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The Web Turns 25 - How Has It Impacted Non-profits and Membership Organizations?

Lori Halley 12 March 2014 4 comments

Did you know that the World Wide Web turns 25 on March 12, 2014?
Although we take the Web for granted, this anniversary offers an opportunity to look at the impact it has had on all of us - including non-profits and membership organizations.

Where it all began

The concept behind what we know as the Internet today began on March 12, 1989 when Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper: Information Management: A Proposal. The “information management” system that Berners-Lee proposed “became the conceptual and architectural structure for the Web. ...The Web became especially appealing after Web browsers were perfected in the early 1990s to facilitate graphical displays of pages on those linked computers.” (Pew Research)

To mark the 25th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web, Pew Research Center’s Internet Project worked in association with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Project to develop a number of reports “about the future of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, the “internet of things,” and net neutrality.”

Looking back at the early years

If you are curious about the early days of the Internet, here are some stats reported in Elon University’s Imagining the Internet's Quick Look at the Early History of the Internet: 

  • In 1996, there were approximately 45 million people using the internet.
  • By 1999, the number of worldwide internet users reached 150 million, and more than half of them were from the United States.
  • In 2000, there were 407 million users in 218 of the 246 countries in the world.
  • By 2002, there were between 600 and 800 million users (counting has become more and more inexact as the network has grown, and estimates vary).

How does this compare?

Imagining the Internet offers some great examples of how the acceptance and meteoric growth of the Internet compares to other media vehicles.  They note:

It took 38 years for radio to get a market of at least 50 million users; it took television 13 years to achieve 50 million users; and once it was open to the general public, it is estimated that it took just four years for the internet to achieve 50 million users.

How has the Web changed life as we know it?

It’s hard to imagine life without the Web these days. But as the usage stats above suggest, the Web’s impact wasn’t immediate. Pew Research reminds us that it’s ultimate power was driven by the emergence of Three Technology Revolutions.

Here’s a look at the “three major technology revolutions" identified by Pew Research as impacting digital technology:


First, the rise of the internet changed the way that people got information and shared it with each other...The speed of internet connectivity picked up considerably with the rise of broadband ...higher-speed, always-on connections”.


Second, mobile connectivity through cell phones, and later smartphones and tablet computers, made any time-anywhere access to information ... have changed the way people think about how and when they can communicate and gather information by making just-in-time and real-time encounters possible. They have also affected the way people allocate their time and attention.


Third, the rise of social media and social networking has affected the way that people think about their friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. ...The new reality is that as people create social networks in technology spaces, those networks are often bigger and more diverse than in the past. ... One of the major impacts was that the traditional boundaries between private and public, between home and work, between being a consumer of information and producer of it were blurred.

What was the impact on non-profits and membership organizations?

Broadband, high-speed opened new communications channels
I’ve read so many articles and blog posts about how difficult it is for organizations to compete for their members’ or supporters’ attention amid the multitude of emails and websites. But it’s important to remember that in the past, small non-profits and membership organizations that couldn’t afford traditional advertising (e.g., radio, TV, magazine or outdoor advertising), often couldn’t get their message out to the masses at all!

Back in the “good old days” before email and mobile access, we used to manage “mailing lists”, print newsletters or event notices, then print labels and stuff envelopes in order to get information into our members' and supporters' hands. Now organizations have many communications channel options including: email, text, websites, social media, video, and more. We can also offer online newsletters, blogs, forums, share photos and videos to tell our stories like never before!

Not only can folks find our organizations online, but high-speed Internet has made managing members and supporters so much easier as well. Instead of having contact or member lists on multiple spreadsheets, these are managed online  - with members joining, updating their profiles and renewing memberships online, so directories and databases are always up-to-date. The same goes for online donation platforms, where supporters can make donations through secure online payment processing (no need to mail checks or receipts), and non-profits and charities can manage and track their fundraising data online as well.

Mobile keeps us all connected - anywhere, anytime
Mobile access has introduced some challenges for organizations in terms of responsive design for websites and thinking about ways in which we offer up information. But it also means that members and supporters can connect with organizations whenever they want and wherever they are.  It has also opened doors for initiatives such as “text-to-donate”.

Social media introduced new ways of sharing, liking, recommending and following
With the advent of social media, we’ve gained numerous  new platforms for connecting, liking, sharing, recommending and promoting our organizations. The key challenge is to tailor our messages and content to suit these unique social platforms and finding the resources to keep communication relevant and fresh.

Coming of age

Most of us - especially Millennials who are digital natives - don’t really think about “the Internet” or "the Web" any more than we can imagine life without our Smartphones or tablets. We simply live our lives online. But the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web serves to remind us that we need to appreciate and take advantage of all of the opportunities the Internet affords us to connect with our friends, family, supporters and members.

Happy 25th Birthday World Wide Web!

Want more on the Web at 25?

How has the Internet changed the way you communicate with your members or supporters? What’s the key impact for your organization?  Let us know in the comments below.

Image source:  Binary stream - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:30 AM


  • Michael J. Rosen, CFRE said:

    Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 9:15 PM
    I'm someone who is definitely in touch with his inner nerd. So, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thanks!
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:47 AM
    Michael: So glad you found it interesting.
  • Adam Weinger said:

    Monday, 17 March 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Thanks for posting this! I didn't know it was the internet's birthday, and really enjoyed your article. It's fun/crazy/dizzying to think about what life was like before we were all so connected online.

    In addition to the multitude of platforms for nonprofits to reach their donors, the web has also inspired a range of online tools to make the job easier. I'm most excited about these, as they can (and already do) really change the way we USE the internet!

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 10:25 AM
    Adam: It is indeed hard to imagine our world without the internet! We wouldn't have blogs such as this and as you note, online tools such as web-based membership management software, for example - that save countless hours and enable us to connect with members and supporters!
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