In the past 10 years, the Internet has brought us Facebook, YouTube, dancing babies and keyboard cats. It's also made it easier for us to file taxes, pay bills and purchase gifts. Forget Second Life -- the Internet is many people's first life.
So it should come as no surprise that a growing number of people are also turning to the Internet to give a little something back. According to the most comprehensive study to date of online giving in the charitable sector by nonprofit services provider Blackbaud, the percentage of total fundraising that comes from online giving grew to 7.6 percent in 2010. While that may not seem like much, it's a 34.5 percent jump from the previous year and represents billions of dollars [source: Blackbaud]. Online giving is expected to track the trends of online shopping and banking, so it's easy to see why charities are eager to establish a Web presence [source: Network for Good].
But why limit oneself to monetary donations? Today's Internet-savvy do-gooder has a wide variety of options to choose from when feeling the urge to make a difference. From tweeting about social justice to mentoring via Skype, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can pay it forward. In fact, sometimes it requires little more than a literal lift of the finger.
10. Click to Give
How many times a day do you click on the ads that show up on your computer screen? At online activism Web sites like those hosted by the GreaterGood Network, your clicks translate to material goods like food for the hungry, mammograms for women in need and habitat for wildlife. Here's how it works: Each click you make brings up ads from the site's sponsors. One hundred percent of the fees from those sponsorships then goes to support programs provided by GreaterGood's charity partners, which include groups like the Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, Save Darfur and The Nature Conservancy.
Since 1999, the nonprofit organization has delivered more than $20 million to non-profit charities through visitor clicks and store purchases [source: GreaterGood Network]. Its "click to give" sites include the Animal Rescue Site, which raised 32.3 million bowls of food for animals through member clicks during the first six months of 2010, and the Rainforest Site, which protected 246.1 million square feet of rainforest during the same time period [source: Animal Rescue Site Store, The Rainforest Site Store ]. Others include the Child Health Site, the Hunger Site, The Literacy Site, The Veterans Site, The Breast Cancer Site and The Ecology Fund, which itself has at least four clickable opportunities to save rainforest, reduce pollution and preserve coastal habitat. Each site allows one click per project per day -- enabling you to do a lot of good in just one year, all by something as simple as moving your finger up and down.
9. Virtual Volunteering
You're a busy person. You have a job to do, kids to look after and a dog to feed. You'd love to volunteer your time occasionally, but you don't have any. Enter online volunteering, which is sort of like a volunteer version of telecommuting that can be done anywhere and pretty much anytime. Some virtual volunteer opportunities can even be done in as little as five minutes, enabling you to give back whenever you find yourself with an unexpected bit of free time.
At Sparked.com, for example, which bills itself as the world's first microvolunteering network, the keyword is convenience. Nonprofits post so-called "challenges" to the network and volunteers respond with ideas. Challenges range from requesting user input on a logo to creating promotional materials for a youth program. The site is a quasi-brainstorming session of sorts, bringing together the talents and ideas of many to find a single solution, providing nonprofits a way to get valuable work done at no expense.
With the United Nations Online Volunteering Service, development organizations from around the world recruit volunteers to perform tasks like designing newsletters, illustrating online ESL courses or processing HTML pages. Potential volunteers can search for opportunities by skill, interest area, development topic or a specific region of the world. Since its inception in 2000, volunteers have supported more than 800 organizations in developing countries around the world by completing more than 10,000 online assignments [source: World Volunteer Web].
8. Searching for Good
Each day, Internet users around the globe enter thousands of random terms into their search bars, generating more than $8 billion a year for search engine advertisers [source: GoodSearch]. Seeking to harness some of that energy, siblings Ken and JJ Ramberg founded GoodSearch in 2005 to direct a percentage of that good fortune to deserving nonprofits. Users simply go to the site, choose from among 98,000 listed charities and then search like normal. Fifty percent of the sponsored search revenue is then directed to the lucky chosen beneficiary -- all courtesy of the advertisers.
GoodSearch estimates that in the current economic climate, each search will generate around $0.01, so if 100 people performed just ten searches a day for a charity using GoodSearch, they could earn approximately $3,650 for that charity in a year. Not bad for not even having to open up your wallet or alter your everyday routine. Searches are powered by industry stalwart Yahoo! and any nonprofit organization or school can qualify to be listed as a charity on the site, making it an attractive fundraiser for a variety of groups.
7. Shop for a Cause
If you're looking for a good excuse to go shopping, look no further. With a growing number of so-called online charity malls popping up in cyberspace, people who like to spend money on themselves can now feel a little better about doing it. Users who do their shopping through these shopping portals have a portion of the sale price donated to a chosen charity, ranging anywhere from 3 to 50 percent, depending on the site.
At iGive, the first of these charity malls, shoppers can choose from among more than 800 name brand stores including perennial favorites like Best Buy, eBay, Nordstrom and Home Depot. Since 1997, shoppers have raised more than $5,493,732 for 52,328 causes [source: iGive]. GoodShop, GoodSearch's sibling venture, works similarly, with the amount that will be allocated to charity listed prominently beneath each store's icon.
