EDITORIAL: The third sector must exploit the power of the net

LUCY MAGGS

Transparency and accountability are vital for voluntary organisations often handling large amounts of donors' money. The Performance and Innovation Unit is looking at ways this could be improved in the sector. The threat hanging over voluntary organisations is that if they don't become more accountable themselves, some kind of external regulation will be inflicted on them.

The internet can be a useful and efficient tool for communicating with donors, beneficiaries and the rest of the public, but the sector has been slow to pick up on its potential. Government figures last year showed that only 49 per cent of organisations used the internet to promote their cause and a sector-led taskforce was set up to try and help exploit the medium more effectively.

A recent report showed that charity web sites cost more to create than the revenue they bring in. The top 500 fundraising organisations raised £1,250 each on average a year, compared with average development costs of £4,000. But a web site, like any fundraising tool, is an investment.

Charities should also remember that the net can be more than a fundraising and PR tool. Online communities or chat rooms can provide an area for clients to exchange information about a mutual interest or share problems.

The office of the E-Envoy has £4 billion to spend on getting the UK online but the sector has seen little of this. Any that has gone to the sector has been in the form of grants to support projects of individual organisations. The internet taskforce has argued that there is a need for a coherent strategy to get the sector using the medium to its full potential.

The Government could provide funding and support to get this under way.

But although the Active Community Unit and the office of the E-Envoy said they supported the internet taskforce when it was launched, they haven't yet put their money where their mouth is.

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