Websites make donations easy – and free of charge
In 2005, clicks on The Hunger Site funded more than 38 million pounds of food.
Reading newspaper articles about tragedies and in Africa made Elizabeth Stein, editor in chief of the student newspaper at Hunter College in New York City, want to cry. With literally only $1 in her checking account, Ms. Stein felt helpless about addressing the issues of hunger on the continent.Skip to next paragraph
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But then she discovered The Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com), one of several websites where people can make a donation to a charity without spending a dime. The "it's free" tab is a welcome sign for Americans like Stein, whose hearts happen to be bigger than their wallets. "I love that I can help someone for free," she says.
Launched in 1999 and operated with five other similar sites by CharityUSA based in Seattle, The Hunger Site raises money for charities through sponsors whose ads appear after visitors click on certain links. After The Hunger Site became hugely successful, CharityUSA opened other sites, including The Breast Cancer Site and The Animal Site. CharityUSA sites primarily do not advertise their sites, but President Tim Kunin says they sometimes use Google ads to promote products the site sells to raise additional money for charities.
"Almost all of our advertising is done by word of mouth," Mr. Kunin says.
Clicking campaigns have popped up everywhere from high schools and universities to online forums. Users can even sign up for a daily e-mail reminder to click.
Jim Pierce of Elkton, Va., uses phishook.com, a music forum, to issue a weekly challenge to readers to click on The Hunger Site. Each week, he rewards someone who clicked that week with music freebies, such as CDs.
Mr. Pierce began clicking on the site in 1999. Initially, he monitored his e-mail to make sure his information wasn't being sold. He saw no increase in spam. "I drew the conclusion that this was ... an opportunity to do something good every day without having to spend a dime – and by doing no more than clicking on a link, looking at a few ads, and letting the advertiser pay to do some real good," he says.
The Hunger Site distributes food through Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest. Charities are chosen not only by the work that they do, Kunin says, but also by their understanding of the Internet. "We want them to be conversant with the Web," he says. "Our clickers are going to want to go to their site to learn more about them."
In 2005, visitor clicks funded more than 38 million pounds of food – an increase of 3 million from 2004, the site says. The Hunger Site's popularity is growing, but not nearly as quickly as its sister sites. The Breast Cancer Site and The Animal Site may be faring better because they're domestic issues, Kunin suggests. "Some people really only care about one issue, so they come and click for that one issue and then leave," he says.
Though The Animal Site received more than 8 million more clicks than The Hunger site last year, organizations supported by The Hunger Site aren't complaining. Since its inception, The Hunger Site has donated more than $1 million to Mercy Corps. That money is "critical," says Mercy Corps Chief Development Officer Matthew De Galan.
In fact, when the site shut down temporarily in 2001, Mr. De Galan took the first flight to Seattle and camped outside The Hunger Site's offices until he could find out what had happened. Though the capital generated from the clicking is substantial enough, De Galan adds that The Hunger Site also brings thousands of new donors to Mercy Corps.