Mitch Goldman is looking forward to shaving this weekend. For four weeks, he's been growing a mustache and using it to gain attention--and contributions--for his favorite charity. As co-organizer of the New York chapter of Mustaches for Kids, Goldman is helping 80 members raise about $40,000 for Donorschoose.org, a nonprofit that helps public school teachers buy school supplies for students who can't afford books, paper or pencils. The direct link that donorschoose.org builds between people with means and people with needs demonstrates the way the Internet is reshaping the world of philanthropy. Individuals at almost any financial level are now setting the specific course of their own charitable giving and volunteerism in a way that until recently was reserved for the very wealthy.
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For decades, only the largest givers made extensive use of networking, highly targeted giving and specialized volunteer efforts. Now, those three tools are in the hands of almost everyone with altruistic leanings, thanks to proliferating Web sites like Donorschoose.org and Network for Good. Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, and his wife are tapping into this momentum. Their private foundation, the Case Foundation, is hosting a competition in which users of the Causes application on Facebook and readers of Parade magazine can compete to win between $250,000 and $500,000 for their favorite charities. "This is the year of the 'wired fund-raiser,' " says Bill Strathman, executive director of Network for Good, the independent nonprofit Web site founded by America Online, Cisco Systems and Yahoo! that connects charities, donors and volunteers. According a survey the group sponsored, 75% of individuals say they give to charity because friends and family ask them.
"People can now use the Internet to fund-raise, something that's much harder to do in person," Strathman says. "By hiding beyond the Internet, people can also donate on their own terms." Actor Kevin Bacon, known for his six degrees of separation from nearly everyone in entertainment, has tapped into the zeitgeist and worked with Network for Good to set up Six Degrees, a Web site where individuals can set up accounts to ask friends and family to contribute to designated, licensed U.S. charities. Another Web site, Chipin.com, allows users to solicit money for a specific cause and use PayPal to collect the funds. Online donations are growing. Network for Good.org says its donations are up 50% from last year. It expects to raise $20 million during December, a month responsible for 40% of the year's donations. According to ePhilanthropy Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit research and education organization, online giving has increased to more than $4.5 billion in 2005 from $250 million in 2000. While online networking has become a key component to fund raising, many people are also using a variety of Web sites to find specific causes and even recipients for their charitable giving. More than 58% of high net worth individuals say they would give more to charity if they could determine their gift's impact, according to a 2006 survey of more than 1,000 people earning more than $200,000 a year that was conducted by Banc of America and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "The most significant trend we've seen is the increasing desire of donors to know where their money is going and how it's used," says Donna Callejon, chief operating officer of Globalgiving.org, a Washington-based international marketplace for charitable giving. Through Global Giving, individuals can target contributions to specific projects--for example, water systems or schools in different areas of the world. Callejon says all donors receive regular progress reports for their donations.
"It used to be that you needed to give a lot of money to get that kind of reporting back," she says. Other groups that allow people to target donations to specific projects include Heifer.org, a Web site aiming to eliminate hunger. It allows Internet users to purchase farm animals or trees for families or communities throughout the developing world. Kiva.org allows budding entrepreneurs in the developing world to solicit loans. They outline their needs, their plans to use the money and their ability to repay a loan. Those with money can use the site to make either a donation or a loan at a reasonable rate. Some loans are for as little as $20. Time is as valuable as money, and many intermediary organizations use the Internet to help volunteers find ways to donate their time to charities.
The Hands on Network (handsonnetwork.org) helps people find volunteer opportunities that can last for just one day or find a place to make a longer-term time commitment. While it's possible to approach an agency or organization to offer assistance, typically it's easier for both the individual and the nonprofit to go through these intermediary agencies. "Not every organization has the capacity to manage volunteers. It takes resources," says Ariel Zwang, executive director of New York Cares, the New York chapter of the Hands on Network. The sheer number of participating nonprofits provides volunteer opportunities that match many skills and interests. "If a project involves a choir singing in nursing homes," says Zwang, "people who gravitate to that project can probably pick up sheet music and sing it." While the Net and high-tech networking provide highly targeted charitable opportunities, a little face time still works wonders, says Goldman, the Mustaches for Kids organizer, especially when your face is changing every day. "Half of what we do is some sort of rah-rah publicity for mustaches," Goldman says. "Once we get people interested in that, we can keep going and pitch for money and our cause."