E-giving explosion - charity takes off on the Web

Donating, mobilizing, organizing, awareness-raising - the Internet has become one of the most effective channels for connecting people to causes

Canada may have been the first industrialized country to reject funding a drug that treats the severest form of the most common type of vision loss in the developed world, were it not for a quickly-assembled Web campaign from the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

The Toronto-based charity turned to e-activist 2.0 in a bid to engage Canadians in a letter-writing campaign to convince the Common Drug Review board to reverse a decision to not recommend funding of Lucentis. The drug is the best known treatment for wet advanced macular degeneration (AMD).

The software helped CNIB make an effective and direct connection with Canadians, says Julia Morgan, project manager for the "Right to Sight" campaign.

"I think our campaign might have had an influence of shining more light on the issue and getting the board to take another look at their decision," she said. Canadians devoted to the cause wrote a total of 8,000 letters to provincial and federal health ministers.

It was March 28, nearly four months after the board's rejection of funding for the drug, when it reversed its decision. It meant free access to the drug for all Canadians who needed it.

The success of the campaign that was pulled off with a piece of software illustrates a shift in the way charities are operating.

Just as many businesses are moving their operations to the Web, charities are also looking to take advantage of the cyber world to advance their causes.

The impact has been very encouraging and includes faster fundraising and accelerated advocacy.

The CNIB is one of 24 charities in Canada, and 70 around the globe, that have used e-activist 2.0 software from London, UK-based Advocacy Online to run a Web campaign. The software has become very popular in the last two years, says Graham Covington, the managing director.

"We get anywhere from three to four Web inquiries a week," he says. "It's definitely reaching a bigger audience now."

E-activist was developed out of "the sheer frustration of trying to organize grassroots advocacy without the Internet," Covington adds. Low-tech methods of communicating with supporters meant having conversations one at a time, and left no way to track actions.

The software arms a charity with the tools needed to influence government policy. Campaign organizers create actions for supporters to follow and can track when an action has been completed.

A database is provided of all members of Parliament, and members of Provincial Parliament or members of Legislative Assembly. Form letters created by the organizers can be modified by each advocate, and sent to a targeted politician. Each letter addresses a politician personally, and makes an argument based on their known point-of-view.

"It's good for people to customize their letters and write their own letters," Morgan says. Research has shown politicians are more likely to respond to personalized letters rather than repetitious cookie-cutter letters.

Being able to view the letters written was also a great way for the campaign to learn more about their advocates, she says.

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