Copyright: Internet-Fundraising.comSource: www.techsoup.org No American nonprofit has been more in the news over the past few months (Circa September 11th, 2001) than the American Red Cross. The controversy over September 11th fundraising may have deflected some attention to what was a stunning success in ePhilanthropy. We sat down with Phil Zepeda, the Red Cross’s manager for online giving, and explored ways in which online fundraising has changed for the organization, the challenges it faces going forward, and some of the lessons it’s learned — lessons that other nonprofits can apply to their Internet efforts.Internet-Fundraising.com: It has been a difficult and challenging time for the Red Cross over the last few months, to say the least — how has online fundraising fared?Phil Zepeda: Our success was really unprecedented. In February 2001, after India and El Salvador earthquakes that happened days apart, we had raised a record $2.5 million online in two and one-half weeks. That, for its time, was amazing. Since September 11, 2001, our Web initiatives have raised more than $67 million online (with Web partners like Amazon, AOL and Yahoo!). Our database of online supporters, which began in 1996, went from 30,000 names to more than 700,000 names in four months. Again, an unprecedented feat for us.IF: Has the Red Cross adjusted its message to online donors? What are the considerations online in terms of donor cultivation and the transparency of philanthropy?Zepeda: Our most recent campaign has been to thank our online donors for their generosity, sharing a message from a family directly affected by the disaster in New York and helped by the Red Cross. This campaign did not include any fundraising “ask”; our goal was donor appreciation and gratitude. The online fundraising world has changed and there is a new “world order.” I think that as we look to send out future campaigns we’ll see a shift in our online messaging that will tell donors the direct impact of their donations and provide follow up that their donations did, in fact, make a difference.IF: As the leading nonprofit online fundraiser in the world, do you believe that Sept. 11 has unlocked the door to ePhilanthropy in general, or was it more of a one-time phenomenon?Zepeda: It’s hard to say, but I know that the next major event that shocks the online community will provide insights to that. So many people gave money to organizations after September 11. Since they made these sometimes overly generous donations and made them in a time of a declining economy, donors to any agency may not be able to give as much as they gave for the September 11 events, even if they are much worse.IF: In your opinion, does online giving bring in a new group of donors to nonprofits, or does it merely replace direct marketing fundraising in a new medium?Zepeda: It’s a mixture of both. I think savvy organizations may try to move their direct marketing supporters to an online environment over time. At the same time, there are people who want to maintain their relationships with a nonprofit solely off-line. So many of our donors were first time donors. And we offer them options to different support channels: our national headquarters, disaster relief funds, or the local chapter. Red Cross NHQ may feel more comfortable maintaining an online relationship with them while a local Chapter gets the face time. It’s all a matter of approach.IF: Given your experience, what advice would you have for smaller nonprofits just getting involved in online fundraising?Zepeda: Examine online potential. Know that even this early on, the competition is fierce. So examine all online channels for reach. Look at the value of your brand and what it can bring.IF: What trends do you see in ePhilanthropy in the coming year?Zepeda: I think you’ll see more online newsletters, annual reports, information bulletins, breaking news-formatted e-mails than ever before. It may be difficult for the end user to cut through the noise. Spamming has really just begun.You’ll see much more accountability online – organizations showing how contributions made a difference. Donors have now come to expect that and may hold you liable if you don’t tell them outright. My advice is to serve it up: avoid biting the hand that feeds you.