Surf the Web for a Change

It's never been easier to make a difference on behalf of an issue you care about. You can use the Web to browse for a good cause, to donate money for good works, or to serve as a virtual volunteer. Social change is just a click away.

Most Fast Company readers love change. They love to change their assumptions about business. They love to change the trajectory of their careers. They love to change companies. But many also love the idea of changing the world -- making some kind of contribution, to the community or to a global cause, that goes beyond the cold dollars-and-cents calculations of business life. Just as they're using the Web to change the way they do their work, they're using it to change the way they contribute to social change.

Consider Randy Smith, 45, a free-agent TV producer who uses iGive.com (www.igive.com) to raise money for his organization, the Lost Children's Network (www.lostchildren.org). The group helps families and law-enforcement agencies use television programs to locate missing children. Smith founded the group in 1996, after his niece was abducted. (She was eventually found.)

In 1998, the Lost Children's Network was getting 20 to 30 calls per week from families seeking help, and Smith was severely in need of funds. That's when he found iGive, a site that lets users donate part of what they spend on Web-based purchases to good causes. Smith registered the Lost Children's Network with iGive and put a link to iGive on his site. So far, iGive has helped Smith raise enough money to air four national TV programs that helped recover seven missing children. "It's a great way to raise funds without having to beg for money," says Smith. "If you can bring seven children home, it's worth it."

Or consider Steve Hawkins, 49, a senior VP of a major national bank who uses the Web to donate to his favorite charities. After finding out about charitableway.com Inc. (www.charitableway.com) from colleagues at work, Hawkins gave it a try. While browsing through information about a number of charities, he came across Action on Smoking and Health. He hit the "Donate Now" button, entered the dollar amount, and supplied his credit-card information. He was even able to opt for anonymity. "It was easier than writing a check," says Hawkins. "I discovered causes that I'm interested in and put the money where I wanted it to go. And I can do some good without having to deal with getting on a mailing list and being constantly solicited to give more. It was a very pleasant experience, one that I will repeat."

That's what makes social change on the Web so promising -- you don't have to spend huge amounts of time or money to make a big difference. Activist Danny Seo, who founded a national environmental group when he was just 12 years old, believes that everyone can have an impact on the world around them by spending just 15 minutes a day -- so long as they spend it wisely.

"I don't believe," he says, "that we have to choose between contributing something worthy to humanity -- like fighting hunger, poverty, disease, and abuse -- and enjoying some hard-earned leisure time. That's why I believe in 15-minute miracles."

This @work is dedicated to showing you how the world's most powerful new technology -- the Internet -- can be harnessed to help remedy some of the world's most pressing social problems. It also offers you a comparison of some of the best places to turn everyday Web shopping into a force for good works, and even suggests what to give this holiday season when you want a gift that gives something back to the community.

Make a Difference, One Click at a Time

We have all heard the excuse, and we have probably used it a few times ourselves: "I'm so busy meeting deadlines that there's no time for making a difference." We sympathize with busy schedules -- but the Web is making that excuse harder and harder to accept. The fact is, it's never been easier, or faster, to do your part for social change.

Nowhere is that new reality more evident than at the Hunger Site (www.hungersite.com). This site allows you to make a free food donation to hungry people around the world by simply donating some surfing time. Just visit the site, locate the "Donate Free Food" button, and click. That's it! The sponsors (whose postage-stamp-size ads thank you for your donation) pay for your contribution. For each click made by a site visitor, the sponsors agree to pay half a cent to the United Nations World Food Program, the world's largest food-aid organization. The food program then uses the money to buy and distribute staples like rice, wheat, and corn to more than 80 countries -- mostly in Africa, Asia, and South America. One piece of advice: Don't be a glutton with your clicks. The site monitors each donation, and it only allows visitors to make one donation per day. So if you visit the site once a day, you'll be doing your small part to fight world hunger.

And lots of small actions can lead to big results. The Hunger Site is the brainchild of John Breen, who was an independent computer consultant before he started managing the site full-time. (He spends more than 60 hours a week updating statistics and answering roughly 200 emails daily.) When the site was launched in June 1999, Breen hoped it would eventually draw 10,000 visitors a day. But during September alone, the Hunger Site got nearly 2.5 million hits, which generated more than 200 tons of food. Since the site was launched, more than 7 million donations have been made.

A number of sites let you make a contribution simply by doing what you already do on the Web -- surf, search, and shop.

One such site is iGive.com, the site that TV producer Randy Smith chose to raise money for the Lost Children's Network. Essentially, iGive provides an online mall that allows users to raise money by making purchases from any of its member stores. Currently, there are more than 100 merchants in the mall, including CDNow Inc., Reel.com, JC Penney, and the Sharper Image.

Once you buy an item, as much as 15% (percentages vary by merchant) of the product price will be donated to your charity. The more you shop, the more money you raise. Although shopping is the most seamless way to raise funds, there are other ways to earn cash for your cause. Just by joining iGive, the site will make a $10 donation to your charity. If you refer the site to a friend who buys something, iGive will donate $1 to your cause.

