IT for the community affairs manager

Alison Gulliford

 

Posted in: Technology & Innovation

IT for the community affairs manager

June 01, 2000

In her second article on the impact of IT, Alison Gulliford asks where the real value-added for community affairs managers lies

How does IT really change the community affairs role? We e-mail where we phoned or faxed; we automate processes like replying to funding requests, storing grants data, tracking trends and computing totals. But there are other emerging areas of real value-add worth a brief look:

Newswires

CSR has spawned a fast-growing market in internet newswires, many generated by NGOs, so with a particular slant. Some address the company, and summarise media stories across a range of topics (San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility); some tailor stories to a segment of the corporate audience (the BT/BITC Business Impact news service targets UK companies, with a special focus on SMEs). Some mix news with the NGO’s own programmes (EBNSC focuses on Europe, Worldaware and the PWBLF on developing markets). For a wider take, you can subscribe to newswires from the World Bank, UN, http://www.oneworld.org, http://www.envirolink.com, the list is endless – unlike your time, unfortunately.

Then there are campaigning organisations reporting on companies – well worth monitoring for an understanding of threats to corporate reputation. They include http://www.greenpeace.org, http://www.foe.co.uk, http://www.forestwatch on the environment, http://www.corpwatch.org,http://www.sweatshopwatch.org, on social issues like human rights. Don’t underestimate company-specific campaigns: McSpotlight campaigners spawned new sites as fast as McDonald’s tried to close them.

Research

We wonder how we managed without the internet for researching partner organisations, government policy, legal changes. Some sites worth knowing about for the US are http://www.guidestar.org – a database of 620,000 US NGOs, http://www.grantmatch.com, another US database service, with opportunities for companies to post requests for proposals, http://www.internationaldonors.org connecting companies with mutual interests with each other. Then there’s http://www.netaid.org which raises awareness about poverty and provides ways for companies to get involved in projects on human rights, debt cancellation etc. Netaid was developed by KPMG , with Cisco Systems and the UN Development Programme.

Communicating externally

BSR in April found 61% of the Fortune 100 companies reported their charitable activities on websites. SustainAbility in 1998 found just 10 of 150 corporate sites worldwide reported on their economic, social and environmental impacts. Both have recommendations for improvements; sites praised include http://www.unilever.com, http://www.internationalpaper.com, http://www.co-perativebank.co.uk, http://www.bms.com.

It is important to make the most of the internet’s distinctive characteristics – encourage dialogue with your audience, link them to other sites of interest. Shell’ s site is still one of the best examples – it receives over 3,000 responses each month, publishes critics’ viewpoints and links to their sites. BP Amoco plans to post individual company reports online, reinforcing its ‘global and local’ presence.

Also, make sure it’s interesting – Peter Knight points out that many companies cover what they want to say, ignoring what the audience wants to know – he criticises

http://www.exxon.com and http://www.nestle.com, plus http://www.cocacola.com for uncharacteristic dullness. And think about the web-based campaign, http://www.savebenandjerrys.com which highlighted corporate values and sought to protect a distinctive corporate ethos. Unilever ‘s subsequent takeover included promises to maintain this.

Communicating internally

Almost three-quarters of companies surveyed in the US now use intranets as their chief means of delivering information to employees. BP Amoco, the FI Group and Cisco all aim to link employee volunteers to NGO partners and encourage more interchange on lessons learned. Companies are now investigating regular news feeds to keep their site relevant and interactive. There are also UK sites to facilitate volunteering – http://www.bbc.co.uk/timebank, http://ww.thesite.org.

Cause-related marketing and contributions

The internet is frontline in cause-related marketing. Some free internet service providers pay charities a percentage of the money they collect from each user call – examples are Care4free (http://www.care4free.co.uk). Also http://www.4u2give.co.uk. For environmental charities, try http://www.care2.com‘s free search engine and e-mail service. It raises money from ads placed on its site and donates to environmental charities each time the site is visited.

A neat example of CRM on an e-commerce site is http://www.bluecycle.com,an internet auction site funded by the insurers CGU . It has pledged one per cent of turnover to the independent bluecycle trust, which funds work to address the causes of crime – this responds not just to CGU’s core business, but also the high risk of fraud on internet auction sites.

Perhaps the best known e-commerce site is http://www.greatergood.com a virtual US shopping centre where companies allow users to donate their purchase commission- between 5 and 15 per cent of the purchase price – to charities. In return, the charities promote the site to their donors, so hopefully driving more traffic to the site, and thus business, and thus donations. In February, GreaterGood bought the well-known ‘click to give’ site, http://www.thehungersite.com where companies advertise and give half a cent to the UN’s World Food Programme for every daily visitor who clicks on the ‘give free food’ button. Since the site’s opening in June 1999, companies taking part have made nearly 80 million donations, so generating around 1,200 tons of food. Greatergood estimates 80% of online purchases will include a charitable giving component by 2002.

Now the UK has its own version – http://www.free2give.co.uk, where charities can receive donations and a share in 20% of the company’s equity, should the company be floated.

Click-to-give sites may require little thought on the part of the visiting donor, losing the benefits of a long-term relationship – see Chris Staples’ ‘Speaking out’ article later in this edition for some healthy scepticism about the strong impulse to reach for the word ‘partnership’ at this point! But these sites do enable companies to reach a wider audience through association with charity brands. They simply adapt the practice of affiliation – paying commission for a referral to your site – to a cause. There is a wealth of sites growing up by theme (cancer, hunger, etc) and different models evolving – http://www.relievehunger.com, http://www.onGiving.com, http://www.prizewindow.com, http://www.shop2give.com, http://www.iGive.com. NGOs benefit from high traffic to corporate sites too – Yahoo ! and the American Red Cross forged a successful online partnership to raise money for Kosovo.

Venture philanthropy

Finally, there is the rising genre of the venture philanthropist, where companies do for NGOs what venture capitalists do for businesses – it gains a place here because it is especially beloved of Silicon Valley and often involves bringing an e-commerce perspective to company/NGO relationships – as in some of the above examples. There is a guide and signposts to useful sites on http://www.fdncenter.org.

Sharing companies’ IT resources

Which of course brings us to the strategic contribution companies can make to NGOs’ capacity by facilitating internet access or IT training. A vast subject, introduced in my last article – but a fitting close to this piece, as it sums up both the strengths and limitations of IT- often overlooked in breathless speeches about bridging the ‘digital divide’. It is still the quality of personal contact that will make all the difference to the value a person or organisation derives from the internet – whether it’s comparing notes on progress and problems, ironing out technical difficulties – the successful corporate programme will always need people as well as technology.

(1) Searching for http://www.corporate.social.responsibility, BSR Corporate Philanthropy report 4/00

(2) Time for a brighter shade of green, by Peter Knight, FT 18/4/00

(3) Survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide of 295 companies, cited in Wall Street Journal 7/3/00

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 52 – June, 2000

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