04/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

FirstGiving: Putting Generosity Online

In this segment, Firstgiving CEO Mark Sutton shares a conversation with Marc Turgeon, a father who is using the Firstgiving Web site to raise funds for Friends of LADDERS, Inc. an interdisciplinary program designed to provide services in the evaluation and treatment of children and adults with autism, pervasive developmental disorder and related disorders.

Sutton: Marc thanks for taking the time to talk with me. So, how is the fundraising going?

Turgeon: Oh, it's great! I've already exceeded my fundraising goal of $5,000 and am approaching the $6,000 mark.

Sutton: That's terrific. Please tell me about the organization you are raising money for and how you came to know about them.

Turgeon: Sure. The group is called Friends of LADDERS. They work with autistic and developmentally disabled children and adults. It's an extension of Mass General Hospital. My wife and I took our three-year old son Alec there after he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Other parents we met recommended them.

Sutton: What makes LADDERS different from other doctors you've seen?

Turgeon: At first, we didn't know what to expect. From the outside it looks like all other pediatric offices. But once you meet with the physicians you realize these are special people; the true leaders in the field of autism. They take so much time to meet with parents and the children and explain everything - from the testing to the impact it will have. They even went into detail about how your child's behavior at home may be different vs. what is measured there. They customize everything for each child. They are helpful to us as parents and even more helpful to Alec.

Sutton: They sound like a special group.

Definitely. As a parent you do everything within your power to help your child. LADDERS is the same way. Every child they come across they do absolutely everything in their power to help them. We're lucky because right now there is a wait-list to get in to see them.

Sutton: So when did you decide to raise funds for them?

Turgeon: Well, I know that for each child they basically spend more than they take in; so they can use the help. But then in January 2007 another parent told me that LADDERS was looking for people to raise funds via the Boston Marathon. I'd run Boston in the past for other nonprofits and decided I definitely wanted to do it for LADDERS, especially since the event is in April and that's Autism Awareness Month. It's a small thing I can do that helps give back to them. Last year LADDERS did not use an online donation system. This year, for the 2008 marathon, when I signed up I saw LADDERS was using the Firstgiving Web site to help its marathon team raise funds. So I just got in there and created my page:

Sutton: Was the fundraising different using Firstgiving's online service?

Yes. It was definitely easier. Before I didn't have any electronic means. People would just give me checks and sometimes it took a while or they'd forget their checkbook. Firstgiving helped a lot. I raised more money a lot faster and the convenience of having it online made it easier for everyone.

Do you personally know all the people who donated to your page?

Turgeon: No, that's the interesting thing. I'm not really comfortable asking people for money. But with email, in addition to asking family and friends, it was easier to ask acquaintances and coworkers that I'm not that close to. Being online opened up a lot more doors. I understand now why so many people and charities are using Firstgiving to raise money.

Did you encounter any surprises?

Just the very pleasant surprise of seeing how generous people are; even people I may have met once at a training through work. It's been terrific. Plus I like the fact that Firstgiving automatically generates a customized thank you letter. It's all very friendly and trustworthy.

Thanks for sharing your story with me and good luck in the marathon. Any parting comments on that?

Turgeon: Well, before I used to raise funds to run the marathon. Now I'm running to raise funds.

Mark Sutton is CEO of Firstgiving, a web-based company that enables individuals to raise money for any 501(c)(3) certified nonprofit with person to person online fundraising pages or widgets. The company works with over 2,000 charity clients and tens of thousands of individual fundraisers who have raised more than $50 million online.