The nonprofit GreaterGood organization's online stores work a little bit differently, with a unique storefront for any number of causes ranging from animal welfare and children's health to literacy and habitat preservation. The Child Health Site store, for example, helps fund healthcare for needy children, while every purchase made at The Hunger Site Store helps buy food for the hungry. Each item for sale lists how much will be passed on to charity. Purchases made at these stores helped provide healthcare to 67,282 children and 1.7 million bowls of food to the hungry in just the first six months of 2010 [source: The Child Health Site Store, The Hunger Site Store].
Finally someone has come up with a good way to use all of that knowledge about geography, art history and science you've been sitting on since grade school. Visitors to Freerice can dredge up that dusty information to strengthen their gray matter and help feed the hungry at the same time. To play, visitors respond to questions of varying difficulty in a number of subjects. For each correct answer, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme, the world's largest humanitarian organization fighting to end world hunger.
As of January 2011, 85 million grains of rice had been donated since the site took off in 2007 -- enough to feed more than 4.3 million people around the globe [sources: Dusto, Freerice]. Among other things, rice raised by Freerice players has helped feed 66,000 Ugandan school children for a week, provided nourishment to 13,500 pregnant and nursing women in Cambodia and supported 750,000 cyclone victims in Myanmar for three days [source: Freerice].
Capitalizing on people's competitive nature, Freerice encourages users to form a profile to track the amount of rice they've raised, join groups and earn coveted spots on the site's leaderboard. Disclaimer: it's highly addictive. The "research" for this article included pulling down more than 2,000 grains. (It would have been more, but who really knows where Kyrgyzstan is?)
5. Online Activism
Everyone likes to give his or her own two cents every now and then. Imagine if those two cents could really make a difference by affecting legislation or influencing the release of political prisoners. By signing up for what are typically called action alerts -- notices alerting subscribers to situations that could benefit from a coordinated group response -- they can. When you elect to receive action alerts from groups whose ideals align closely with your own, you'll be regularly updated with actions you can take to influence issues you care about. Whether you lean more toward animal welfare groups like PETA or gun rights groups like the NRA, if there's a cause, there's likely an action alert group associated with it.
Actions you can take range from signing an online petition to writing your elected officials about legislation. Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, alerts members about situations involving prisoners of conscience, detainees and others at risk of human rights violations through its Urgent Action Network. The letters, e-mails and faxes generated put pressure on the responsible authorities and make them aware that the global community is watching, often persuading them to change course. According to the organization, such efforts have contributed to the release of more than 44,000 prisoners since 1961 [source: Amnesty International].
At Congress.org, a Web site aiming to encourage civic participation, visitors can search alerts by issue area, subscribe to those that strike an interest and write to several legislators at once. You can also go straight to the source and simply look on the Web sites of the groups you're most interested in to see if there's a place to sign up for alerts.
4. Shared Computing
Imagine helping to control the spread of malaria, improve cancer treatments and detect dark matter just by turning on your computer. By participating in any number of volunteer computing projects hosted on sites like Grid Republic, you can. In volunteer computing, or shared computing, users volunteer their computer's resources to assist in research projects focusing on everything from the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI@home) to studying the effects of global warming (Climateprediction.net).
Volunteers simply choose a project (or projects) and download the corresponding software; the computer does the rest, helping solve the mysteries of the universe when it would otherwise be idle. The combined computer power from millions of volunteers around the world essentially forms the equivalent of a giant supercomputer, allowing computations that would normally take tens of thousands of years to be completed in just a few months [source: Grid Republic]. The concept is especially helpful for smaller projects and those with little funding, enabling them to access computing resources typically reserved for richly endowed projects.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: Every good environmentalist knows the three R's for the environment. The Internet version adds an "f" to that list with Freecycle, a Web site where one person's trash is another person's treasure. Kind of like a free version of Craigslist, Freecycle works by allowing users to post "offers," items they no longer need or want, as well as "wants," items they would like or need.
The free exchange of goods keeps usable resources in circulation, freeing up landfill space and reducing the need to manufacture new goods. Free to join, Freecycle now has more than 8 million members spread out across nearly 5,000 groups and 85 countries [source: The Freecycle Network, Intuit]. Granted, some of the "wants" are a little extreme -- a new car? A 64 inch plasma TV? Seriously? -- but you can't argue with the results -- Freecycle currently keeps more than 500 tons worth of materials from going to landfills each day, reducing waste by more than a landfill every 24 hours [source: Intuit].
2. Facebook Philanthropy
Doing good is not a solo job; it requires connections among many people to be most effective. So what better vehicle than Facebook, the über people connector, to bring philanthropy to the masses? The social networking site's Causes application is the world's largest platform for activism and philanthropy [source: Causes].
Founded in 2007 by Joe Green and Napster's Sean Parker, Causes combines online social networking with community organizing, enabling anyone with a Facebook profile to form a cause. To date, more than 500,000 causes have been created by the application's 140 million users in the interests of raising money, recruiting volunteers, inciting action or simply spreading awareness.
