Action Without Borders/Idealist.org
By Suzann W. Lupton
Graduate Student, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
Action Without Borders is an organization dedicated to “connecting people, organizations and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives” (Idealist.org). Action Without Borders carries out this mission using a Web site, Idealist.org. The site is a treasure-trove of information and resources for nonprofit and community organizations, donors and individuals. The site contains information gathered from over 50,000 nonprofit and community organizations in over 165 countries.
Thousands of visitors a day use the site, many seeking information about nonprofit employment and volunteer opportunities. As the name Action Without Borders suggests, the Idealist Web site is designed to facilitate cross-border connections. Individuals have easy access to information about domestic and foreign groups and efforts. International organizations are not segregated by country or geographic region but are presented alongside domestic counterparts. Visitors to the site can easily learn about and connect with individuals and organizations outside their usual circle of contacts and resources.
At the age of twenty-four, Ami Dar began to wonder how to make productive and meaningful connections between groups and people interested in working for the public good. Several years after the Israeli came to America, he was introduced to the Internet and immediately recognized its power to give people access to information and to one another, especially those with limited resources (Carnegie 2003).
Dar, who was heading the US subsidiary of Aladdin Systems, an Internet and software security company, discovered that there was no one place to find information about nonprofit organizations. Dar and a small team of individuals created a database of over 2,500 Web sites and organized them by geographic location and focus area. He launched a Web site with this information in September 1995 and called it Action Without Borders (Carnegie 2003).
Then, inspired by the ways that many for-profit organizations used interactive features on their Web sites to provide better, faster and more useful information to their customers, Dar and his founding group redesigned the site. The change allowed organizations to enter information about themselves, their mission and job and volunteer opportunities they wished to fill. The site was renamed Idealist.org.
Despite early struggles, particularly the challenge of helping foundations and funding sources understand what Idealist.org could accomplish; the Web location has become one of the biggest connection points for non-profits and civically active individuals from across the globe. The site operates in a growing number of languages, including English, Spanish and French (Idealist.org).
Idealist.org provides a virtual town square where organizations and individuals can connect, share resources, and find help. The site is egalitarian in design and global in reach. Individuals and groups of all sizes can take advantage of its resources.
There are several “communities” on the Idealist site, with message boards and specifically tailored Web pages serving numerous groups. Some examples include:
Kids and Teens: This section gives a kid-friendly overview of the site and resources to help students make a difference. It includes links that explore organizations in the areas of human rights, nature, music, animals, politics, and that kids can do to make a difference in these areas.
Nonprofit Job Seekers: Valuable resources from resume writing tips, fellowships in nonprofit work to salary surveys. This is in addition to searchable job posting, nonprofit career fairs and opportunities abroad.
Volunteers: Numerous volunteer opportunities can be found, as well as links to other helpful sites.
Nonprofit Managers: Information to starting a nonprofit, fundraising, recruiting and managing interns, and technology for nonprofits.
College Students, Staff and more: A virtual meeting place for students, campus staff and administrators, alumni, and community members who are making the world a better place through service, activism, advocacy, political engagement, and socially responsible work.
In addition, Idealist.org hosts a wealth of columns, interviews and news articles related to the nonprofit sector and related issues.
Technology, particularly the Internet, has become a powerful tool for marketing, outreach, advocacy and fundraising. For-profit entities and larger nonprofits are able to put this tool to use to build markets for their products and services, educate target audiences and recruit skilled personnel. Most community organizations understand that to remain visible and competitive, an effective Internet presence is increasingly necessary (Te'eni & Young 2003). Scholars even observe that effective social activism may require organizations and activists to use technology, particularly the Internet, effectively (Dighe 2002).
Yet, many nonprofit and community organizations—smaller groups and local initiatives, in particular—struggle to make effective use of the advantage the Internet can offer (Salamon 2002). Creating and maintaining a meaningful presence on the Web can require significant investment. In addition to the cost of hardware and software, an effective Web site requires trained individuals to constantly monitor the site to assure that it is working and that its content is updated and relevant. Even if an organization is able to make this investment and produce and maintain a site, many groups still struggle to succeed in the virtual world. Because of the way that most Internet search engines are designed, organizations without name recognition or significant numbers of regular visitors are unlikely to turn up near the top of search lists.
Idealist.org helps level the playing field. Organizations of all sizes and resources are able to use the site not just to learn but also to share information and seek assistance. Idealist.org gives visitors the opportunity to post information about themselves, their interests and needs. This means that organizations—even those without their own Web sites—may have a presence on the Web. Additionally, because Idealist.org is a central clearinghouse, registered groups connected to the Idealist.org site do not need to rely on the fortuity of a potential employee, volunteer or donor "finding" them through a search engine. Through Idealist.org, even the smallest non-profit and community organization can have a presence on the Internet and take advantage of the Web’s power and reach to promote their mission and work.
One of the most significant roles that Idealist.org plays is that of virtual placement agency. This feature succeeds in part because of interactive features that make it easy for individual visitors and organizations to quickly locate information most relevant to their specific needs and interests. Because the site is built on an enormous database, people looking for information can search broadly or narrowly for the opportunities that interest them. Organizations can post their events, job openings, internships, volunteer opportunities, and resources, and people can search by any combination of type, geographical location, area of interest, keyword.
