It is the holiday season and time to give gifts, not only to loved ones, but also to the less fortunate or to help a starving artist.

You don't have to wait for a direct mail piece or the phone-a-thon or even a pledge drive. As a matter of fact, you don't even have to pick up your phone.

The nonprofits are becoming tech savvy; many wait just a click away.

But nonprofit organizations are not the next phase of B2C. Instead, nonprofits now simply meet and greet donors where so many of them already live: on the Web.

"In Austin, our donors are technologically sophisticated," says Rick Resnik, vice president of the Seton Fund. "So, we need to get on that same page."

It is through fundraising that the Seton Fund can provide healthcare to anyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay.

For Austin philanthropists who prefer email to direct mail, the Seton Fund wants to meet them there.

"Until recently, I never raised a penny through email," Resnik says. "But now there are people who prefer to talk to me at midnight, or one o'clock in the morning. We have to be accessible to donors online, when they're ready and at their convenience."

While the Austin offices of Goodwill Industries International Inc.'s primary source of income comes to it through its stores and government grants, it, too, recognizes the importance of the Internet in reaching out to donors.

"We're looking at adding a direct mail piece and the Internet simply because Austin is so wired," says Will Rice, director of development for Goodwill. "If we were in some place that wasn't as wired, we wouldn't be looking at it [the Internet]."

While many nonprofits receive funding through government grants or corporations, nonprofits tend to agree that the backbone of fundraising is in building relationships.

"Our methods of fundraising have been traditional -- building relationships, face-to-face contact," Resnik says. "It boils down to creating, cultivating and nurturing relationships. With technology, we have new opportunities. The fundamentals haven't changed; we just have more avenues open to us."

Traditions in transition

Nonprofits traditionally build relationships with donors through direct mail and phone calls.

That model appears to be increasingly outdated and ineffective due to the ubiquity of the Internet.

"We used to count on direct mail and the dreaded phone-a-thon," Ruiz says. "But now people use telephones to screen calls. We have been moving away [from that], trying to find a model that doesn't hang our hopes on a method that causes us to be screened out."

Penny Burnett, development director of the Austin Lyric Opera, attests to the same problem with direct mail and phone calls.

"The Internet will play an increasingly larger role and telephone is getting more difficult. It's just hard to reach people," Burnett says. "We can have 15 callers to call for hours and they might only reach three people because there are so many answering machines. Direct mail isn't very effective either -- only a 1 percent response."

Austin-based Convio Inc., a company that provides nonprofits with Web-based applications for fundraising and marketing, claims that an interactive Web site, personalized email communication and constituent tracking are the basic elements of e-relationships.

"Electronic communication technology can be leveraged to build a stronger relationship, which increases your [the constituent] willingness to give because you feel connected." says Vinay Bhagat, co-founder and CEO of Convio.

Forget those form letters

A prime example is university alumni giving. Instead of receiving the same semi-annual, impersonal form letter from an alma mater, the alma mater can provide its alums with personalized, Web-based information, including keeping track of old friends, affiliations or academic departments.

"The crux of all this is that it [the Web-based application] is a much more personalized way to reach out and interact [with donors]," Bhagat says.

Case in point is The Austin Children's Museum, which uses Convio's application. Only five weeks after it launched its Web site, the museum found that 90 percent of registrants had no prior relationship with the organization. Constituents did receive emails announcing the new site, and apparently, they forwarded the news to friends and acquaintances.

"How many times have you forwarded a direct mail piece to a friend?" Bhagat asks.

In addition to the inconvenience and impersonal nature of form letters or pledge drives, donors often feel as if they are "throwing money over a wall," Bhagat says. "Where does the money go? The chance of someone giving again is more when the person knows where it goes."

Ballet Austin is overhauling its infrastructure in order to provide donors with this information.

"Any donor in this day and age wants to know that the cause is getting the dollars, that it's not wasted," Ruiz says. "One of our highest priorities is to come up with a consolidated business solution so that there's shared information throughout the facility."

As nonprofits step across the technological threshold of the Internet, its leverage allows them to build stronger donor relationships and provide personal donor services. With this technology, savvy nonprofits are finding success.