KickStart.com (www.kickstart.com) is another site where users can make donations by making purchases. Community associations, schools, and charitable groups create their own Web pages on which they post news and information about their respective agencies to keep supporters up to date on their activities -- just like virtual newsletters. They make money by receiving 50% of the ad revenue generated from their pages, along with half of the commission every time a purchase is made from one of the links on their pages.

Besides supporting an organization by shopping via its Web page, users can also select the organization's URL as their start page (the first page displayed when the browser is opened) and customize it with news, weather, and favorite links. A search engine on the page gives access to the Web -- and for each search initiated, one cent is donated to the organization.

This way of generating funds has proved so fruitful that even the Motley Fool, the high-profile personal-finance site, has gotten into the act. Last year, it created the Fool Charity Fund (www.fool.com/FoolCharityFund/index.htm) to benefit Share Our Strength (SOS), a nonprofit dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty. This year, the Motley Fool launched a new fund-raiser called "Here's My Two Cents." For every new posting made to the Motley Fool message boards before December 31, the site donates two cents to SOS.

Checks for Charity

Maybe you've still got a pretty traditional approach to making social change -- namely, scribbling a check and forking over some of your earnings. The Web changes the logic of how you write checks for charity, largely because it creates a much more efficient way for good causes and potential donors to hook up. After all, you want your donations to go toward cleaning up the environment or helping kids read -- not toward bolstering the tills of direct-marketing companies, telephone solicitors, and high-priced fund- raising consultants.

That's why, once you've decided to support a cause, your first move should be to log onto the Internet. Most of the big, well-known nonprofits have sites that accept donations via the Web. In some cases, they will even let you specify which local chapter should get your contribution. Some Web sites worth checking out are UNICEF (www.unicef.org), the American Red Cross (http://redcross.org), CARE (www.care.org), United Way of America (www.unitedway.org), and Habitat for Humanity International (www.habitat.org). Besides letting you make a donation without lots of red tape, these sites are a great source of information about the organizations and ways to help out (volunteer opportunities, supply donations, and so on).

If you have a particular area of interest but are unsure about which organization to support, a good way to review your options is by visiting charitableway.com, just as senior bank VP Steve Hawkins did. The site lets you browse through an alphabetical list of charities that's organized by name or by category (for example, children and youth, civil and human rights, education and literacy, and health and disease). A brief description accompanies each charity.

Some of the charities include a "Learn More" icon that you can click on to get a detailed report that may include information on the charity's financials, accomplishments, and upcoming activities, as well as other ways to help. There's also a "Did You Know?" section that provides facts about the organization, such as what a particular donation can do. Once you've selected a charity, you can donate by entering your credit-card number and the donation amount. You can remain anonymous or share your personal information.

If you're a serious donor, visit Benefice (www.benefice.com), and check out the Personal Giving Plan, which is a personal-giving assistant that helps you maintain a list of selected charities, set an annual donation goal, and track all your contributions for tax purposes. It also offers tips for more effective giving and regularly updates you with news and events.

Virtual Volunteers

Donating money is a powerful way to support a worthy cause. But donating time can make an even bigger difference. Whether you're looking for a onetime opportunity or an ongoing commitment, you might want to start by consulting the Web. For example, there's VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org). Besides offering advice on how to find a suitable volunteer opportunity, this site lets you search a database of more than 6,000 organizations and more than 18,000 volunteer opportunities by zip code, date, or type of activity. The service retrieves a list of opportunities and allows you to sign up by posting your email address. After that, it's up to the organization to contact you.

For most people, volunteering means showing up at a certain place and time. Not anymore. Thanks to VolunteerMatch's Virtual Volunteer section, you can browse thousands of opportunities for a range of activities, such as designing Web pages and writing grant proposals for, say, environmental or religious groups. You can often sign up for an opportunity that interests you by posting your email address.

The Web can also expand your volunteering horizons. Do you feel the need for a vacation that also contributes something for the common good? Then consider a volunteer vacation. Volunteer America! (www.volunteeramerica.com) collects links to information on trips that are not only good for the soul but beneficial to the environment -- including one where you repair trails in Utah's Grand Gulch Archaeological Area, which is coordinated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

But perhaps you're looking for an opportunity that has all the adventure of a rugged vacation but is slightly more civilized. How about volunteering overseas? Go to Idealist (www.idealist.org), and you'll find names of organizations that place volunteers around the world. Time commitments range from a week to a year, and fluency in the language of the country where you'll be placed is usually required.

Good Places for Your Stuff

Do you have a perfectly usable mobile phone that you're dying to trade up for the latest in wireless gadgetry? Before you throw your old phone in the back of your closet, check out Bell Atlantic Mobile's community-service program, Wireless at Work (www.bam.com/violence.htm). The program donates new wireless phones and helps social-service agencies gather used ones. Bell Atlantic reprograms the used phones so that they will dial 911 at the touch of a button. Agencies then distribute the phones to neighborhood-watch groups, victims of domestic abuse, and even school crossing guards.

