Charitable giving, overall, has been rising about five percent a year recently — but online giving is rising much faster, according Una Osili, director of research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.
“Online giving has grown at over 10 percent over the last few years,” said Osili. “However, as a share of overall giving, online giving still represents about 6 percent. A lot of the very large gifts are still taking place through more traditional channels.”
But Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, said charities will increasingly communicate and maintain relationships with donors online in future.
She points to a crop of dynamic fast-growing charities, including "organizations like Kiva and Donors Choose that allow you to know exactly who you’re benefiting,” said Palmer. “So, if you’re giving a gift through Donors Choose, you know that a teacher has said these are the things my third graders are going to do, and people love to know this is exactly where my money’s going. Versus, let’s say, the American Cancer Society saying we’re going do research that benefits the world.”
One such fast-growing charity is Watsi.com. The San Francisco-based organization lets donors see pictures and stories of individual people in the developing world who need life-saving medical treatment, and then donate to help them get that care. Grace Garey cofounded Watsi.com in 2012 and said the model makes sense to digital natives like herself.
“We have different expectations around transparency,” said Garey. “In a world where Google and Wikipedia have made information so readily available, if we’re going to send money across the globe, we expect to see where it’s going and what it’s doing. We grew up with Facebook friends in other countries. So why then should donating to charity be this anonymous exchange of resources. Why can’t we see where our money goes and get to know the person?”
Another online-charity startup, CommuniGift, works with Target to let a donor buy a specific item requested by a needy child or family. A percentage of the sale-price goes back to the charity to fund operations.
Thomas Doochin cofounded CommuniGift in 2014 with two undergraduate friends at the University of North Carolina.
“The big thing is transparency,” said Doochin. “When you come to our site and buy that winter coat for the six-year-old kid in New York, you’re buying an exact product that’s shipping to the nonprofit and being given to the family.”
Stacy Palmer predicts that online charity platforms will proliferate in coming years.
“One of the things that is great about it is, you don’t need to be an established charity to raise money,” said Palmer. “But one of the bad things is it allows scams to pop up really easily.”
Another pitfall is charities not being up to speed digitally. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that more than 80 percent of charities haven’t optimized their websites to take donations on tablets and smartphones.