Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Long non-profit Tail

An online-giving clearinghouse called Network for Good recently compiled statistics on online contributing trends in the U.S. (which you can download free here by providing a valid email address). Most of their points are yawners by now -- online contributing is rising rapidly, online donors are generally younger than check-writing donors, big disastors inspire surges of online donations -- but they also note that charitable contributions are yet another example of Chris Anderson's "Long Tail".

That's the phenomenon, most obvious in the music industry and television and book publishing, of sales curves flattening out as online selling empowers consumers in the way that it turns out we always wanted. Mass media become less and less "mass" as it gets easier for people to buy music by little-known unpromoted groups; services like iTunes have essentially no marginal inventory costs so they can offer far vaster inventories for sale than record stores ever have.

Anderson explains it better than I do but it accurately describes more and more of our economy, and Network for Good says we can add online donating to the list. Online giving "follows a classic long-tailed distribution, with a few well-known organizations receiving half of donations but thousands of smaller or lesser-known organizations combining to account for an equal amount of giving." That last part is definitely not true of traditional charitable giving, and suggests that online fundraising is making it easier to build up a new or small non-profit. For that to be true, though, requires the searchable-online-clearinghouse function that Amazon provides for book-lovers; Network for Good is of course attempting to fill that role.

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