Also, you can donate your frequent-flier miles to the Dream Foundation (www.dreamfoundation.org), which will use them to reunite terminally ill patients with their families. Or you can donate your miles to fly a sick child to a hospital for treatment -- just contact Miracle Flights For Kids (www.miracleflights.com). Although both sites offer lots of information about the organizations and how to donate, the Dream Foundation only allows you to donate United Airlines mileage online. For all other airlines and for all mileage donations to Miracle Flights, you'll have to contact each agency.

Not only can the Web help you put wireless phones and airplane mileage to good use, but it can also help you find a home for almost anything you want to donate. Whether it's a company interested in contributing a truckload of excess inventory, or a mother hoping to find a new home for a dollhouse that her daughter has outgrown, the Web can provide many great avenues for donating stuff. For companies, Gifts In Kind International (www.giftsinkind.org) helps manufacturers and retailers donate new products and used computers to charities around the world.

For individuals, Excess Access (www.excessaccess.com) is the site to visit. It links nonprofits' needs with individuals' surplus. If you have something to donate, you can enter the item on the Web site or browse the wish lists of organizations to see if your item is needed. If your donation is accepted, you get free removal of the item and a receipt showing your tax-deductible contribution.

Associate Editor Gina Imperato (gimperato@fastcompany.com) recently completed the AIDS Ride from Boston to New York City.

Action Item: CharityWatch

Have you ever made a donation to a good cause and then wondered how much of your check actually goes to the needy? The American Institute of Philanthropy makes that question easier to answer.

AIP is a watchdog that rates about 400 national charities. Its ratings focus on how much a group spends on its purpose and how much it spends raising money. Although lists of the best charities are on the Web site, you have to become a member to get the data.

Coordinates: American Institute of Philanthropy, www.charitywatch.org, aip@charitywatch.org

Sidebar: This Activist Is Full of Beans

We've all heard those heart-tugging messages that sound something like this: "For just $1 a day -- less than half the price of that decaf grande latte from Starbucks -- you can feed a starving child for a week." But as Seattle's Jeff Reifman proves, doing your part for social change doesn't have to mean forgoing your daily cup of coffee.

Reifman, 29, a former group program manager at Microsoft, is founder of giving.org, an investment fund dedicated to creating businesses that donate profits to community charities. Back in 1997, after six years at Microsoft, Reifman found himself in a nice position -- financially: He had the ability to give something back to the community. Instead of donating his money, he decided to donate his expertise: "I wanted to create a solution that could be sustainable -- to support causes on an ongoing basis."

So Reifman built Habitat Espresso, a neighborhood coffeehouse and community center that would donate 50% of its profits to community charities, with the other half of the profits going to the giving.org investment fund, which helps future nonprofit businesses. Shortly after opening Habitat, Reifman and giving.org's general manager, Matthew Gurney, 29, bought a second shop in Seattle -- the Four Angels Café. Like its predecessor, the Four Angels donates its profits to charities. In addition to opening their coffers to the community, the shops have also become community centers -- places where local artists can display their work and where local groups can hold meetings.

After his foray into the world of coffeehouses, the highly caffeinated Reifman turned his attention to his third nonprofit business, EarthWest Web Studios (www.earthwest.com), a Web-design and -consulting company. EarthWest also donates its profits to programs that combat domestic violence.

Reifman finally left Microsoft last April to start his first for-profit business, GiftSpot.com. GiftSpot.com allows visitors to purchase gift certificates that recipients can redeem at more than 25 merchants, including eBags.com, eToys.com, Gear.com, and MotherNature.com. GiftSpot.com also lets users donate their change to charities. But he hasn't forgotten his philanthropic passions. Currently, users can select from four charities: the Earth Day Network, the American Lung Association, Easter Seals, and Gilda's Club, a cancer-research foundation created in memory of comedienne Gilda Radner. Says Reifman, "This is my way of using the Internet to change a little part of the world."

Coordinates: Jeff Reifman, jeff@giftspot.com, www.giftspot.com, www.giving.org

Sidebar: Gifts That Give

'Tis the season for giving. This year, give a gift that benefits more than the recipient. Here are three examples.

Starbucks Gift Packs Starbucks.com (www.starbucks.com) offers a number of gift baskets that help such causes as feeding the hungry, aids research, and literacy. The CARE Sampler includes half-pound bags of four different coffees: Kenya, Sulawesi, Guatemala Antigua, and Ethiopia Sidamo. It costs $25.95, $2 of which goes to CARE, the global relief organization.

Charitable Gift Cards Looking for a gift for someone with everything? Then check out Charitygift (www.charitygift.com). This Austin, Texas company offers customized cards that let you make donations to the charity of the recipient's choice. Cards can be paper or electronic, and they cost between $3.95 and $6.95, depending on the type of card and the quantity ordered. You must also make at least a $10 donation. The recipient visits the Charitygift Web site, enters an ID number and password, and gives the money to the charity of choice.

Do-Good Cookin' Why not give yourself a treat? Visit Cookin' on the Net (www.cooknet.org), a tasty site organized by venture-capitalist Chip Hall and a high-profile board of ".com" advisers who have created a cookbook of recipes from some of the most famous chefs and the top restaurants in the country. The book is sold via the Web site, ensuring that as much money as possible goes to this group's Community Technology Centers, which are located in low-income communities.

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