Home Start the New Year Off Right: A Guide to Online Giving

Start the New Year Off Right: A Guide to Online Giving

Karma, as they say, will always come back to get you. So why not start 2008 off on the right foot by giving to some charitable causes online. These days, almost every charity accepts online donations, so with very few exceptions, we won’t be mentioning any specific charities. Rather, the list below is designed to help you find new ways to give online and to make sure your money is going to a place that will really help those in need. The charitable web is so large that we can’t possibly mention everyone (nor did we try to), but please add any sites you think we missed in the comments below.

Finding the Right Charity

When giving online, you have to be careful that the charity you’re giving to is reputable. With so many charities springing up it can be difficult to know which are legit. Fortunately, the Internet offers some great resources for determining how reputable a charity is. These are some of the best.

  • GuideStar – Information on over 1.7 million not-for-profit organizations. Also offers for-pay premium services for researchers.
  • Charity Navigator – Uses a four-star rating system to assess the financial health and responsibility of over 5,000 American charities.
  • Give.org – The charity rating arm of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
  • CharityWatch.org – Non-profit organization ratings from the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Social Networks

Seems like everyone has a social network these days. And yes, there are even niche social networks for do-gooders out there. Below are some of the most prominent.

  • Network for Good – Network for Good isn’t so much a social network than it is a charity aggregator. They make it easier to donate to a large number of groups and keep an online record of your charitable giving. Since launching in 2001, they’ve helped people give over $160 million to charitable causes. Plus, they power some nifty widgets, such as those used by Yahoo! For Good or Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees, that facilitate giving in a distributed manner across the long tail of the web.
  • Change.org – We were impressed when we reviewed Change.org in February 2007, and the site appears to be doing quite well (i.e., the 60 people who wanted to stop global warming last February is now a few thousand). Change.org is a social network in which people are encouraged to organize with one another around social issues to effect positive change and fundraise.
  • Care2 – With over 8.2 million members, Care2 might be the largest charity-focused social network. Users (and non-profits) are encouraged to create groups on the site to organize around socially progressive causes.
  • Facebook Causes – Okay, this one isn’t a social network, but rather an application on one of the largest social networks in the world. Founded by serial entrepreneur and investor Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster, Plaxo, and Facebook), and Joseph Green, Causes is the first project from venture-backed Project Agape. It allows users of Facebook to turn their profiles into charitable giving hubs and solicit their friends for donations to causes they support.

Click to Give

You don’t actually have to pony up cash to give to charity. There are a growing number of sites on the web that raise money for charity by selling advertising.

  • The Hunger Site – Founded June 1, 1999, The Hunger Site might be the most famous click to give site, and the results bear out their popularity — in 2007, visitors viewed enough ads to purchase 49,612,616 cups of food — the third higest total in the site’s history. The Hunger Site also operates sister click to give sites that benefit the fight against breast cancer, the rain forest, children’s health, literacy, and animal rescue. Progressive social network Care2 operates their own click to give campaigns that are also worth checking out.
  • FreeRice – When we reviewed FreeRice, a word game that promises to donate rice to starving people, in November we were skeptical of its legitimacy. But it turns out the site was founded by John Breen — who also founded The Hunger Site — and works directly with the UN’s World Food Programme. Since launching on October 7, 2007, FreeRice has donated over 12 billion grains of rice (or, by our math, somewhere in the vicinity of 400,000 pounds).
  • Charity Search Engines – Our network blog, AltSearchEngines, put together a great list in September of 10 altruistic search engines that donate to charity with every search. Many of them use top mainstream search engines (like Google or Ask) to power their results, so you don’t have to worry about adjusting to a different quality of search results when you use them.
  • Changing the Present Facebook GiftsChanging the Present, a 501c3 non-profit organization that matches people with gift donations, has an application on Facebook that lets users give “meaningful gifts” that contribute $1 each to a progressive cause. We reviewed the app in full this past October.

Other Ways to Give

  • FirstGiving – Have a web site or blog of your own? Consider using it as a vehicle for raising money for your favorite charity. Massachusetts-based FirstGiving makes it super easy to do, and as we noted in September, they’ve already helped over 100,000 people raise $50 million for non-profit organizations.
  • Kiva.org – On November 23rd, 2007, Kiva.org crossed the $15 million mark in terms of microfinance loans given out to entrepreneurs in developing nations. That’s an amazing number considering that they were at just $11 million in loans when we profiled the site in September. Also consider financing a loan through MicroPlace, a similar microloan site run by eBay, which we wrote up last October.
  • DonorsChoose.org – At DonorsChoose.org, teachers with great ideas to help students learn but short on the funds to make it happen post proposals describing their idea and how much they need. Visitors can then choose to help fund the projects that interest them. It’s a great idea and rewarding for donors because students are encouraged to reciprocate with personal thank you notes.
  • GiveMeaning – This site is similar to DonorsChoose.org, but not restricted to public school education. At GiveMeaning, anyone can submit a proposal to create a fundraising page for their progressive initiative. Users then decide which initiatives they want to donate to.
  • BiddingForGood.com – Not everything altruistic has to leave you empty handed. BiddingForGood.com is an online auction site where the proceeds from each item up for bid benefit a charitable cause. There are over 900 items up for bid today.
  • GOOD Magazine – GOOD Magazine is true to its name. This socially progressive periodical donates 100% of the $20 annual subscription fee to charity, instead choosing to make money only from the advertising it sells. You get to choose exactly where your money goes from among 12 pre-selected charities. So far the magazine has raised over $522,000 (half way to its million dollar goal), and as a subscriber, I can personally attest to the magazine actually being quite good (no pun intended). You’ll like it if you enjoy magazines like Mental Floss or Mother Jones.
  • (RED) – Bono’s (RED) campaign, which marries charity and consumerism, isn’t strictly an Internet-based affair, but it has such a strong web presence we’re including it on this list. The way it works is simple: companies make special edition versions of products you might already buy (such as Apple’s iPod) and then a portion of the sales from those products benefits The Global Fund, which helps women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa. However, we also like the parody, BUY (LESS) CRAP, which argues that buying more things is not the answer and encourages people to instead donate directly to a number of worthy charities.

Image credit: Mindful One

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