These sites specialize in putting donors and beneficiaries in direct contact.
MicroGiving. John Ferber, an Internet entrepreneur, created the site in 2007 to cut through what he calls "the red tape of traditional charity organizations" and directly connect donors with recipients (both individuals and organizations), especially those struggling through such hardships as illness or loss of income. It's much like eBay connects buyers directly with sellers. MicroGiving says that all recipients have gone through "a strict verification process" and submitted documentation to establish that their need is legitimate.
Deductions: 10 percent of money raised plus 3 percent for credit-card processing; reduced to 5 percent for "financial hardship" cases.
Modest Needs. Keith Taylor founded this site in 2002 to help people handle expenses that they could not have anticipated or prepared for and financial emergencies that threaten to force them into "the cycle of poverty." Donors receive "Modest Needs Points" that they can allocate to applications for assistance; requests accrue points until fully funded. Modest Needs then sends money directly to creditors on the applicant's behalf.
Deductions: Fulfillment costs — expenses related to processing, vetting and funding applications — range from 15 percent to 25 percent.
SaveTogether. This one's all about the multiplier effect. You select a low-wage worker (screened in advance by SaveTogether) whose story and aspirations inspire you — whether the goal is to go to school, buy a home or start a business — and agree to help match what the person is able to put aside for that purpose. You can make a contribution as small as $1. Your contribution won't go directly to the individual but to a participating nonprofit organization that offers a matched savings program for low-wage workers. An individual in the program who manages to put away $500, for example, could see his or her nest egg, thanks to the matching funds, hit the $1,500 mark.
Deductions: None. (Donors are asked to make an extra contribution to help cover operating costs.)
WideAwake.org. The distinctive feature of this online giving portal is its promise that "every cent of every donation will reach its intended beneficiary," with nothing deducted "to cover the administrative and operating costs of our organization." Founded in 2007 by a corporate lawyer named Frank Victor-McCawley and Brian Manning, a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, the organization is entirely a volunteer operation: "no one on our team," the website notes, "receives any form of compensation." It currently works with eight charitable affiliates in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.