Philanthropy Feature 1: E-Philanthropy

When Beth Caissie of Fairbanks, Alaska, needs more checks, she doesn't settle for the boring ones her bank provides. Instead, she logs on to - a website that donates a portion of each sale to charity.

Beth Caissie: I usually go the website and look at all the different charities they have and narrow it down. Okay, I would love to support these 15 or 20 organizations and then I look at their checks and whoever has the coolest design is the one that I usually buy.

Right now she's using checks featuring big redwood trees that benefit the Sierra Club.

Beth Caissie: I guess it just makes me feel like my money is being used twice. I don't necessarily have the means to write out a $25 check to every organization I want to support, but I have to buy certain things and so, if by buying that thing, I can also support an organization I think that that is sort of doing double duty with my money.

Caissie's not alone. A growing number of people have discovered so-called charity malls. Places online where you can buy everything from dog food to diamonds, with a percent of the proceeds going to charity. And an increasing number of charities have also now view the web to reach potential donors, among them Mike Valentine - founder of the California-based Juno Valentine Foundation - which provides college scholarships to underprivileged youths.

Mike Valentine: I did a promotion about two years ago that suggested that they could raise money for your favorite charity cause. When I saw that I immediately ran over there and joined up.

There is growing competition amongst charities for an online presence -- with organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Salvation Army now soliciting donations on their websites. Buzz Schmidt is an ephilanthropy pioneer who believes it will revolutionize the way people give.

Buzz Schmidt: We'll see opportunities to give that will accompany virtually every article somebody might read on the internet. You'll be reading along about breast cancer and you'll be able to support the organizations in your area that are active in that field.

But no everyone's as sanguine about ephilanthropy. There are questions of security for Barbara Kibbe of the Packard Foundation.

Barbara Kibbe: We've already seen some vacating in the ephilnathroyp arena where dot-com ephilanthropies are really not able to get traction because it's assumed that they're middlemen.

Middlemen that don't really have a lot of knowledge about the charities they're supporting. There's also the question of resources for nonprofits that might want to cut out the middleman, according to University of Florida public relations professor Peg Hall.

Peg Hall: In a smaller organization you are unlikely to have an expert in web design and security and hiring somebody to do that for you probably would not be the best, I would think would probably not be where I want to put my resources initially.

Other critics worry that the ability to easily click-and-give to any charity ANY where in the world dilute the local charitable dollar, but Buzz Schmidt disagrees.

Buzz Schmidt: I don't think it will necessarily damage the ability of the local soup kitchen to raise dollars because the local soup kitchen now has the ability to be seen by people who are really concerned about soup kitchens as opposed to you who were - you know - just kind of more or less responding to requests.

Hoping to connect would-be donors with the charities of their choice - entrepreneurs like Schmidt have developed online, searchable databases of charities … sort of global United Way directories that may one day replace the traditional United Way. I'm Tanya Ott for WCPN.

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