More and more websites make it easy for you to spread your wealth around a little bit — or, more accurately, in little bits. Online microgiving — or microphilanthropy — is powerful, efficient and popular because, at very low cost, it connects contributors and their social networks with causes. Many charities like the "micro" approach, too, figuring that it's better to raise lots of small contributions from a large number of people instead of a few large contributions from a handful of donors.
See also: AARP Foundation Gift Planning.
If you think microphilanthropy might be for you, here are more than a dozen organizations that can help you get started. They're all nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations classified as public charities by the Internal Revenue Service, and thus contributions to them should generally be tax-deductible. (We haven't included similar sites operated by for-profit companies, such as Crowdrise, launched in 2010 by actor Edward Norton and three partners, and Visa Giving Gateway, an online-giving portal for Visa cardholders.)
Each entry includes fees that you might be charged or deductions from your donation that the organization discloses as administrative, processing or "fulfillment" costs. For tips on how to evaluate an organization, read Small Is Beautiful.
Each of these sites can connect you to a variety of causes.
Changing the Present. Think of this website as a huge online catalog of suggested "gifts that change the world" — a $120 contribution, for example, to buy a dairy goat for a family in a Third World country. The site partners with hundreds of different charitable organizations, and you can put as many gifts as you want in an online shopping cart. You can even create gift registries and wish lists, allowing others to make contributions in your name.
Deductions: Recipient charities are charged "a standard credit card transaction fee" of 3 percent plus 30 cents.
Citizen Effect. Citizen Effect marshals an army of "citizen philanthropists" who tap people in their social network to contribute to their cause of choice — whether it's building a community water tank in a village in India or providing medical services for refugees in Zambia. There's a questionnaire-based tool to help you find "your perfect project," and donors get periodic reports on the impact their projects are having on the ground.
Deductions: 3 percent for credit-card processing
GlobalGiving. Formed in 2002 by Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle, both veterans of World Bank anti-poverty initiatives, Global Giving connects individual donors with charity projects around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. It's raised more than $186,000 from more than 4,000 donors, for example, to support the amazing work of "HeroRATs." In Mozambique, 38 of the trained rats and their human handlers have been clearing old landmines from war-scarred farms and fields. In Tanzania, they've been sniffing out deadly pulmonary tuberculosis faster and more accurately than traditional laboratory microscopy.
Deductions: 15 percent for administrative costs, including credit-card processing fees.
Jolkona. Jolkona means "drop of water" in Bengali. When it comes to charitable giving, "every drop counts," says Adnan Mahmud, a Microsoft Corp. program manager who founded the microphilanthropy with his wife, Nadia Khawaja. "People want to know that their small donations count," Mahmud says. The Jolkona Foundation's projects have ranged from supplying Kenyan schools with locally produced ceramic water filters to providing prosthetic limbs for Burmese land-mine victims.
Deductions: None. (The organization's operating costs are covered by a separate fund that's supported by private and corporate donors.)
JustGive. JustGive calls itself a "one-stop destination" for online charitable giving. It provides basic information about nearly 1.8 million charities through its partnership with the GuideStar nonprofit information service, and offers more detailed information on 1,000 charities that it says have met "stringent public requirements." You can use the site to make donations to as few or many charities as you choose, with a $10 minimum.
Deductions: 4.5 percent for processing costs.
Network for Good. Founded in 2001 by three of the nation's biggest technology companies (AOL, Cisco and Yahoo!) in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy to help facilitate donations to the American Red Cross, Network for Good bills itself as a way "to give to any charity, anywhere, anytime online." Over the years it's channeled more than $500 million in online donations to upwards of 60,000 nonprofit organizations. In partnership with actor Kevin Bacon, it's also behind SixDegrees.org ("social networking with a social conscience"), a charitable initiative that's raised millions of dollars with the help of Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Duvall, Colin Firth, Ricky Gervais, Joaquim Phoenix and other celebrity philanthropists. Network for Good's site also allows users to search from among more than 40,000 volunteer opportunities.
Add-ons: 5 percent for administrative costs.