Chapter 21: Utilising The Internet

Shared values: the internet and related technologies - using this part

This part covers the application of the internet and technologies arising from it to the not-for-profit sector. It consists mostly of pragmatic help with some background and reflective advice. We have included a number of web addresses, where appropriate, and apologise in advance for the tact that some of those sources are bound to change or disappear before you read this sentence. We have tried to focus mostly on directory sources, which should reduce the number of obsolete addresses in our text. If you end up really stuck, please contact the authors through and we'll redirect to a suitable source.

The initial chapter sketches the history of the internet, outlines its applicability for the not-for-profit sector and explains the basics of getting started. Most readers should read 'Intranets and extranets' for further ideas that can benefit all but the very smallest not-for-profit organisations. 'Netiquette - the dos and dont's of sharing' is relevant to any reader who uses the internet significantly, even of your organisation has little or no presence other than your use.

The final chapter, 'E-verything', is relevant to medium sized and larger organisations, or indeed to any reader who wishes to explore the possibilities of internet-based activities for the not-for-profit sector.

Chapter objectives

In this chapter we shall:

  • Provide some background information on the development of the Internet,
  • Summarise the main uses of the Internet for not-for-profit organisations (the final chapter, 'E-verything', goes into more detail on opportunities and possibilities.
  • Outline the risks, rewards, costs and benefits you should consider when considering establishing a web site for your not-for-profit organisation.
  • Set out the basic elements you need for internet access and web presence.
  • Provide tips and guidance on getting started and changing the basics.
  • Point you in the right direction for progressing beyond the basics, such as fancy sites and e-commerce.

Background on the Internet

The Internet is a global computer network that connects governments, companies, charities, universities and many other organisations and individuals. The underlying technical infrastructure of the Internet was originally pulled together by the US Defence [sic] Agency DARPA and its early promulgation was amongst the academic community in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The advent of the user-friendly World Wide Web (often referred to as just “the web”) has helped feed an extraordinary expansion of Internet use. The web uses a technology known as hypertext, which enables you to link text in a document to any other computer host connected to the web. Hypertext technology was in established use for other purposes for some years before 1989, when Tim Berners Lee spotted the opportunity to use hypertext technology for global connection across the Internet, hence establishing the web. Al Gore’s involvement in the invention of the Internet is a matter of some apocryphal debate.

Pundits often like to point out that radio was available to the general public for 38 years before 50 million people had adopted it and television was available for 13 years before 50 million people tuned in. Although the Internet had been used for many years beforehand, the web itself reached 50 million users within 4 years of general availability. Indeed, use of the Internet is growing so quickly that written references to its number of users tend to look ridiculous before they are published. The numbers are safely estimated to run into hundreds of millions of people world-wide and might reach 1 billion before this book goes to second edition, which probably increases our chances of a second (web-based) edition.

In the commercial world, the Internet is already seen as an essential business tool today. Some estimate that annual turnover conducted over the Internet will reach $Trillions per annum within the next few years, of which:

  • Tens of Billions is expected to be "retail" purchases (often referred to in the press these days as B2C - 'business to consumer').
  • The rest (i.e. the vast majority) being business to business electronic trading (referred to as B2B).

What’s in it for the not-for-profit sector?

There are three main aspects of the Internet that should concern not-for-profit organisations:

  • Electronic mail communications (distribution and receipt of information) including electronic file transfer.
  • Mailing lists and discussion groups for information, collaboration and shared learning.
  • The web for access to readily available information and opportunities for your organisation as a medium for providing readily accessible information about your organisation, plus all of the above.

Risks and rewards of setting up and maintaining a web site

When considering setting up a web site for your not-for-profit organisation, as with any other IT project, you should carefully consider your objectives, the scope of the project and the benefits you seek (see chapters 14 and 15). Many not-for-profit organisations seem to be "jumping on the World Wide Web bandwagon", setting up web sites that are poorly thought through and not particularly beneficial.