The wide net of Facebook allows individuals and small groups to use Causes to reach a much larger audience than traditional methods while simultaneously cutting down on fundraising and marketing costs. That publicity has enabled the 25,000 participating nonprofits to raise more than $30 million [source: Causes].
Users can also employ the existing Facebook platform to stay connected to their base through videos and updates and encourage friendly competition by highlighting top fundraisers, recruiters and donors. Some selfless souls even raise money through "birthday wishes" asking friends to donate to a particular cause in honor of their special day.
1. Donors Choose
Public schools have seen better times. School districts across the country continue to face drastic budget cuts, forcing many to slash funding for music, art and P.E. classes. To make up for the loss, many teachers spend roughly $40 a month of their own money on classroom needs [source: DonorsChoose].
Developed by a Bronx high school social studies teacher in 2000, Donors Choose aims to soften the blow by providing public school teachers a way to connect with people who'd like to help. The process is relatively simple: Teachers post classroom project requests, a potential donor chooses a project to support and how much to give, and once the project is fully funded, the materials are delivered to the school.
To build trust and ensure integrity, every project proposal is reviewed by the Donors Choose team before it can be posted to the site. To further increase transparency and make donors feel connected, everyone who donates receives updates and photos of the project taking place, a thank-you note from the teacher and a cost report. Requests range from a simple pencil sharpener for an elementary school classroom to a laptop and headphones for an elaborate computer lab.
Since it began, Donors Choose has raised more than $80 million for nearly 200,000 projects, affecting 4.8 million students at more than 45,000 schools. Donors have provided teachers with a variety of resources including books, technology and various classroom supplies, as well as funded field trips and special visitors. Up to 85 percent of donated materials are reused by the next year's students, making this a gift that truly keeps on giving [source: DonorsChoose].
Lots More Information
Related Curiosity Content
More Great Links
- Amnesty International. "Frequently Asked Questions." 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.amnestyusa.org/individuals-at-risk/urgent-action-network/faq/page.do?id=1108117
- Blackbaud. "2010 Online Giving Report." Feb. 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.blackbaud.com/files/resources/downloads/WhitePaper_2010OnlineGivingReport.pdf
- Causes. "About Causes." 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.causes.com/about
- Charity Navigator. "FAQ for Donors." (April 9, 2011) http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=484
- Charity USA.com. "About the GreaterGood Network." (April 9, 2011) http://www.thehungersite.com/clickToGive/aboutgreatergood.faces?siteId=1
- Charity USA.com. "Ecology Fund.com" (April 8, 2011) http://www.ecologyfund.com/ecology/_ecology.html
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- Charity USA.com. "The Animal Rescue Site Store." (April 11, 2011) https://www.therainforestsite.com/store/site.do?siteId=310
- Charity USA.com. "The Child Health Site Store." (April 11, 2011) https://www.thechildhealthsite.com/store/site.do?siteId=314
- Charity USA.com. "The Hunger Site Store." (April 11, 2011) https://www.thehungersite.com/store/site.do?siteId=220
- Charity USA.com. "The Rainforest Site Store." (April 11, 2011) https://www.therainforestsite.com/store/site.do?siteId=221
- Convio. "Convio Ranks Most Generous Online Cities for 2010." Jan. 19, 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.convio.com/convio/news/releases/convio-ranks-most-generous-1.html
- DonorsChoose.org. "About Us." (April 8, 2011) http://www.donorschoose.org/about
- Dusto, Amy. "Play A Game, Feed Hungry People." Discovery News. January 4, 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://news.discovery.com/tech/play-a-game-feed-hungry-people.html
- FreeRice. "FAQ." (April 9, 2011) http://www.freerice.com/about/faq
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- GoodSearch. "About Us/FAQ." 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.goodsearch.com/about.aspx
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- Intuit. "Freecycle@ Work." (April 9, 2011) http://quickbase.intuit.com/freecycle
- Network for Good. "The Young and The Generous: A Study of $100 Million in Online Giving to 23,000 Charities." (April 9, 2011) http://www.fundraising123.org/files/The%20Young%20and%20The%20Generous%20A%20Network%20for%20Good%20Study.pdf
- Pall, Pardeep, et al. "Anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to flood risk in England and Wales in autumn 2000." Nature. Feb. 16, 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v470/n7334/full/nature09762.html
- Rolex Awards. "Jacob's Project." (April 11, 2011) http://young.rolexawards.com/laureates/jacob_colker
- The Extraordinaries. "Sparked." (April 9, 2011) http://www.sparked.com/
- The Freecycle Network. "Freecycle." (April 9, 2011) http://www.freecycle.org/
- United Nations Volunteers. "Onlinevolunteering.org." (April 9, 2011) http://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en/vol/
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- World Volunteer Web. "Ever considered online volunteering?" Oct. 19, 2005. (April 9, 2011) http://www.worldvolunteerWeb.org/resources/how-to-guides/volunteer/doc/ever-considered- online-volunteering.html