Thursday, December 13, 2007

Charity Through the Internet

Starting this afternoon (3:00 P.M. on 12/13/2007), a “new” concept will be tested to determine the role of the Internet in aiding charitable causes. The Case Foundation is sponsoring a contest which will award two prizes, one of $500,000 and one of $250,000, to people who enter either via Parade Magazine or through the Causes section of Facebook. According to the sponsors of the contest, “[t]he prizes will go to the charities and causes that attract the greatest numbers of unique donors, rather than the one that raises the most money.”

According to Jean Case, co-founder of the Case Foundation, the purpose of such a contest is to endorse the belief that“[p]hilanthropy shouldn’t be defined as a bunch of rich people writing big checks”. Instead, such a contest hopes to encourages and demonstrate how a large number of smaller donations can be just as effective as a single large donation. Along with the Case Foundation, it appears that Facebook is seeking to send a similar message, as evidenced by the following description obtained from their “About” section:

“The goal of all this is what we call ‘equal opportunity activism.’ We're trying to level the playing field by empowering individuals to change the world. Existing nonprofits must raise hundreds of millions of dollars and leverage massive direct marketing campaigns to attract members. We're democratizing activism by empowering activists with an arsenal of tools for users of Facebook who want to leverage their network on Facebook to effect positive change.”

The Case Foundation and Facebook appear to be seeking the most beneficial way to further charitable endeavors through the use of the Internet. Aside from this contest, the Chase Foundation is supporting, aimed at getting youths involved in their community and charitable causes. Facebook’s efforts have raised what some call “modest” amounts; but even the $52,240.00 raised for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the top cause on the site, would seem to amount to much more than what any of these users alone would contribute.

Targeting Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as cooperating with companies such as MTV, would certainly seem to, at the least, make these opportunities known to a previously untapped audience and get this audience to think about their participation in charitable causes. The Internet is already being successfully used for the purposes of acquiring signatures on petitions; this success seems to stem from the fact that the Internet creates greater awareness and ease of participation. It would seem that other charitable causes could just as easily take advantage of these same benefits the Internet provides. If organizations such as the Chase Foundation can promote their causes through the use of the Internet as effectively as proponents of these petitions have, they will have an excellent opportunity to make people aware of this “equal opportunity activism” and demonstrate how even small donations can be effective. If such effective use can be implemented by these organizations, it is believed that these projects will encourage participation and will be successful, leading to greater participation in charitable endeavors.

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