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Fundraising on the Internet

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Fundraising on the Internet


This article, by Ken Hoffman, originally appeared in Third Sector on June 1, 2001.

Pope John Paul II's book, Crossing the threshold of Hope, was too deep for me. But there is also a fundraiser's threshold of hope.

No surprise, it is the internet, whose research capacities have revolutionized fundraising research on US foundations and trusts.

In early 2000, I presented my last fundraising workshop that relied on data published in the traditional way. For research on US foundations and trusts, two books were the key. The Foundation Directory described what the trusts said they wanted. The Foundation Grants Index told you who actually got the dosh. Each book was 2,600 pages.

Those 5,200 pages of documentation can now be found, at no cost, on the Internet. First, the larger trusts maintain their own websites. These range from the useful to the bland or self-serving. But these generally include a programme description and application guidelines. Ford, Pew, Lilly, Rockefeller Brothers, Hewlett, MacArthur, Gates are all aboard.

The second source is a less known gem, the website www.guidestar.org. This contains the annual tax returns of nearly all of the 700,000 charities in the US, whether grant-making foundations or operating charities.

Guidestar is the answer to the professional fundraiser's prayer. While published directories are creatures of their editors, the tax returns are pure data, formatted consistently, with no interpretive filter.

The US tax return forms for operating charities and for grantmaking private foundations demand far more information than the counterpart Charity Commission documents.

For example, every grant is identified by amount and recipient. All the board members are listed, often with private addresses. Even our prurient Interests are served: we learn how much they all earn.

Response by the grantmakers to their new public exposure has been mixed. A minority of trusts have embraced the new technology to the degree of encouraging email submissions. But most trusts are more conservative. Many refuse to accept emailed or even faxed proposals. They fear, I think lightly, that the ease with which these are filed may result in numerous, inappropriate appeals sent simply because it is easy to do.

With internet data available on foundations and trusts, a threshold has been crossed. Anyone with internet access can research the US foundations and trusts that give away £13bn each year.

Is this the end of life as we know it for professional fundraisers and fundraising consultants? Far from it. There is more data than ever before to sift and consider. The role of individual experience and judgment has not declined, but rather increased.

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