The 9rules Network folks have launched a new network, called 9charities.

From the description:

9charities is a simple thing. Within the Network we will select 9 charities every year and help build their web presence and provide them with hosting. There will be a great combination of designers and developers working on each project so each one will be unique and hopefully I can convince them to document their process every step of the way so the development community gets something out of it. Over the next couple of weeks and months you will begin to see the charities that we have decided to work with and their projects rolling out.

It’s an interesting concept. Now that I’m working fulltime for a nonprofit organization that I’ve helped to develop from the ground up, (C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition – www.fightcolorectalcancer.org) I see this from both sides.

I do appreciate and applaud the effort of the 9rules/9charities folks. This isn’t criticism. We need more people and organizations getting together to think about how they can give back. It truly does take a village.

However, I have to wonder what kind of response this project has received from the nonprofit world at large. Have they asked? 

Many nonprofits already do have a web presence, even if it’s hobbled together. Many nonprofits have their email hosted with their domain, or worse get email @aol.com or @yahoo.com. What kind of package will 9charities put together? How will 9charities handle donations? How will 9charities handle volunteer management? How will 9charities handle database integration issues? How will 9charities handle event marketing? How will 9charities handle advocacy integration? How will 9charities handle ecommerce issues that are unique to nonprofit businesses? (just because you’re a nonprofit, doesn’t mean that you can’t sell stuff) These are things that I think about and deal with every day.

I am sure that 9charities will make beautiful, usable websites with lots of Web 2.0 goodness (blogs, forums, communities, RSS feeds, etc.) but a successful website is about content. It’s about knowing your constituency, listening to them and responding to them using culturally appropriate language and cues for the people you are talking to. The best thing I ever did for the C3 website wasn’t that I installed Movable Type. It was hiring Kate Murphy, a colorectal cancer survivor and advocate to be our in-house blogger for news and drafting Dusty Weaver to be our blogger for advocacy and teaching them how to use Movable Type. They are the ones who deliver our content week after week after week and they have helped grow our website from 30 visitors a day to over 300 visitors a day and counting in a few short months. Our donations, enewsletters and advocacy are all through GetActive. We’re also out in the community, doing our projects, building our connections…working our mission each and every day.

Our supporters know that doing what we do to turn cancer “victims” into cancer advocates is what they are paying for when they give us a donation. They expect us to spend their money wisely, but they also understand that doing it right is more important than doing it cheap or free. I’ll never turn down a donation of money or service, but I’ll pay for what we need to have in order to do our work effectively rather than ever feel I need to make the excuse, “but it was free!”

9rules/9charities can make a pretty house and feel good about it. But if they don’t know the neighborhood and they don’t take the time and effort to ask the residents what they really need and want, then that house will never be a home and you’ll still have homeless people begging on the street 4 blocks away. It’s not about how Web 2.0 a site is, or how brilliant technically the people are who build it…it’s about the content and the people who are working the mission. Writing for a website takes a lot of work and many charities with the best intentions, the most noble missions and the best heart just can’t do it. I hope the 9charities folks are looking at the big picture. I hope they’re spending time at TechSoup, Network for Good, NTen, Idealist, Guidestar, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, ServiceLeader.org among the many, many organizations and sites already in this space.

Building a nonprofit online community is not like building a typical website. You have to speak to many different constituencies at the same time…the people you’re trying to help, the people you’re trying to engage (which may not be the same people you’re trying to help), potential individual funders, potential grantmakers, Board members, other nonprofits and then the world at large. And then there are legal implications around your 501(c) status. At C3, we’re not experts by any stretch. I’m the only one on staff devoted to these issues and I’m doing it in between my other duties as Operations Director but I’m learning. As a matter of fact, it looks like my title may be evolving to Director of Operations and Communications since this is such an integral part of our success…or a major barrier to overcome, depending on what time it is when you ask.

Please don’t think that simply giving away something is all you need to do to provide a service to the nonprofit world. Be very, very selective about the designers and developers you connect with the charities. Look at the charity’s mission and long-term goals. Examine their 990 form and see who is on their Board of Directors and ask them what their plans are for the future. Do they have a plan for the future besides a vague “I want world peace” idea? Will your website work well for the organization when they have a database of 10,000? 100,000? It’s not just about hits and pageviews. It’s about capacity, both online and off. Is the charity just a good idea with good heart, or are they truly positioned to make a difference in the world? If the attention the website will get on the network leads to a Slashdot effect, does the charity have the infrastructure to handle the calls/emails and respond appropriately to the constituency they’re trying to serve?

Just some points to ponder…and if you’re considering a charity to blog for…remember, March is colorectal cancer awareness month. The next cancer patient we educate about diagnosis and treatment…the next patient advocate who uses our materials and assistance to make a difference…just may be someone you love. www.fightcolorectalcancer.org

P.S. They might start by opening the 9rules network to already existing nonprofit blogs. 9charities is not reinventing the wheel here. I would certainly apply for our colorectal cancer news & events blog I mentioned above…which is one of the few actively updated, patient-written and patient-centered only-on-colorectal cancer blogs that I’ve ever been able to find.

And if you want to do it right
(in my opinion)…here’s a good example to follow.


5 responses to “9charities”

  1. Hey Judi, thanks for the entry!

    Right now we get free, dedicated servers from our hosting partner (mt) Media Temple, and we’ve been discussing with our people over there about similar deals for the non-profit organizations we work with (if they need new hosting, otherwise we can work from their current servers.)

    We’ve been talking with various non-profit organizations around the world and they’re really excited to have 9charities up and running. Many of our members (who are part of 9charities teams) are active in their own communities and have non-profit orgs with whom they are already strongly involved, so this is merely an extension of the good work they already do for local charitable organizations.

    I totally agree with not diving in and only providing half solutions, as that is the #1 thing we don’t want to do. We won’t be installing blogs on sites that wouldn’t benefit from them, and in the same vein we won’t be using PHP when ASP or .Net is already in use and working well. Our priority is helping out and not just changing things around for no reason, so I’m sure we’ll be learning a lot as we move forward 🙂

    Thanks again!


  2. 9charities: Trying To Give Back

    I talk with my guys at 9rules a lot about the big picture. Right now many people see 9rules as a blog network, however we never really saw it as that even when we dreamed the idea up about one…

  3. Thanks, Mike. I’m glad you took my entry in the spirit it was intended…supportive. I’m looking forward to your team members’ blogs as they go so I may learn more. This industry is far more complex and interesting than I ever gave it credit for when I was doing freelance work.

    And when I had to move the C3 domain quickly a few weeks ago, I was torn between whether to go with Pair.com or MediaTemple. Both have excellent reputations. In the end, I decided on Pair because their accounts had more features and I was more familiar with their administrative back end. But you typically hear very little negative press about (mt) and I know they’ll do a great job for the sites they’ll host.