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History and Background

Action Without Borders is a nonprofit organization founded in New York City in 1995. Our mission is to connect people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives. We work toward our mission in a variety of ways that have evolved over the years, but our core focus has always been on providing a meeting point for individuals and organizations that seek to improve their communities, whether through promoting volunteerism and nonprofit careers, or by facilitating connections between people that can lead to personal and collective action.

AWB 1.0 The Early Years (1995-1999)

A poster from our early days In our early years, our organization was called the Contact Center Network and we focused on trying to set up a network of contact centers (much like the community points we are supporting now). The concept behind the contact centers was to create a place that would serve as a physical meeting space in each community, where people could post messages and connect with neighbors who might share interests and ideas for local action.

Alongside our efforts to promote the contact center concept, we also watched the take-off of the World Wide Web with great interest. The web—just beginning to enter mainstream consciousness—seemed to offer a different way to facilitate the connections central to our organization''''''''s mission. Our staff spent the summer of 1995 researching and developing a simple HTML website with 2,500 links to the websites of other nonprofit organizations, and in September 1995 we launched Contact.org. By year''''''''s end, the site had been revamped to include staff-written resource centers, categories for organizations'''''''' areas of focus, and a searchable database of nonprofit websites.

The press and the public responded enthusiastically to Contact.org. Soon our staff was giving presentations at cafés, colleges, and community centers about how nonprofits and their workers could use the internet to enhance their work and reach. This was during an era when less than a third of the attendees at such events had an email address, and for many people, learning that so many nonprofits already had websites was quite an eye-opener. By 1996, noting the internet''''''''s steadily rising popularity, we decided to concentrate our efforts on developing a more powerful version of Contact.org.

Idealist.org in 1997 A few months later, in August, Contact.org was relaunched as Idealist.org, with improved search and database capabilities and more capacity to handle a growing number of web visitors. Idealist worked by letting nonprofits create a free organizational profile on the site listing their contact information and details about their programs. Organizations could also post openings for jobs, volunteer positions, and other activities. Individuals, in turn, could search the site and learn of new opportunities in their area, or find organizations with shared interests that they may not have known about before.

While it may have been a bit idealistic, Idealist.org was also designed to be quite literally an "idea list" for people looking to get involved in their communities. To streamline the distribution of information on Idealist, we added a listserv so individuals could sign up to be notified of the latest listings. And in May 1997, reflecting our new focus and expanding reach, we changed our organization''''''''s name to Action Without Borders.

To further enhance Idealist''''''''s utility, we also continued to develop online resource centers on topics related to the nonprofit sector. The first of these was the Nonprofit Career Center, a large resource featuring interviews with nonprofit professionals from a broad range of focus areas, advice about working in the sector, and other information both on our site and out on the web.

We based the development of these resource centers on our staff''''''''s experience and our growing contacts with professionals in the nonprofit sector. During 1997, we had bought our organization''''''''s first-ever plane ticket, to send a staff member to Kansas City, MO for the annual Independent Sector conference. Extensive travel quickly became an important aspect of our operations, as we carried out an increasing range of on-the-ground activities and meetings in conjunction with our online work.

Our director, Ami Dar Throughout the late 1990s, organizations continued signing up on Idealist, and by the start of 1999 over 20,000 people were receiving our daily email alerts. To help support our work, in 1999 we decided to begin charging U.S.-based organizations $40 for job postings on Idealist (up until then, all listings had been free). It was a tense moment for us, but the first paid job listings appeared a few hours after the change took effect and more soon followed, giving us a revenue stream that has enabled us to enhance our programs and offerings while keeping the vast majority of our services free of charge. While it was never our intention to become known as a nonprofit jobs site, the response to Idealist''''''''s job listings helped illustrate the relative absence of nonprofit-specific online services existing at the time. Similarly, the use of Idealist by underresourced nonprofit organizations, many of which had no other way to obtain a web presence or reach a wider audience, also confirmed the great need for nonprofit-oriented web services.

In the summer of 1999, the Stern Family Fund invited our Founder and Executive Director, Ami Dar, to apply for its Public Interest Pioneer Grant. A year later, when the Fund awarded Ami its $100,000 grant in June 2000, our budget was doubled overnight. It was the beginning of what we like to call AWB 2.0.

cal ideology, or religious creed. Our work is guided by the common desire of our members and supporters to find practical solutions to social and environmental problems, in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect

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