Table 21.1 summarises the main purposes and potential benefits and possible pitfalls for not-for-profit organisations having a web presence

Table 21.1 Purposes, Benefits and Pitfalls of Web Sites
Purposes Potential Benefits Possible Pitfalls
Communicating information about your charity Campaigning and/or advocacy
Attracting membership and/or support
Providing information to beneficiaries, stakeholders and other interested parties
Demonstrating your knowledge and eminence in a given field
A "shop window" from which supporters might volunteer, request additional information etc.
If you do not keep the web site up to date, your site might have an adverse effect rather than a positive one
Fundraising Collecting donations, covenants, sponsorships etc.
Running on-line games, lotteries etc. to raise funds
An additional medium for trading (e.g. Christmas cards, mail order goods etc.)
At the time of writing, there is little evidence to suggest that the web is able to generate revenues to cover the costs of setting up a web presence for fundraising purposes alone (this might change during the life of this edition of the manual)
Take care over regulatory, legal and tax implications of gaming and trading on the web
Procurement Increasing the economy and efficiency of procurement (through electronic data interchange or electronic commerce - "e-trading")
Benefiting from economies of scale if done through a shared subscription e.g. with other charities
Possibly need little or no web presence of your own to achieve the benefits, so you should not necessarily cost justify your web project based on electronic procurement
Direct provision of your services Would vary from charity to charity
In the case of advocacy and campaigning organisations, some of the benefits set out in "Communicating information about your charity" above would constitute direct provision
Probably the most compelling argument for a significant web presence at present, for those charities for whom it is appropriate
Can you reach an appropriate audience through the web?
Be careful not to exclude some potential supporters and/or beneficiaries – therefore the web is likely to be an "as well as" service rather than an "instead of" service

When considering setting up a web site, you should consider the following areas of cost:

  • Your charity's Internet access.
  • Connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
  • Registration of a domain name or names (see 'Domain naming', below).
  • Additional security required (e.g. electronic "firewalls" to prevent unauthorised access to your systems).
  • Web page development.
  • Data linking (if needed).
  • Additional hardware and software.
  • Training.
  • Ongoing running costs of all of the above.

Sadly, but predictably, low investment web sites are unlikely to attract very many visitors other than people who would be in touch with you anyway.  A recent survey by showed a direct relationship between web site budgets and traffic.  Of those who invested less than $10,000 (and in the UK you can usually read £ = $ in the IT world), 60% reported fewer than 100 visits per day to their site.  Of those who spent between $50,000 and $100,000, 73% reported more than 100 visits per day (20% reported more than 1000 visits per day).    

Despite the above comments on low investment web sites, it probably makes sense for most organisations to establish some form of web presence, as a positioning statement if for no other reason.  This is perhaps analogous with being in the telephone directory.  Your organisation might not be able to afford a large box advert, indeed you might not believe that a large advert would do you any good, but you certainly would want to be listed in the directory.  The same principle applies to having some form of web presence, however minimal.  Just don’t expect a web presence to suddenly transform your fundraising capabilities unless your not-for-profit organisation itself has an intrinsic affinity with the web (see, for example, the Youthnet case study, in part 6). 

The ongoing costs and effort involved in maintaining a decent web site can be considerable.  Your web site is unlikely to maintain your target audience’s interest unless you are keeping the site up to date and posting new items of interest at regular intervals.  The effort involved is analogous with running a regular newsletter.  The costs also have something in common with a newsletter; the higher the quality of production you seek, the more your site is likely to cost.  However, if you do not want or need “bells and whistles” the ongoing costs can be very low. 

The key messages are: think before you jump into the web and make sure that when you do get into it, you do so as a medium to long term investment based on defined objectives and measurable benefits.  And if you can’t afford a giant leap, try a small step.

