Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Charities Online

If you have some time and you fancy yourself quite a trivia buff, go and visit Freerice.com, the well-established charity challenge. Originally just a vocab exercise paired with donations of rice to third world nations, Freerice.com has branched out into other subjects to test, such as math and history, has lured more users and has become a model of online giving.

Founded in 2007 by John Breen and donated to the UN World Food Program in March 2009, Free Rice peaked in its viral visitors in the first year, getting some 500,000 visitors daily. While those numbers have dropped with time, the site still does a brisk business in unique daily visitors and in food donations.

Using sponsor banners that appear on the site with each correct answer, players build up a store of rice, 10 grains at a time, which is then purchased by the banner ad sponsors and donated to the UN for distribution to countries with famine epidemics. Over the last 18 months, Free Rice users and sponsors have donated over 60 Billion grains of rice.

And that's part of the appeal of online charities. I myself was a regular at FreeRice.com for several days when I first discovered the site. It didn't take long to build up a significant amount of rice, and with a minimal effort you could do some good. Online charities are growing into the social media and internet sphere just like every other organization. Part of what makes these charties so effective is the rapididty with which you can join in as well as their viral nature.

Simply put, the Web is just too big for any one person to know of or even be aware of everything that is out there. Viral campaigns are aptly named because they flare up, sweeping through the internet, only to die down for a while before being fanned alive once more. Every so often, a new batch of people will discover the site and email invites will begin to appear in my inbox, and I return to FreeRice.com to play some more. And invite others to play who might not have heard of FreeRice.com or who, like me, have forgotten about it.

With the expansion and participation of social media, this can be a match made in heaven. Fans of various game applications spend more than enough time playing Scrabble or Mafia Wars that harnessing something they like to do with something that benefits others is a shrewd move. Into the fray we have movers and shakers like these 26 Twitter Charities, or you could consider this list of 50 Social Media charities from sites around the 'net or if Facebook is your primary place there are these great apps. You could even consider looking into experiments such as Twestivals and Twollars.

Part of what makes social media and social networking an interesting, fun and helpful place to be is that people engage there just as they would in their away from the keyboard lives. Being involved in making the world a better place is something intrinsic in most people and most of us have some kind of shortlist of charities or causes we believe in and want to help. Social media is a great place to harness that power and to connect with others who have the same interests and concerns. What social media can do for the business side of things can find its altruistic side as well.

If your organization is involved in traditional giving, but you've been considering a social network push for some time, why not combine these efforts? Consider becoming a sponsor to one or more online efforts or even starting your own socially charitable hub. Give your users a small game or application that lets them interact with you and your charity and you may have a recipe for success. Plus, it's a great way to boost your name recognition while reallocating your charitable donation dollars, giving you a double bang for the buck.

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