Colleges and universities are increasingly turning to the Internet as a tool to raise money, using the same computer technology that has made it quick and convenient to purchase clothes, books, compact disks - even groceries - on line.
As more people become comfortable with on-line commerce - one study found that 63 percent have used the Web to shop - school fund-raising officials say it is only natural that cyber-savvy alumni, particularly the younger graduates who have grown up using computers, would consider making a a cyber-contribution to support their alma maters.
"The future of philanthropy, just like everything else, is on the World Wide Web," said Mark Stuart, assistant vice president for development at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.
Many schools already are using e-mail to solicit alumni to make gifts. Some offer pledge cards on their Web sites that graduates can fill out and submit electronically to make their contributions.
Texas Christian University added the on-line giving option this summer, said Bronson Davis, vice chancellor for university advancement. The University of Richmond began soliciting funds on the Web this month in response to pressure from younger alumni advisers, said D. Chris Withers, vice president for development and university relations.
Several colleges, including Gettysburg, Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., have included an encryption feature that allows donors to type their credit-card number directly into the Web site.
"It's just like buying a book on Amazon.com," said Susan Womack, Millsaps' director of donor relations.
At some schools, however, Web giving has not proved enormously popular, mainly because of concerns over security.
"We experimented with on-line solicitation, but with little success," said Tim Bruner, vice president for advancement and development at Harding University in Searcy, Ark. "Some donors expressed reservations over using the Internet for more financial transactions than necessary."
The public is gradually overcoming those concerns, Miss Womack said.
"Most experts will now agree that using a secure Web site is less risky than handing your credit card to a waitress in your favorite restaurant," she said. "As the public becomes aware of this, the likelihood is that e-giving will increase."
Patricia Jackson, vice president for education at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), said Web philanthropy is a trend and one of several tools schools can use to enhance contributions. …