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Digital philanthropy: Part 9 – Supply and demand – E-philanthropy’s marketplace

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By Todd Cohen

A new e-philanthropy industry has emerged to deliver technology products and services to nonprofits and the philanthropic community.

A survey two years ago by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, for example, identified 140 Web sites serving the philanthropic market – a number that has grown considerably.

This e-philanthropy industry aims to serve a market of donors, volunteers and nonprofits looking for technology and tech skills they can use to make their work and their philanthropy easier and more effective.

Sadly, however, this emerging industry has evolved randomly to meet the needs of a sector poorly prepared to make choices about which products and services to use – and not sure how to use them.

In its survey – to be updated soon — the Kellogg Foundation concluded that nonprofits and foundations alike had a lot of work to do to make productive use of the Web.

But that, too, is changing. The promise of electronic philanthropy has prompted new strategies for putting tech tools and know-how into the hands of nonprofits and donors.

Tech companies, foundations and nonprofit support groups offer innovative programs and services – such as techsoup, a technology portal Web site that features links to a broad range of tech resources — to give organizations easier access to hardware and software, and to help them learn how to use it.

And, despite some notable failures by e-philanthropy firms such as Charitableway.com, a growing number of companies and nonprofits are offering Web-based services that help nonprofits run their organizations, raise money, deliver services and communicate.

Still, philanthropy continues to face big challenges. Many nonprofits still struggle with outdated computers and software, and many lack the skill and know-how to put that technology to productive use. And many don’t even have computers.

Foundations need to make integrate technology into their own operations and, along with corporate giving programs and individual donors, need to invest in equipping nonprofits to operate in the new economy.

And high-tech entrepreneurs need to do a better job of sharing their wealth and expertise with nonprofits and philanthropic organizations.

The future of our communities depends on a healthy philanthropic and nonprofit community – and technology can help philanthropy unlock the door to that future.

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