By Todd Cohen
Philanthropy can be a tough trek without a map.
Charities searching for support, and donors and volunteers searching for charities, can fail to connect because philanthropy has lacked a central exchange to help them find one another.
Donors and volunteers also can find it hard to get information that helps them size up a charity before deciding whether to invest their time and money in it.
Charities create and control that information, but may not be willing or able to make it easy to get.
Now, thanks to the Web, charities can give donors and volunteers quick and easy access to data that explain who they are, what they do and how well they do it.
Many charities have created Web sites that feature data about themselves and make it easy for visitors to reach them.
And a growing number of philanthropy “portal” sites have emerged that collect and publish resources and tools about charitable giving, volunteering and nonprofit management.
The newest entry, a site launched by three giant tech firms, represents a big step in the quest for what one backer calls the “holy grail” of philanthropy – practical knowledge about charities.
The site, Network for Good, aims to spur more charitable giving, volunteering and advocacy, and help charities do a better job, by collecting and publishing a broad range of information and tools for consumers and nonprofits.
The site builds on helping.org, which the AOL Time Warner Foundation launched two years ago to connect donors and volunteers with charities, and provide charities with online resources.
An immediate goal is to build an automated system that charities can use to post information at the site about their mission, focus, activities and impact – and that will help other charity sites publish the same information.
Heavy traffic, in turn, should spur charities to use the site to share information about their organizations, operations and impact.
And online publication of that knowledge should prompt more and better-informed giving, as well as collaboration among charities.
Some charities, donors and volunteers may fear the site could exercise too much clout as a “gatekeeper” controlled by giant companies more interested in their own bottom line than in philanthropy.
To help keep that from happening, the three companies created a new charity — overseen by a board with a majority representing charity groups — that runs the site and aims to build and expand it through collaboration with the nonprofit sector.
Ultimately, the site’s value and integrity will depend on charities. By sharing information about themselves, charities can use the site to inform and involve donors and volunteers, and to team up with other charities.