Thursday, December 5, 2013
There's something about the holiday season that makes people want to give. Maybe it's a response to the rampant consumerism or the desire for the warm fuzzies that comes from receiving gifts or the idea of spending time with loved ones.
Maybe it's the tax deductions.
While many people spend their time shopping for gifts for family and friends, some go out of their way to make a donation to charities and nonprofits this time of year -- typically evidenced by the Christmas card that says a donation has been made in your name.
According to Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates philanthropic groups, around 50 percent of all donations to charity are done between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. That's roughly $100 billion.
Thanks to new media and Web technologies there are more ways to support the local humane society or your high school marching band than simply writing a check or attending a dinner.
As the number of charities grows and creates further competition for people's donations, new online platforms are allowing nonprofits to diversify their fundraising efforts and draw more attention to their cause.
On BiddingforGood.com organizations are taking the silent auction to the next step.
The site allows organizations like Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine to auction off items and services using an interface similar to sites such as Overstock.com, uBid.com and eBay.
Right now people are bidding and counter-bidding on things like dinner at Bull Feeney's, tickets to the Ogunquit Playhouse and lift tickets to Sugarloaf USA.
This is the third year Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine has held an online auction, raising more than $9,000 in the previous years, said Cyndi Amato, executive director of the group.
''We're always trying to find different ways to increase our financial stability,'' she said.
Amato said the online auction gives people an avenue to directly donate to the cause at their own pace.
Previously they held an auction at the annual Chocolate Lover's Fling, one of their biggest fundraisers. But Amato said organizing an online auction has proven to be much easier than a live one.
An online auction allows more people to participate because it is over a period of days instead of one night, she said.
''In Maine if you have an event scheduled one day that does not work out (because of weather), there goes your fundraising,'' she said.
Jon Carson, chairman and chief executive officer of BiddingforGood, said the Web site optimizes a charity's strengths, allowing them to directly reach donors, but also attract new ones.
''Our idea is that as fundraisers continue to tighten, that it's important for nonprofit organizations to continue to evolve and get better in their fundraising,'' he said.
Started in 2003, the site uses a simple template that allows groups to set up the presentation of auction items. The site offers secure payment as well as account transfers from banks.
Another reason the site is designed for simplicity is because users are typically older and less Web savvy, Carson said.
There are more than 60,000 members bidding on items from over 200 different organizations, he said. BiddingforGood charges organizations an annual fee for unlimited auctions or a performance-based fee.
''Our view is that nonprofits are formidable competitors in the eCommerce economy and the auction model is how they play the game,'' he said.
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, said charities are no different than other companies that see new technology and Web tools as a way to further their goals.
But like many Internet start--ups, sites that assist charities in fundraising can come and go quickly, so organizations need to be careful who they are affiliated with.
Through its Web site, Charity Navigator offers information on the financial health of charities, how they spend money and how they trend over time.
Miniutti said this time of year people are very eager to give because of the holidays, but also because they may have extra money in their budget.
But the goal of most charities is to have prolonged giving from people, and the Web offers opportunities to do that, she said.
It's important that people do their research on sites that help nonprofits as well as the charities themselves and look for what type of work they do and how much money goes toward programs.
At GoodSearch.com people can use a search engine powered by Yahoo! to raise money for more than 48,000 charities. Each search on the site contributes one cent from advertising to a charity and a check is sent to participating groups at the end of the year.
JJ Ramburg, co--founder of the site, said Web searches generate more than $8 billion in advertising revenue each year.
They estimate if a group has 1,000 supporters, and they make two searches a day, it could generate $7,300 for an organization by the end of the year.
''Everyone cares about a cause and everyone wants to support that cause but may not have the time or money,'' she said. ''This way you could do what you're doing every day.''
One of the Portland -- area groups participating in GoodSearch is My Wonderful Dog, which trains service dogs for people with disabilities.
According to the site, My Wonderful Dog has earned just under $8 so far this year.
But Elsa Larsen, president of My Wonderful Dog, said every little bit helps. The group uses several sites along with area fundraisers to generate money.
Larsen said it helps to have different fundraising sources because it allows them to focus on training dogs instead of development efforts.
While using the Internet can make the giving process somewhat faceless, Larsen said it's up to organizations to find ways to counter that with events and regular contact.
''It isn't the answer for everything, but I think it's an acceptable way of interacting for a more computer-literate society,'' she said.
Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at
email@example.comLike many Internet start--ups, sites that assist charities in fundraising can come and go quickly, so organizations need to be careful who they are affiliated with.