Internet basics

Gaining access to the Internet (without establishing a presence of your own) is a pretty straightforward and low cost affair these days.  Most readers of this book will have been bombarded with free trial offers for Internet access through newspapers, magazines and direct mail.  If you have not tried Internet access before, there is a great deal to be said for using these free trials as a way of learning and having a go.  You will pay for (normally local rate) telephone calls but no more than that if you have "free access".  If nothing else, you can visit the research and resource web sites highlighted in this chapter.  If you are at a loss to know where to start researching other areas of interest, use search engine sites to help you;, and are some of the authors' favourites.

Most readers of this chapter presumably wish to have or rethink some form of web presence on the Internet as well as access to the Internet.   Once you have decided the purposes and benefits you are seeking from your web presence (see table 21.1) and your intended audiences (e.g. volunteers, supporters, beneficiaries, trade customers) you can make some decisions about the site's presentation and content.

The process of thinking through presentation and content is analogous to such a process when publishing in other media.  It usually makes sense for the person responsible for external communications and publishing generally to take responsibility for the decisions of this kind.  Key factors to bear in mind include:

  • What do you want your web site address to be? 
  • To what extent do you intend to promote your site?
  • Do you intend to do your own web design or employ someone to do it for web design?
  • Do you intend to sell goods over the site?
  • Will you accept advertising on the site from providers of software and services connected with the site? (which is often a good way to keep the costs)
  • Will you sell advertising on your site (even some small not-for-profit organisations have valuable name recognition which can make this a viable proposition).

Internet Service Provision and web site hosting

Unless you are quite a large not-for-profit organisation, you will almost certainly want to use another party to host your web site.  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) usually offer some form of hosting service, but do make sure you check that the ISP is offering the type of services you want at a price you can afford.  You do not have to use your ISP for web hosting, of course, although it can make your life easier to use a single supplier for your internet access and web hosting. 

Whoever you use, do make sure that you understand what you can and cannot do on your web space.  Some low price and free services forbid trading through their space, for example.  Others charge through the nose as soon as you want services outside the scope of the free or low cost service.  However, not-for-profit organisations with modest ambitions can usually get started for little or no outlay for web space.  At the time of writing there are many free hosting services (not just targeted at the not-for-profit sector), but those available to you might not offer the services you want and might insist on prominent advertising for themselves which you might not want in that form.  Look at Geocities (, Megspace ( and several aimed specifically at the not-for profit sector (find through

Changing ISP is not a difficult or traumatic affair when switching Internet access.  If you have been using a low cost / free "domestic style" service for access only and find that they are unable to offer you the services you now want at a price you can afford, your new ISP should be able to get you up and running quickly and easily.  It can be a little more tricky if you have an existing web site and wish to change hosting (see below)

Domain naming

Many hosting organisations will provide you with a site name linked to their domain, possibly free, but the site name can be a bit of a mouthful , such as   If you want your very own domain name, enabling you to have a site name such as, you will need to register your own domain name.  It's often cheaper to register your domain name through your ISP than it is to do it yourself.  It can cost you anything from £50 to £250 (yes really, the prices vary) as many ISPs bundle the costs into their service price, so you are effectively paying the costs over time for the service.  The costs increase if you are very keen to protect your name with multiple registrations (e.g.,, and 

If someone has already swiped your name, you might need to use your imagination a bit to choose a suitable domain name.  At the time of writing, all three letter combinations in conjunction with .com had already been snapped up and the four letter combinations were going fast!  You might be able to regain use of your swiped domain name if your name is a registered trademark and if you can afford the time and cost of a fight.  To be honest, as long as the site name is reasonably short and clearly identifies your organisation, that should be sufficient for most not-for-profit uses.


Next step to think about is the design.  Simple sites are very easy to produce.  Web browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator come with free web page editors that work fine for simple web pages.  It is possible to get more sophisticated web design software through the Internet free or cheap.  Look out for the phrases "freeware" and "shareware".  Freeware is software that the author has issued genuinely free of charge (often to get you used to the software and then entice you to buy the more sophisticated versions of the same software, sometimes due to pure altruism).  Shareware is software which you can try free of charge but which you are honour bound to pay for (usually a modest fee, say £10 to £100) if you like the software and wish to persevere with it.  Consider CoffeeCup and HotDog as two possible shareware choices. 

