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Charity clicks – Online, the giving is easy

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The future of philanthropy may be online.

That’s the opinion of Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, who says the Web makes giving easy and gives Internet users a sense of getting involved.

“If you want to glimpse the future of philanthropy, try clicking on thehungersite.com,” he says.

The year-old site lets readers donate a cup-and-a-half of rice or grain a day simply by clicking on a button that says DONATE FREE FOOD.

“You give the advertisers your eyeballs for a few seconds, and they give money to the United Nations World Food Program – for much less than it would cost the advertisers to get your attention otherwise,” Alter says. “Call it charitable alchemy, but it works.”

Alter says such innovative “cause-related” Web giving is needed to feed the hungry.

Citing last week’s Giving USA 2000 report that found charitable giving in the U.S. grew 9.1 percent last year to $190 billion, Alter notes that “most of the that money goes into local middle-class communities ($80 billion to churches alone), and donors still tend to favor bricks and mortar at their alma maters over needier causes where their names don’t go on plaques – like after-school programs for at-risk kids or hunger relief.”

And donations to international groups are up sharply, but still account for less than 2 percent of total giving, he says.

“That’s not going to cut it,” he says. “Arguably the biggest story in the world right now is that an entire continent – Africa – is dying, the victim of AIDS, war and famine.”

at thehungersite.com, he says, 65 million visitors from 182 countries have clicked in 17 million pounds of food, and the site still hasn’t signed up big advertisers.

And at www.therainforestsite.com/clickToGive, each click results in the Nature Conservancy setting aside 13.5 square feet of rain forest.

The next frontier, Alter says, is using online commerce for charity.

“Sites like Greatergood.com and 4charity.com have deals with scores of bran-name retailers like Amazon.com and L.L. Bean,” he says. “If you buy from these stores through charity sites, the companies donate anywhere from 2 percent to 20 percent of the purchase price to one of hundreds of allied nonprofit good causes, though without a tax break for the customer.”

“This probably is the wave of the future for charity,” Abby Spring of the United Nations World Food Program told Alter.

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