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The serious business of volunteering.

Milne stumbles into a vast and fascinating cyberworld where volunteers pull all the levers

It was a tiny mention in an e-mail from a listserve that caught my attention, a mere mention of a recent survey of Canadians' opinions regarding charities and issues affecting charities.

Not that charities are big news, but Web-based surveys about charities sounded intriguing, so I started to dig deeper in the data mine. The findings surprised even this old natural-born skeptic.

The survey was posted on a Web site belonging to the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, which publishes "The Canadian Directory to Foundations & Grants as a resource for charities and non-profits looking for financial support from foundations." Indeed, the cost of surveying nearly 4,000 Canadians between May and July of this year had been born by the Muttart Foundation from Edmonton, Alta.

The results, although interesting, were hardly surprising: 90 per cent agree that charities are becoming increasingly important; 79 per cent believe that charities understand the needs of the average Canadian better than government; 69 per cent think charities do a better job than government in meeting the needs of the average Canadian, and so on.

The stats motivated me to dig some more to see what these same good charities were doing on the Web. My big find was a Canadian site called "Charity Village," an innocuous concept with this fine print: "This online service centre is dedicated to encouraging, supporting and servicing Canada's 175,000 Canadian charities and nonprofit organizations and the millions of staffers, volunteers, donors and supporters who make them an important part of our national fabric."

The mind boggled, so I clicked on into charity nirvana to be greeted by another stupefying statement.

"You are on Main Street at Charity Village, Canada's supersite for the nonprofit sector...3,000 pages of news, jobs, information and resources, for executives, staffers, donors and volunteers...To date, our audience. has downloaded more than 105,004,310 files from Charity Village."

This is a site that would make any e-business wannabe drool with envy. Member foundations are classified into many categories (addiction, gay & lesbian, libraries, seniors, funding sources) as are learning institutions, research centres, jobs and careers, even opportunities for volunteers by province and city. A masterful job of organization and site-building.

Charity Village is in the business of delivering highly-targeted "eyes" for advertisers, and they are not ashamed of that fact. The Web site is the brainchild of Doug Jamieson, a man with a long and solid track record in consulting in communications and technology and author.

While too many sites settle for signs reading "this space for rent" or "advertise here," Charity Village has an entire section targeted to potential advertisers. Moreso, it offers a mini-MBA course on Web-based banner advertising with an introduction to the craft, a discussion of branding vs. prospecting and another on maximizing advertising effectiveness, a thorough presentation of the village's impressive demographics, technical specifications, creative services for advertisers who cannot or should not produce their own advertising, a dictionary of jargon and, finally, a rate card.

There are not many Web sites which confidently and publicly post their rates, but this one does. These folks know what they are about, and their leader stated that direction in a January article in "The Philanthropist" entitled "Relationship-Building in the Networked Age: Some Implications of the Internet for Non-profit Organizations" in which he stated that relationship-building would always be the key to success.

The article is available on the Village's Web site and it is worth a read for anybody interested in expanding an existing Web presence or starting a new one.

I was still digesting what I had already learned from Jamieson and his Charity Village when I caught another announcement just before this column's deadline. To wit The United Way of Ottawa-Canton would broadcast a "Webathon" fund-raiser over three days beginning Oct. 16.

With my attention now firmly focused on charities and solicitation on the Web, I moused on over to the site at 8 am on the 17th to find they had already chalked up $37,920 in pledges. By 4:30 pm that day, the counter was passing the $73,000 mark.

Think about it: a big Web site with live Web casts, contests, shopping, auctions and even an extensive public survey built, managed and run for a three-day event. If you know anything about building Web sites, you also know this is not something two geeks throw together over a weekend.

Though a charity-based business is a fascinating concept of itself, there is an awful lot to learn from these examples for anyone with an eye to doing business on the Web.

I again quote guru Jamieson: "In a real-world community, people have conversations with friends; they offer and seek help; they have a sense of co-ownership with others possessing similar values; they teach and learn; they agree and disagree; they act in ways that benefit the greater community and themselves.

"Online communities that emulate this will become interesting, dynamic, popular places and their community members will respond accordingly."

Come on home.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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