Creating a bond between donation and cause online

Although 'creativity' might generally be perceived as the ability to produce art or invent a new tool, it can also mean finding a new application for tools that already exist. This week's sites are featured, not because of cutting-edge design or use of the latest web technologies, but rather because CARE International and GlobalGiving have found imaginative ways of using the Web to deal with a specific problem.

The problem in question is one faced by most relief agencies - that potential donors may not feel a strong sense of connection to the work that they're supporting. And for organizations largely or wholly dependent on donors, the ability to clearly communicate how donations are used can be vital to ensuring continuing sponsorship. Through their respective websites, CARE and GlobalGiving are using inventive methods to strengthen the relationship between subscriber and cause - CARE, by actually taking surfers to the final destinations of their contributions, and GlobalGiving, by letting them choose specific projects to support.

CARE ("Where the end of poverty begins.") launched its series of Virtual Field Trips in 1999, with a first-person, onsite review of rural and urban projects taking place in Bolivia. Over the next few years, a dozen more trips were added to the list, which now includes Haiti, Honduras, Kosovo, Madagascar and Mali - and in addition to their fundraising role, the Field Trips are also commonly added to educational 'cool sites' lists for their instructional value.

Using the inaugural campaign as an example, the Bolivia Virtual Field Trip provides an abundantly illustrated journal of a 10-day expedition through one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. Expedition members use a series of journal entries to take Web visitors from cultural and physical acclimatization on arrival in La Paz (altitude 12,000 feet), through walks among clouds (of moisture, dust, and butterflies) and a drive on "the scariest road in the world," to the inevitable mixed feelings that accompany the trip home.

Side-by-side with the cultural and geographic details, guides also introduce various projects that CARE sponsors in the landlocked nation, from sustainable farming to village banking. (While each Field Trip follows a similar format, different countries naturally receive varying types of aid. Kosovo teams provided shelter to replace bombed and burned-out homes while educating civilians about land mines. Programs in Haiti included hot lunches for school children, and drainage for a flood-prone village.)

Each Field Trip's index offers background information about the country, a Photo Album of the trip, a Map, screensaver, recommended links, and an opportunity to contribute to CARE's programs. (Last year CARE spent more than $500 million on 870 projects in 70 countries.) A pull-down menu with access to the other Field Trips is located in the upper-right corner of each page.

While the Virtual Field Trips are detailed but archival in nature, GlobalGiving's site ("Give Direct. Change the World.") provides a less personal, but more up-to-date, look at its projects, and allows donors to connect directly with a variety of social and environmental causes around the world. Founded in 2001 by a pair of former World Bank executives, the organization has facilitated donations totalling $1.6 million to some 400 international projects, and at any time, the site features a searchable collection of more than 300 undertakings in 70 countries.

GlobalGiving's home page has very little 'information' of its own, but dozens of links -divided into several clusters- which lead the visitor to specific details about the organization's projects. At time of writing, the center of the page was dedicated to material about a recent PBS documentary (The New Heroes) which featured 12 initiatives supported through the site, a list of GlobalGiving's 'Top 10' current projects (ranked by how close they are to meeting their funding goals), and a handful of other news items. To the left, details about specific projects are accessible through regional and topical listings, keyword queries (eg: "asia, human rights"), and a search Wizard - which matches potential donors to compatible projects through a short questionnaire. Finally, for those who'd rather not make a direct decision about how their money is allocated, a "GG Matching Fund" steers donations to projects that are closest to reaching their funding objective.

As your research reaches the level of individual projects, each venture is given its own homepage with a tabbed summary of its goals, funds needed (and whether any donations have been made to date), information about the people involved in the enterprise, progress reports, and photo galleries. Above and below the tabbed content are options to bookmark or print the page, e-mail the information to a friend, create a registry of preferred causes, or even copy and paste a re-directing HTML script into your personal website. Naturally, there is also a donations link, where surfers can either make immediate contributions to specific projects via plastic or PayPal, or mail a check to the foundation's Bethesda headquarters.

Both of these sites illustrate the effective execution of a great idea, as each has found its own way of making the benefactor feel closer to the beneficiary. (An objective that enriches people at both ends of the exchange.) Of course, this article is -as always- merely addressing innovative or interesting websites, and is not concerned with ranking the merit of the relief organizations behind these or any other homepages. While both are clearly reputable, there also many other worthy organizations that would gratefully accept your support, and if Live 8 left you wishing that there had been an 800-number waiting to take your pledge, this is for you - there are still hundreds of websites standing by.

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