Internet popular way to give
WASHINGTON – Whether motivated by holiday-inspired goodwill, tax-conscious self-interest or a little of both, more people are using the Internet to make charitable donations.
“The convenience and choice, combined with the opportunities for easy communication and stewardship, make e-philanthropy a compelling way for donors to support the charity of their choice,” said Theodore Hart, president and chief executive officer of ePhilanthropyFoundation.Org, a national organization setting standards for online giving.
“These forces will continue to make online donations the fastest-growing form of philanthropy,” Hart said.
The foundation estimates there are 2.9 million Web sites accepting donations for nonprofit groups. While it isn’t known how many donors used the Web for charitable donations in 2003, the foundation believes about $5 billion was raised through the Internet worldwide. Of that, about $1.9 billion was raised in the United States.
But consumer watchdog groups urge donors to be cautious.
“Most charities soliciting today do so accountably and honestly and with integrity, but there are some activities that are not done in that manner,” said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity-monitoring organization.
“For some reason, people’s guards come down when it’s a charitable appeal,” Weiner said. “They may not take all the precautions they would if they were going to go shopping.”
To avoid fraud on the Web, Weiner advises doing your homework. Use the Internet to discover as much as possible about a charity, especially making sure it is a tax-exempt organization in good standing with the federal government and is independently audited.
A shortcut that’s gaining in popularity is the multiple-charity Web site, such as www.justgive.org or www.networkforgood.org, which allow individual donors to give to a number of charities through a single site.
“You can do all your giving in one transaction,” said Kendall Webb, executive director of JustGive.org, a nonprofit that is the largest online charitable transfer agency in the country. “By giving at one site, you can keep track of your donations. If you send out checks, then you have to wait for receipts for tax time. With us, you can print out a single sheet with all your donations listed for dozens of different charities.”
Webb said her agency’s Internet site sees its biggest business at the end of the year. Sixty percent of annual donations come in December and 45 percent in the last 10 days before Jan. 1. This year the Web site expects to accept $10 million in donations for charities around the nation. There are 1 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States.
Finally, experts say not to be fooled by flashy Web gimmicks and graphics.
“Most charities these days are going to have some Web site to describe what they do,” said Weiner. “The fact they have one doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any more accountable than the next charity. Look beyond the expensive graphics for more specific information before you give.”