My 12/21/08 Missoulian column
Seems like one can take just about any word, tag an “e” on the front, and come up with an Internet buzzword that becomes part of our everyday language.
A quick look around with Google finds lots of words with an “e” on the front: e-commerce, e-gold, e-how, E*TRADE, eHarmony (some of which are trademarks). Pretty much anything can be “e”-anything with or without the hyphen, and this time of year, e-philanthropy is a popular word, a term that must have popped up when secure credit/debit card payments became commonplace on the Web.
I’ve rarely heard it used, but there’s no doubt about the meaning, especially around this time of year. Call it e-philanthropy on the Web, donating, giving goodwill: It’s all the same thing – generosity – and from the looks of things, it’s sorely needed.
I didn’t have to go far for an idea when I figured I’d write this week about information technology and something in the Christmas spirit. When I read some of the “We Care” pieces in the Missoulian (they’re by Tandy Khameneh; all are at www.missoulian.com/news/wecare) I realized that many of those organizations profiled – along with specific requests to help individuals – can take donations online.
Making a donation online is quick and secure these days, and the ability to give to a charity late at night via your PC might even help you decide on that last-minute gift for someone who is either tough to buy for or who would appreciate a donation in their name. Swag under the tree is always nice, but there’s nothing like a charitable contribution to gain some good karma.
It turns out, one of the best ways for nonprofits to accept secure donations online is through other nonprofits that are designed and managed for that purpose. Those e-philanthropy organizations provide secure methods to accept money so that the charities don’t need the technical know-how to set up their own secure payment and donation gateway. Another good aspect is that those e-philanthropy groups verify – to the best of their ability – the true nonprofit status of that organization you want to give to.
When I say secure, I mean the most obvious form of security required for online transactions, which is “https,” the secure form of hypertext transfer protocol, or “http.” You should always see https in the address of the Web site you are using for online transactions. What https means is that your information is traveling over the Internet – between the PC you are using and the Web server – in a kind of private “tunnel” that is difficult for anyone else to “see through” in order to intercept your information. That private tunnel uses secure sockets layer – an important software protocol that protects sensitive information in transit.
Also, nonprofits, or sites you can use to donate to nonprofits, usually have strict privacy policies for any account information you might enter in order to make donations. (Nonetheless, always read privacy policies on any transaction site).
One of the most popular gateways to make online donations to nonprofits is called Network for Good, which is funded by large high-tech firms such as the AOL-Time Warner Foundation, Cisco Systems and others.
Charities and nonprofits go to Network for Good and register to be able to accept donations online through the service. At the same time, those organizations can update their profiles and Internal Revenue Service forms, which list board members and people responsible for the charity and organization financials, too. Individuals can get a secure way to donate online and can pick nonprofits to give to while verifying those charities. And if you donate a lot, Network for Good keeps your records together for your own taxes at filing time.
Network for Good does not independently verify or investigate the charities it lists, but it draws on publicly available information from the IRS, which is responsible for giving nonprofit status to organizations and for verifying and auditing those organizations.
Network for Good’s Web site states that it “only distribute contributions to charities in ‘good standing’ with the IRS. When you make a donation through Network for Good, you know that your donation is tax-deductible and that your charity of choice is a legitimate charity.”
Network for Good uses a service called GuideStar.org for information from the IRS. GuideStar is a project of Philanthropic Research Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to provide the public with a database of quality information about the programs and finances of U.S. nonprofit organizations.
GuideStar’s mission is to “revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that enables users to make better decisions and encourages charitable giving.”
All 1.7 million nonprofits listed with GuideStar are formally registered with the IRS or have proven they meet all IRS criteria for exempt organizations. GuideStar works with and provides such information to many organizations, one of which is Network for Good.
Network for Good says it has raised more than $175 million in online donations for more than 30,000 different nonprofit organizations, and matched more than 230,000 volunteers with thousands of nonprofits through another one of its services.
There are other services similar to Network for Good; JustGive.org is one, and it offers the ability to open a gifts registry for weddings and other occasions and it advertises that you can donate anonymously, like Network for Good.
How many charitable organizations are listed by Network for Good, JustGive and GuideStar? A search on GuideStar for “Missoula” brings more than 1,600 hits for nonprofits, and “Montana” brings more than 11,000 hits. There are 33 charities in Missoula ready to accept donations via Network for Good, and 1,400 through JustGive, that are more tightly integrated with Guidestar for raw information about organizations. There is much to discover on any of these sites for either a contributor to a charity or for those who run a charity.
To me, Network for Good is more user-friendly for making donations than JustGive, but give them both a try if you have the time. (I’ve used GuideStar and Network for Good to update profiles and accounts for different nonprofits in Missoula).
A good idea is to use Network for Good to search directly for the name of a charity. Some of the Missoula nonprofits that “We Care” profiles use Network for Good for online donations. So it’s not too late to check Network for Good and JustGive for the Missoula Food Bank, Friends to Youth, Youth Homes, Poverello Center, Missoula 3:16, Montana Red Cross and many other deserving organizations.
You can also go directly to any of their Web sites and look for a link to donate. You’ll be helping a nonprofit in town help people, and you will also help a nonprofit help other nonprofits.