We’re focusing on non-profits and charities on Read/WriteWeb this week, and with that in mind, we decided to take a look at what web-based tools exist to make running and organizing a non-profit or charity organization easier. It turns out, there are many of them.

We’ve organized the cream of the crop into the tool kit presented below. It’s likely that we missed some tools that could be used by charities, non-profit organizations, or other groups to run their online operations, so please feel free to leave your favorite sites for this type of work in the comments.

Creating a Website

Obviously the first thing you’ll need when bringing your non-profit organization online is a web site. Grassroots.org offers free web hosting and web design services to non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, their offerings are not very up-to-date (i.e., it appears their free hosting does not support PHP or any other server-side scripting language), and 100MB of file space might not get you very far if you plan to build a thriving community.

Hosting, however, is a fairly cheap commodity, so what you’re really interested in here is building your site. Blogging platforms like WordPress and MovableType are great, free software on which to run community or information web sites. But the number of blogging platforms and content management systems is too great to list here. Check out OpensourceCMS to test drive a bunch of open source CMS, blogs, groupware, wiki, and forum tools.

The Non-Profit Soapbox is a content management system designed specifically for non-profit organizations. Helpful tools like event calendars and constituent relationship management come already baked in.

Getting the Word Out

What good is a web site that no one knows about? A great way to get the word out about your charity is to leverage the power of existing social networks. By creating profiles and groups on networks like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, you can potentially reach millions of people. Even those that don’t donate money can be educated about your cause.

Care2 is a social network built around social change. It’s a great place to create a group for your organization and gain access to the nearly 7.8 million members who are perhaps more likely be to receptive to social or progressive causes.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try to create your own social network using Ning. Ning isn’t the only hosted create-your-own social networking platform out there, but it is certainly one of the most powerful. It powers a number of enterprise social networking deployments for large companies and can probably handle anything you throw at it.

If your non-profit is accredited in the US, make sure you’re listed on the GuideStar web site, which powers the databases of major charity networks like Change.org.

Raising Money

One of the primary directives of a non-profit organization is to raise money. For accedited US non-profits Firstgiving (which we profiled yesterday), makes it easy for members of your organization to set up donation pages and collect donations from friends, family, colleagues — or total strangers. Non-profit groups can also use the service to manage fund drives of their own.

Fundable and ChipIn are two other fundraising web applications that work very well for charities that are not accredited non-profit organizations.

There are a large number of for-pay payment processing solutions — many of which include offline software packages as part of the product. PaySimple is one of the more affordable packages, costing not too much more than a normal merchant account. Blackbaud is one of the more well-known enterprise solutions for non-profit fundraising (they offer other services as well, such as CRM).

Keeping in Touch

Once you’ve got members flowing into your organization, you need to keep in touch with them and engage them on a regular basis to keep them motivated, interested, and giving. One great way to do that is via email lists. Google Groups, Yahoo! Groups, and Topica all offer free email discussion list solutions that your organization can take advantage of.

CicleUp is a unique service that lets you broadcast messages and gather information from groups over email, AOL Instant Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. The service is free and has some unique call and response features that can truly engage you with your membership. CitizenSpeak, meanwhile, provides free tools for groups to create email action campaigns.

On the pay side, there are a large number of email mailing list management services. Groundspring.org is specifically aimed at non-profit groups and offers a fairly good deal. Idealware has a good overview of email list tools available for organizations.

Meet in Person

Online interactions are all well and good, but sometimes you want to get together with people in person and debate an issue. Meetup is one of the easiest ways to make that happen. Organizations have used the site since 2002 to organize in person meetings across the United States and build grassroots movements from the ground up.

Finding Volunteers

As your organization grows, it will be harder to keep things in order without help. Volunteers are key to almost any non-profit group’s success, but finding them isn’t always easy. VolunteerMatch is like a dating service for finding the perfect volunteers for your organization. Also consider creating a profile on Idealist.org, which will then allow you to post jobs, volunteer opportunities, and internships available at your organization.

Keeping Track of Everyone

Of course, now that your organization is brimming with volunteers, it is bound to be getting harder to keep track of everyone. A number of database tools are available to help your organization keep track of your constituents, volunteers, and donors. Organizers Database (downloadable) and CiviCRM (web-based) are two open source solutions that you can try out. CiviCRM benefits from integration into the Joomla and Drupal content management systems.

WildApricot is a hosted, for-pay membership management service aimed at non-profit organizations. It’s free for databases of up to 50 contacts. [Note: WildApricot is a R/WW sponsor]Kintera is one of the more well-known software solutions, and has been used by large organizations, such as the Jimmy Fund and Amnesty International. (Kintera also offers a number of other services, such as event management and email marketing.)

It’s a good idea to use a groupware tool like Basecamp to keep in touch with your core team. Good communication between the top brass in your charity will help to make sure everything you do goes off without a hitch.

Measuring Your Success

With your web site up, it would be great to know how many people are visiting it. Google Analytics may be one of the best free, hosted web analytics services on the Internet. I’ve recently started using it on all of my sites and have been very pleased with the depth of the reporting that it provides, and comparing it to other stat tracking services I have running on my properties, it appears to be pretty accurate in its reporting.

Another Google service, Feedburner, will help you keep on top of the number of people reading your organizations news via RSS.

All In One Solutions

CivicSpace is an all in one solution for non-profit groups. Their service covers everything from creating and managing a web site, to promotion, fundraising, membership tracking, and email list management. Convio offers a very similar service aimed primarily at larger groups. Indeed, Convio has been used by the world’s largest charity (in terms of cash assets), the American Red Cross. Finally, Democracy in Action provides a full suite of management tools called “Salsa” that cover CRM, event management, fundraising and more.

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