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Groundspring shifts ground

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By Todd Cohen

A four-year-old nonprofit that provides technology services to small and medium-sized nonprofits is expanding its focus from helping them raise money online to boosting their use of email and the Web to involve people in their work.

Groundspring.org, part of the San Francisco-based Tides family of organizations, has acquired ebase, software that helps its 4,000 nonprofit users manage relationships, from San Francisco-based TechRocks.

It also has acquired ActionStudio, a Seattle-based nonprofit that has developed Web-based engagement and content-management tools.

“We’ve moved beyond just providing Internet tools and training to really look at how organizations use the Internet to engage stakeholders and constituents on a whole variety of levels,” says Dan Geiger, executive director of Groundspring.org.

Launched in 1999 at the peak of the dot.com boom, groundspring.org initially was known as eGrants.org and processed online donations for GiveForChange.com, a web site that San Francisco-based telecom firm Working Assets created for its customers and users to contribute to selected nonprofits.

While Working Assets discontinued its service in January, Groundspring.org three years ago launched a similar service known as DonateNow for individual nonprofit clients.

Through both services, Groundspring.org has processed $5.8 million in online donations for nearly 1,000 nonprofits.

With startup fees and monthly charges based on their annual budgets, individual nonprofit clients can place a DonateNow button on their web sites.

Groundspring.org has 490 nonprofit clients for DonateNow that pay a $129 startup fee for a standard donation page, and $199 for a page customized to incorporate the look of their own web sites.

Nonprofit clients also pay $15 a month if their annual budgets are under $250,000, and $25 a month if their annual budgets are $250,000 or more, plus 3 percent of donated revenue to cover the cost of processing credit cards.

Last fall, Groundspring.org launched EmailNow, a service to help nonprofits manage their email lists and distribute email newsletters.

Groundspring.org integrates that service with its fundraising product, letting nonprofits send an email fundraising solicitation and analyze how many individuals received the solicitation, read it and made a donation. Nonprofits also can calculate how much the solicitation raised.

The organization also is moving to convert ebase and its other software to open-source applications, some of which users will be able to modify by themselves.

While ebase will continue to be free for nonprofits that download it, Groundspring.org will charge a monthly fee for hosting nonprofits’ databases and online advocacy and engagement tools, and for running their online fundraising and email systems.

With a staff of 17 people, including two who worked for TechRocks and three who worked for ActionStudio, Groundspring.org has doubled its operating budget over the last year to $2 million.

The nonprofit, which gets about 80 percent to 85 percent of its budget from foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg, Omidyar, Skoll and Surdna, aims to reduce that to 20 percent to 30 percent by 2007.

The group plans to generate more earned revenue through monthly service fees, plus fees for training workshops and consulting.

“What we see is a big hole in the small-to-medium-sized segment for the folks who can’t afford the for-profit providers and don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles, and can’t afford to build it themselves,” Geiger says.

Groundspring.org is affiliated both with the Tides Foundation, which manages donor-advised funds with a social-change focus, and the Tides Center, which provides fiscal sponsorship and back-office services such as bookkeeping, accounting and human resources for several hundred nonprofit clients.

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