"The Internet is a perfect medium for nonprofits," said Robbin Zeff, author of the "Nonprofit Guide to the Internet." "Web sites allow nonprofits to give out sophisticated information in an easily accessible manner, and these groups are exploiting it."
Private foundations are also getting into the act, putting up Web sites that enable grant seekers to learn about grant makers.
The Philanthropy Journal Online is a good starting point. The site's index of nonprofit organizations is a comprehensive list of hypertext links to the Web sites for a number of nonprofit organizations.
The Foundation Center site furnishes detailed information on the fund-raising process. It has a guide to writing proposals, a glossary of philanthropic terms and on-line grant-application forms.
Prospect research is the term used for finding possible financing, and two in-depth resources for the field are the Internet Prospector and the Prospect Research Page run by David Lamb, a fund-raiser at the University of Washington.
Businesses interested in corporate giving can visit the site of the Council on Foundations, whose 1,300 members give over $6 billion in charitable grants every year. It has information on starting a foundation.
The Ford Foundation, the world's largest private grant-making organization, is making its debut on the Web Tuesday. Its site will include detailed information for grant-seekers.
Corporate and foundation philanthropy attracts a lot of publicity, but the bulk of charitable gifts are made by individual donors. Last year individuals gave more than $116 billion to charity, while foundations and corporations gave an estimated $18 billion combined.
For individuals there are several sites that will try to make you feel good even as they relieve you of your money. Before you get caught up in the spirit of giving, it is worth learning as much as possible about charities.
The National Charities Information Bureau is one of several sites that help consumers identify worthwhile causes. It has a "tips for givers" section, as well as a rating system for more than 300 charities and their compliance with the bureau's "standards in philanthropy," which include, for example, an organization's use of funds.
The Internet Nonprofit Center offers an interactive "nonprofit locator" service that searches more than a million tax-exempt groups in the United States. Punch in keywords and a particular state and you will get back a detailed list of groups that match your specifications.
While many sites are little more than electronic brochures for the charities, others use the Web in interesting ways to encourage giving.
Operation Smile, a group in Norfolk, Va., that sponsors surgery for children around the world with facial deformities, has a site that not only provides comprehensive information but also features movie clips that show before-and-after photos of patients.
Some organizations combine celebrity appeals with multimedia tools to enliven their sites. City Harvest, a New York-based agency that collects surplus food from restaurants and supermarkets, uses a video clip featuring the actress Susan Sarandon asking for contributions.
The site of San Francisco-based Coral Forest, an organization that works to protect coral reefs around the world, has teachers' guides, sounds of a coral reef, a map showing threatened areas and, in a surprising connection, links to Grateful Dead sites. (The group's guitarist, Bob Weir, is the brother of Coral Forest's executive director.)
The National Black United Fund, based in Newark, N.J., is one of the groups whose site enables donors to find information about minority charities.
The American Lung Association, which runs a successful old-media campaign through its annual Christmas Seals program, has moved to the world of new media this year. You can send, via the Web, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa seals, as well as download a holiday screen saver.
Many people who make contributions, of course, are doing so with an eye toward April 15, so it is worth making sure that the donations qualify for tax deductions. The Better Business Bureau runs a Philanthropic Advisory Service that has tips on tax deductions for charitable contributions. And there is always the Internal Revenue Service site.
And there are other ways than donating money to help a charity. The Give Five site has tips for volunteer work.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company