Commercial and straightforward web design products include Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamweaver.  Expect to shell out between £100 and £400 if you go this type of route.  The expenditure might well be worth it, however, especially if a fully functional and well documented product is going to save you lots of time and/or web design fees. 

Whichever web design product you use, you will probably want to add some fancy graphic images or resources.  Check out WebMonkey, and eFuse (to name but two) for information, sources and ideas. 

Alternatively, you might wish to use a web design company to design your site for you.  There are thousands to choose from and the resources listed above will provide you with more choice than you could possibly handle. lists many with not-for-profit sector experience, which might or might not be a good idea for you.  The initial cost might well be modest (say £200 to £400) but do bear in mind that you might well end up having to pay the designer to maintain the site for you if you do not cultivate those skills in house.  That might cost you £40 to £60 per hour, which can add up to real money every time you want to upload new events, causes, press releases, product details or volunteering information.  There really is little point in putting up a website unless you are committed to keeping it up to date and maintaining it.

Case Example The Actors' Workshop Website

This small charity works with young people in the Calderdale community, introducing many youngsters to drama as an alternative to trauma or troublemaking.  Run by one technophobic full time person (Mike Ward) and a large hoard of enthusiastic young people, there is hardly any money.  In-house skills are directed towards performing arts rather than web design (see also the mini case study in the chapter "Introduction").

Mike was approached by a small local web design company, Fizzbomb Design, who offered to design a web site for the workshop, have the site hosted by and maintain the site, all in return for prominent advertising and publicity.  Check out the site at  The site is simple but effective.  A site of this kind is within the means of most not-for-profit organisations, even if the organisation has to pay for the resources used to design and maintain it.

One of the more effective features of this site is the reviews section, where visitors can write and/or read reviews of shows.  This is an excellent way of getting the Actors' Workshop supporters to help keep content vibrant and topical.  See if you can spot the self-serving review by one of the authors of this book!!  Your not-for-profit organisation might have similar or analogous ideas which will help you to maintain interest in your site.

Changing the basics

Once your organisation is up and running, you nevertheless might want to change your set up.  For a start, you might have chosen an ISP and/or web host whose service seems flaky or whose service offering and/or price structures suddenly change in a way you don't like.  Or perhaps you have recently joined a not-for-profit organisation only to find that the Internet access and web presence are not to your liking but nobody quite knows who set it up or how it works.  We are coming across this problem regularly in smaller and medium-sized not-for-profits, especially where some or all of the services were provided as gifts in kind.  The checklist below sets out the basic questions you should ask and get answered in order to investigate and assess your web presence provision.

Assessing ISP and Web Hosting Provision - ISP and Web Site Hosting
Question Answer
Who is your ISP?
Who is hosting your web site?
To what extent was web site hosting linked to the domain name registration?
What period does the current hosting contract cover?
What is the disk capacity of the current subscription?
What was the cost of the current subscription?
Did your not-for-profit bear some or all of this cost?
Is it anticipated that your not-for-profit ill bear this cost in future?
Are there any significant limits to disk capacity available through this host
Assessing ISP and Web Hosting Provision - Domain Name Registration
Question Answer
Do you have your own domain name(s) or is/are your domain name(s) linked to your host?
Who registered the domain name(s)?
With/through whom were they registered?
Precisely what names have been registered?
For what period do the registrations apply?
What is the mechanism for maintaining registrations?
What has been paid for registrations?
Did your not-for-profit organisation bear this cost?
What is the anticipated cost of maintaining registrations?
Is it anticipated that your not-for-profit will bear this cost in future?
Assessing ISP and Web Hosting Provision - Web Site Design and Maintenance
Question Answer
Who designed the current web site?
Who is maintaining the current web site?
To what extent is web site maintenance linked to web site hosting?
What has been paid for such services to date?
Did your not-for-profit bear some or all of this cost?
Is it anticipated that your not-for-profit will bear this cost in future?
What software tools are in use for your not-for-profit's web site?
Are these tools readily available for standard PC's such as those in use at your not-for-profit?
If yes, what do such tools cost?
If the tools are not readily available or are prohibitively expensive to your not-for-profit, what would it take to convert your not-for-profit's site into a tool set that is readily available at low or no cost to your not-for-profit?

