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Microgiving: Your Guide to Websites

Match up your cause and your budget to make a difference

SeeYourImpact. Cofounded by Microsoft alumni Scott Oki and Digvijay Chauhana, SeeYourImpact connects donors with causes in a more intimate way than similar charities by using camera-equipped mobile phones in the field to capture photos and videos that show contributions at work. Earmark a contribution for, say, the Blind People's Association in Ahmedabad, India, (one of SeeYourImpact's partner organizations around the world) and in a few days you'll see a blind student there learning math with a Braille abacus that your contribution helped to buy.

Deductions: None. (The organization's operating costs are covered by donors who choose to give extra amounts for that purpose.)

UniversalGiving. Founded in 2002 by Pamela Hawley (who previously co-founded VolunteerMatch), UniversalGiving describes itself as a website "that helps people give and volunteer with the top-performing projects all over the world." The organization says that it thoroughly vets all of the recipient organizations with "a unique quality model."

Deduction: None for donations made by check; a "small processing fee" for donations made by credit card or electronic check.

Specific-Purpose Sites

Each of these sites focuses on a specific cause.

DonorsChoose. Charles Best was teaching social studies at a public high school in the Bronx when he came up with the idea for an online charity that connects generous souls directly to "classrooms in need" all across America. On the site you can peruse thousands of requests posted by public-school teachers — from pens and pencils to musical instruments and microscope slides — and contribute as little as $1 to a project you choose. After the fundraising goal is met and DonorsChoose delivers the materials to the school, donors get photos of the project, a thank-you letter from the teacher and a report showing exactly how the money was spent. If you give more than $50, you'll also receive handwritten thank-you letters from the students.

Deductions: An 18 percent "fulfillment fee" is built into each project (to cover such costs as purchasing materials and sending them to schools), but donors can opt out of supporting those costs as they go through the checkout process.

USA Projects. It's always been next to impossible to make a tax-deductible gift to an individual artist. But a little more than a year ago, United States Artists — a nonprofit grant-making, artist-advocacy organization based in Los Angeles — launched USA Projects, the first online "microphilanthropy" initiative devoted solely to artists who live and work in the United States. Applicants in the performing, visual, media and literary arts billboard their projects online for would-be donors (the projects are prescreened by expert panels), and if they must meet their fundraising goals by the posted deadline to collect the pledges. As of June 2011, more than 200 artists had participated, with three out of four seeing their projects funded (average donation: $140).

Deductions: None. USA's operating expenses have been covered by $22 million in seed funding provided by four big foundations.

Givology. Launched in 2008 by students at the University of Pennsylvania, Givology describes itself as an "online giving marketplace for education that leverages small-dollar donations to support grass-roots projects and student scholarships in the developing world." You can, for example, help repair a west African school in the village of Solo, Mali, or help build a primitive kitchen in an earthquake-damaged school in Vallee de Jacmel, Haiti. Student and project updates are collected quarterly by the organization's partners in the field and then shared online with donors.

Deductions: Transaction fees ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent for credit-card processing and other costs.

Next: “Person-to-Person” Sites. >>

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