations that need a membership database to track contributions and donor demographics. The tool is ebase, a database template that any nonprofit organization can adopt to its needs. In addition to its database functions, ebase can be used to print envelopes and mailing labels and generate customized merge letters, including personalized email messages to subsets of the organization's membership list. Manuals and online help are also available. The database was developed by Desktop Assistance with support from several foundations.

Copies can be downloaded from the Web at:


Many organizations are experimenting with cyberspace fundraising. Email solicitations are increasingly popular, especially as year-end appeals. And despite early concerns, these solicitations are not generating widespread complaints about spam. The key is to limit your online soliciting to those individuals who have already expressed an interest in your work, by becoming a member, joining a list service, or participating in an action or event that your organization sponsored.

Many organizations have set up membership forms on their Web sites. These efforts range from "bare bones" efforts that provide a postal address and encourage readers to send in a check, or sophisticated secure servers that enable the donor to use a credit card.

Some groups raise money by online sales of buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts, publications, or other items. Others offer donors a technology-oriented gift. Examples range from simple items such as mouse pads, to fairly sophisticated screen saver software that the donor can download in exchange for a contribution. Some of the issue-oriented organizations have set up links with, which donations a portion of the book sales to the organizations promoting the books. However, some groups now have concerns about's privacy policy. For more information, please visit the Electronic Information Privacy Center (EPIC)'s press release on the matter.

General fundraising articles

Example:Using the Internet for Fundraising
Example:Taking the plunge into e-mail fundraising
Example: Fundraising Online

Three different examples of fundraising approaches:

Example: EPIC
Example: CARAL
Example: WomensWork's secure server

Security should not be taken lightly on the net, especially when you are trusted with other people's financial information. It is not wise at this time to send your credit card information over the net without using some kind of secure methodology, be it encryption via PGP and/or use of a secure server. Many non-profit organizations house their Web sites on external site hosting providers, while others are in full control of all resources related to their Internet connectivity. Similarly, you may have the capability of implementing electronic commerce software on your server or through your host service provider to offer the security needed for credit card transactions. Alternatively, you may choose an intermediate service such as a trusted third party (such as First Virtual), funds transfer (such as CyberCash), digital cash (as it is), or an outside credit card processing firm to handle your transactions.

Financial resources on the Web

There are many different ways that organizations can fundraise on the Internet. Read How Can We Use the Internet for Fundraising? and Netaction Notes Click and give online and Profiting from non-profits for starters

Some websites match people who want to donate money with charities that are trying to raise money. Nonprofit organizations can register with these sites to find potential donors.

    Fundsnet Services is a grants and fundraising portal.

There are also sites that will do the soliciting of donors for the organizations that are registered with it.

    Example: solicits donors based on profiles of the organizations that register with them. They take 10% of the donations.

Other sites allow a certain portion of their profits to be donated to non-profit organizations. provides an online "Charity Mall" where 5-40% of sales go to the non-profits signed up.

For further information on non-profits and e-commerce, read this article from

Financial transactions on the Web can be handled in a couple of different ways.

CyberCash is a secure payment technology that facilitates financial transactions between banks, financial institutions, transaction processors, merchants, and consumers. Consumers must first establish an account with CyberCash. Once they have done so, they can make purchases from participating merchants, and CyberCash collects a fee for processing the transaction.

Credit card processing firms, such as, facilitate financial transactions by providing a secure server through which the transaction is processed. This prevents the consumer's financial information from being read by any of the computers it goes through as the data travels from the customer's computer to the credit card company.

A third alternative is to encrypt, or code, the data so that it cannot be read as it travels over the Internet. Here is some background on PGP, one popular encryption technology.

More resources:

Next: Part 5: Privacy, Copyright, and Censorship