Thus, rather than finding every employment opportunity in Illinois, for example, a visitor can learn about every employment opportunity with a food bank in Illinois or every opportunity in the Springfield, Illinois area. The information is manageable and useful. In addition to searching job postings, job-seekers may fill out a volunteer profile and place themselves in an applicant pool that organizations can search as volunteer needs arise. Organizations can also locate consultants through the system and post requests for proposals.
By its design, Idealist.org is encouraging a globalization of non-profit organizations and community initiatives. A visitor to the site can learn about groups and opportunities located in over 165countries (Idealist.org). A search of the site for information about organizations devoted to women's rights, for example, is just as likely to pull up information posted by a small group in Ecuador as it is to find a posting from a large, well-known organization in New York City. By presenting information from all organizations in a single place, rather than segregating them by country or geographic region, the site emphasizes that social problems are not limited by geographic and political boundaries. Groups with similar interests are also easily able to identify like-minded organizations around the world. By facilitating these introductions, Idealist.org is also encouraging international collaboration.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The statistics on the Idealist.org Web site are impressive and display the important role the site plays in connecting people, ideas and opportunities. As of November 2005, the site contained information on:
- 49,833 organizations in 147 countries
- 4,384 current job postings
- 1,336 internships
- 10,654 volunteer opportunities
Also impressive are the visitor statistics:
- 863,933 people visitors during the month of October 2005.
- Through the Idealist.org portal, these visitors went on to view 8,847,769 separate pages of material.
- The site is linked to the Web pages of 6,390 other organizations.
In addition to posting jobs, Idealist.org organizes nonprofit career fairs in locations around the country. The site recently added a resource to match consultants with expertise in various aspects of nonprofit operations and management with organizations seeking such specialized assistance. Finally, by registering with the "MyIdealist.org" program, individuals and organizations can receive a daily e-mail providing information about jobs, internships, employment opportunities, event and general news. Each message contains only information relevant to the criteria that the registered member provided.
Key Related Ideas
Globalization: The integration of economic, cultural, political and social systems across geographical and political borders.
Interactive: Two or more forces that influence one another, or, in the sense of a computer or other electronic device, allow a two-way flow of information between it and a user. An interactive computer program that responds to the user’s input (Oxford English Dictionary, Concise Virtual Edition).
Search Engine: A computing a program for the retrieval of data, files, or documents from a database or network, especially the Internet (Oxford English Dictionary, Concise Virtual Edition).
Virtual: In the sense of a computer or other electronic device, not physically existing, but made by software to appear to do so (Oxford English Dictionary, Concise Virtual Edition).
Important People Related to the Topic
- Ami Dar (1961): Founder and Executive Director of Action Without Borders and Idealist.org. Dar was born in Israel and raised in Peru and Mexico, where he witnessed significant poverty. He served as a paratrooper in Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon. Dar credits these experiences with inspiring his drive to create ways for people to work collectively to improve their lives (Carnegie). Now a resident of the United States, he founded Action Without Borders in 1995.
- MyIdealist.org subscribers: In 2005, over 300,000 people subscribed as individual members of the Idealist.org on-line community. These members each registered personal information with Idealist.org and receive personalized e-mails containing information and opportunities that match their self-identified interests.
- Stern Family Fund: This foundation provided crucial early funding to Action Without Borders through the fund’s Pioneer Grant program and additional support. (http://aladdin.com/news/2000/corp/idealist.asp).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy, www.philanthropy.com, is the leading general publication covering the nonprofit sector. The Chronicle is an authoritative source for information on all aspects of the nonprofit and philanthropic community. Includes information about nonprofit employment opportunities.
- Guidestar, www.guidestar.org, contains the most complete listing of U.S. nonprofit organizations available. The organization listings contain various types of information about each nonprofit listed.
- Independent Sector. A coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporations focused on non-profit, philanthropic and civic engagement. The organization's Web site (www.independentsector.org) links to helpful information regarding the sector and includes a section on employment opportunities.
- The Network for Good. Created by the AOL Foundation, this site (www.networkforgood.org) provides information for individuals seeking to volunteer or make charitable contributions. The site is oriented toward the individual and not organizations.
- The Nonprofit Career Network. This organization provides resources for nonprofit organizations and those seeking employment with nonprofit organizations, as well as prospective volunteers. The Network's Web site can be found at www.nonprofitcareer.com.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Action Without Borders. Idealist.org. Accessed November 20, 2005. http://www.Idealist.org.
Dighe, Atul. "Demographic and Technological Imperatives." In The State of Nonprofit America, edited by Lester M. Salamon, 499-516. Washington D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2002. ISBN: 0-8157-0324-5.
Kapur, Ambika. "How One Person Made a Difference: Conversation with Ami Dar, Founder of Action Without Borders." 2 Carnegie Reporter 3 (Fall 2003).
"On the Web: Action Without Borders, Inc.—Idealist.org." Philanthropy News Digest. [updated 30 April 2002; Accessed 15 November 2005].
Oxford English Dictionary. Concise Virtual Edition. http://www.askoxford.com
Salamon, Lester M. “The Resilient Sector: The State of Nonprofit America.” In The State of Nonprofit America, edited by Lester M. Salamon 3-61. Washington D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2002. ISBN: 0-8157-0324-5.
Te'eni, Dov and Dennis R. Young, "The Changing Role of Nonprofits in the Network Economy," Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol. 32, September 2003, 397-414.
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