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Helping Charities by using the power of the Internet

By November 11, 2003politics, web-tech

While reading Amazon Hacks I came across Hack#18, which is about Wishlists. Among the usual personal Wishlist information was some interesting news about this page where charities like Habitat for Humanity and Toys for Tots have Wishlists of items that they need.

Looking at the Amazon Wishlist of Toys for Tots I can see that many people have taken advantage of this feature. But I wonder if the idea of helping Charities through the Internet could scale better, and help more charities.

At PopTech this year we heard a speaker named Scott Hunt, who proposed that one possible way to help poor communities would be to have them set up something like an eBay offering that would let people contribute directly to the community, thereby avoiding costly administrative overhead that eats into the charitable donation. So, for example, a village in Africa that needed to build a medical station could solicit contibutions online and people could send those contributions directly.

In principle, it’s a great idea. The pitfalls would be setting up a system in a way that contibutors would know that the charity wasn’t a scam (think “Nigerian emails”). I think it is possible to carry out, but I don’t know who has the incentive to implement it. Traditional charitable organizations lack the motivation to set up a system that bypasses, or competes with, its existing fundraising scheme. The impoverished villagers lack the expertise and infrastructure (like an Internet connection) to set this up. And the potential contributors would have to be made aware of this new scheme and actually use it.

While the Amazon page is nice, it’s also not widely publicized. Still, it’s a start. Hopefully, down the road we’ll see something more in line with what Scott Hunt proposed. Incidentally, Hunt has a book that is worth reading: The Future of Peace: On the Front Lines with the World’s Great Peacemakers. Maybe he’ll be the one to start the ball rolling. If it’s a workable idea then someone should do it. Any takers?


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.
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