Do "click to give" sites actually do good?

Advice on how to make the world better.
April 8 2009 6:58 AM

Push a Button, Change the World

Do "click to give" sites actually do good?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Patty and Sandy,

Are "click to give" sites legitimate? If so, why don't you hear stories about people they have benefited?

Ashleigh

Sandy:

For those of you who don't know what Ashleigh's talking about, "click to give" sites allow individuals to "donate" money by going online and clicking a button. The click leads you to a page with ads, and the advertiser gives money (based on the number of clicks) directly to a charity designated by the site. If you think it sounds too good to be true, you may be right.

The first question is whether your clicks actually lead to donations. One of the most notable "click to give" pages, the Hunger Site, says that user clicks led to more than 290 tons of food donated last month (4,539,828 clicks). Their early success led to the creation of several other sites, including the Breast Cancer Site, where user clicks led to 203.9 free mammograms in March (7,842,148 clicks). The apparent ease of fundraising in this way has led to a flood of copy cats offering clickable opportunities to save animals, oceans, and children. While the better-known sites ensure that their sponsors donate 100 percent of revenues to trustworthy charities, smaller sites may not follow the same guidelines.

I found one business that offers to help charities set up their own sites but only promises them up to 50 percent of the ad revenue generated. Presumably, the business keeps the remainder. Other fledgling sites have trouble directing their ad revenues to effective organizations. FreePoverty, a site created to benefit water distribution efforts, talks explicitly about its difficulty finding a partner organization on its FAQ page: "Due to some unforeseen issues with the organization we previously donated our revenues to … we are now looking for a decent non-profit organization to collaborate with FreePoverty and its users."

Even though each click may amount to only a few pennies, I would make the most of them by using CharityUSA's sites (five in total, including both the Hunger Site and the Breast Cancer Site), which donate 100 percent of the corporate sponsor's money to respected charities such as Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest) and Mercy Corps. If you have more time to kill, or rusty vocabulary skills, try FreeRice, an educational game site run by the U.N.World Food Program and Harvard's Berkman Center that gives 10 grains of rice to the UNWFP for every question you answer correctly. They've donated more than 62 billion grains of rice in less than two years. Procrastination has never felt so worthwhile.

The second and more complicated question is whether the painlessness of "donating" on these sites is ultimately detrimental to the causes they support. Are people going to "click to give" sites in lieu of taking other action? Is clicking keeping them from actually donating money? My guess is no, but it's a real concern. Even a religious clicker would only net about $10 a year for any given site. They count you only once per day. Tackling any of these issues is going to take a lot more than that.

Patty:

Ashleigh, "click to give" sites might be the best example of slacktivism: easy and painless acts that allow us to feel we are doing our part to make the world a better place with the least possible mental, physical, or financial exertion. While it's encouraging to see so much creativity being put toward the myriad ways we can change the world without getting up off the couch, I strongly encourage everyone using "click to give" to remember Gandhi's quote: "We must become the change we wish to see in the world." Simply clicking may provide modest incremental benefit, but it isn't going to get us the world we wish to see. You're not off the hook.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

In our ongoing effort to do better ourselves, we're donating 25 percent of the proceeds from this column to ONE.org—an organization committed to raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, and disease and the efforts to fight such problems in the world's poorest countries.

Patty Stonesifer is the chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was president, then CEO for 10 years. She spent the first two decades of her career in the technology business, where her last job was senior vice president at Microsoft.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.