Changing web site host needs some planning and thought.  For a start, if you do not have your own domain name, you will have to change web site address.  You can redirect from your old address to your new one, but this usually involves some cost.  The thought process and issues are analogous with changing telephone number.  Your new web host ought to be able to solve these issues with you.  Even if you have your own domain name and a good new host, it can take an inordinate amount of time (and effort on the host's part) to get your domain switched over to the new host.  This is "not really your problem" if you have agreed a scope of work and fees, but we urge caution against promising your trustees "we shall be off that flaky service by such-and-such a date".

Beyond the basics

Whole books are being written on the fancy things you can do using Internet technologies, so we feel daunted trying to go too far beyond the basics in this practical tips chapter.  Chapter 24 explores the ideas that many of you should be thinking about in the immediate or near future.

Beyond the basics of Internet access, if you have several people in your office regularly accessing the Internet, you should consider installing a dedicated line to an ISP to reduce telephone charge costs and probably improve speed of access.  You can get started for as little as £400 to £600 installation cost and £3,500 to £5,000 per annum.  This might seem like a lot of money until you review your telephone bill and work out how much you might be spending on telephone calls several hours a day every working day.  If you are a larger not-for-profit with several people using the Internet at any one time, you are likely to want higher capacity so the costs shown above might double.  If you really are in the Internet-based information provision business, the costs might be yet higher, of course.  Very often, the increase in your Internet use coincides with an increase in your organisation's activity through its web presence, so it is often a good time to review the entirety of your Internet access and web hosting services provider(s).

As your site progresses, you will probably want the site to become increasingly interactive.  If you are looking after your own site, you will then need to pick up some tools and skills beyond those discussed in Getting started - design above.  For example, common gateway interface (CGI) scripts can be used to:

  • Add security to your site (e.g. to have a section of your site available only to registered volunteers).
  • Process forms (e.g. grant application forms).
  • Personalise content (e.g. showing supporters only those web pages that reflect their declared interests). 

Sites that will help you to learn more about making your web site more dynamic include, and

If you want to take donations over the web, you will need to get internet merchant status from your bank (can be painful) or use the services of a payment service provider (PSP).  There are several PSPs available at a price, including and  Several with not-for-profit sector experience are listed on  

If you want to move more down the road of electronic trading, do look before you leap.  You will need to invest considerable time and effort to get set up for full-blown electronic trading and there are very few not-for-profit organisations that are likely to generate sufficient trading revenues to justify the costs.  Chapter 24 discusses these aspects in more detail.


  • The Internet has emerged in the past few years, becoming a medium that not-for-profit organisations can no longer ignore.
  • As with all projects, consider your objectives, the scope of the project and the benefits you seek, don’t just jump on the bandwagon without thinking.
  • Make sure you understand the risks, rewards, costs and benefits of your choices.  In particular, don’t expect a web presence to transform your fundraising capabilities and do take into account the costs and effort involved in keeping your web site up to date and interesting.
  • Don’t ponder too much – if in doubt, do something cheap and simple and then take it from there.
  • It is not difficult or expensive to establish a basic Internet presence, especially if your initial ambitions are quite modest - resources available on the Internet itself will help you to get started.
  • Choose an ISP and web host capable of meeting your immediate and foreseeable needs, making sure you understand what it is likely to cost you.  Don't change suppliers for trivial reasons, but don't be afraid to change.
  • Either design your own site (perfectly feasible for many) or use a third party at modest cost for a basic site - most importantly remember that you will need procedures, time and or budgets for keeping the site up to date.
  • Explore going beyond the basics, especially into areas that link with your not-for-profit's specific activities.
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