It is easy enough to see why small businesses have gained a very strong foothold in the online market. There is a much lower associated start-up cost, there is a much wider selection of customers, and work just seems to get done easier online. Given some thought, it is not surprising that these are the same exact reasons that non-profit (namely charity) organizations have done well online.
If you think about it, a non-profit organization does not operate all that differently from a typical for-profit business. Non-profit organizations need revenue, have expenditures, and are made up of people. The key difference has typically been that traditional businesses operate in physical products, while non-profit organizations rely largely on donations.
However, it could be said that non-profit organizations are actually a service industry. They are providing individuals with the service of getting their money to where it will do the most good. If that is the case, then non-profit organizations are almost the exact same thing as a service-based business.
If we look at the types of businesses that have benefited most from the Internet, we will find that they are service-based businesses. The nature of the Internet lends itself to service-based businesses even more so than it does to traditional retail businesses. Retail businesses still operate in the physical world, whereas a service-based business can operate entirely online, thereby drastically cutting costs.
As a service-based industry, it is not surprising, then, that non-profit organizations have done so well online. The medium is particularly suited to the individual needs of non-profit organizations. Every aspect of a non-profit business is made easier and more effective by online operations.
Non-profit organizations are significantly harder to establish than traditional businesses. To start a normal business, all that one has to do is start acting like a business. Sole proprietorships are indistinguishable from the individuals that run them. Although there is paperwork that can be filled out for various reasons, in effect, every single person has the potential to be a business.
This is not the case for a true non-profit organization. Although anyone can start a business and declare that it is non-profit, it is not truly recognized by the government. To become recognized and gain the associated benefits, a company needs to file for 501(c)3 status. This is the status that allows the company to give donors the privilege of being able to write off their donations as tax deductible. Without this status, it is much more difficult for organizations to obtain donations.
Obtaining 501(c)3 status can be a very difficult and drawn-out process. Many companies do not obtain the status simply because they cannot go through all of the paperwork and hoops, not because they are not a true non-profit organization in spirit. People operating non-profit businesses have enough things to do on their plate without having to worry about technicalities and legal paperwork.
The Internet has helped a great deal in getting more 501(c)3 applications approved. There are specialists on the Internet that are very willing to help non-profit organizations become official for modest fees. Although these individuals and companies were around before the advent of the Internet, they were considerably harder to find and charged a much higher rate. Essentially, a non-profit organization was required to hire a lawyer at a lawyer’s rate if they wanted the job done properly.
It is even possible to find individuals with non-profit experience online who will be willing to help with a 501(c)3 for no charge. These people are just willing to volunteer their time to help a good cause.
It is also a fairly simple matter for a non-profit organization to establish themselves online with a website. It provides a convenient and cheap base of operations, much more so than any physical office that they could establish. There is no shortage of people on the Internet with decent website design skills willing to donate their time to a cause that they believe in. Non-profit organization owners just have to find these people and then set themselves up online. They can manage to become established with very little or no money out of pocket.
Another great aspect of the Internet for non-profit organizations is the ease with which they can attract and retain volunteers. Normally, a non-profit organization would have to campaign in a local area to find people that are interested in the cause. Outside of large urban areas, it can be very difficult to find enough people within the appropriate distance. This has led to the failure of many non-profit organizations.
Thanks to the Internet, non-profit organizations have access to a virtually unlimited number of people who may be interested in the cause. They can be from anywhere in the world, since they will be organized online and not in a local office. As long as they hold values that are beneficial to the organization and are willing to donate their time or resources, then they are a valuable addition to any non-profit organization.
In addition to helping non-profit organizations find volunteers, the Internet has done an even better job of helping to coordinate volunteers. Instead of relying on periodic meetings or expensive mailed newsletters, a non-profit organization can set up a website with a discussion board, news postings, and free e-mail newsletters. None of this costs any more than the website itself, assuming that the organization has someone willing to volunteer their time and expertise to put it all together.
Volunteers find it easier to work with non-profit organizations and communicate effectively using the Internet. Any time that they have an idea or a few spare moments to chat about their efforts, they can hop online to the message board. They do not have to be in any particular place for a particularly long time. The convenience and ease of use multiplies the productivity of every single volunteer by magnitudes.
The Internet also gives a voice to every single volunteer, no matter how small their role. Because they do not have to worry about being dismissed by more important people in a meeting or work environment, they can post their ideas without fear of being dismissed or receiving recriminations. In this way, more ideas are put forth and much more is achieved by all of the volunteers.
Similar to its effect on volunteers, the Internet also has a drastic impact on the ability of non-profit organizations to attract and retain donors. Just as with volunteers, non-profit organizations have traditionally been restricted to donors in their local area. Although larger organizations had access to more geographic locations, there were still great limitations.
Due to the Internet, non-profit organizations have access to potential donors all over the world. As long as a potential donor has an online presence and is interested in the cause, then they have the ability to access the non-profit organization.
Potential donors are much more likely to come forward with money if they know more about the organization. Thanks to the Internet, non-profit organizations can have all of their information in an easily accessible place: their website. Potential donors can peruse information at their leisure, without the limitations of presentations or small fliers.
The Internet also makes it much easier for donors to give their money. Websites can allow donors to give their money online with just a few clicks. They can fill out credit card information and the whole transaction may take less than a minute. This cuts out the difficulty of figuring out how to get cash or a check to the organization safely and quickly. If the donor is able to give money easier, then they are much more likely to give money in the first place.
Non-profit organizations can stay in touch with their donors much easier with an online database of donors’ contact information. They do not have to worry about messy file cabinets of paperwork that may not even be accurate any more. Donors just fill out their information online and it is there for as long as the organization needs it.
Using the database, the non-profit organization can send out e-mail newsletters that do not cost anything and can get to thousands of people in a matter of minutes. It is much easier and more cost effective than traditional newsletters, and provides a convenient venue for donors to respond and feel like they could have an impact on the organization.
Overall, the Internet has made almost every single aspect of non-profit organizations easier. Because of this, non-profit organizations have flourished online, and all kinds of causes have gained champions are working toward success.