Opening the Gates: Using the Web to Give

Bill Gates’s announcement earlier this year that he — and as many other of the super-rich that he can muster — will give at least half their fortunes to charity raises numerous questions.

Aside from the issues of wealth redistribution, questions of just how much money can achieve, and so on, Gates’s declaration has made many ordinary people reconsider their position on charity. We might not all be Bill Gates, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from altruism — from doing good things, or making some small sacrifice, for something we believe in.

For the web worker trapped at a desk for at least 40 hours a week, it might seem like the only real option is to give money to an NGO. But there are many ways to fulfill your altruistic inclinations.

Donating Cash

The web makes it easy to donate cash to charity either as part of a one-off emergency campaign, or in an ongoing arrangement.

But the web also makes it easy to research causes, NGOs, issues and so on. Let’s face it: between social media and news sources, it’s not hard to find bad news these days — and often, as in the case of the current flooding in Pakistan, the news reports will include a call to action for those who want to give money to help those suffering.

If you’re more keen on commitment, though, you might be looking for good news — seeking information on the successes of an NGO that you can happily back for the long haul. Again, research is the key. For example, as someone who’s interested in the environment, I find reports on NewScientist will often mention the NGO responsible for new research, preservation activities and so on, which makes it a good starting point for research on these kinds of organizations.

Perhaps you’ll decide to give a portion of your income to charity each year. If your income fluctuates, you might consider donating a portion of whatever you earn each month to a cause you believe in. This will give you financial flexibility, but will also allow you to spread your giving to help different groups on a month-by-month basis.

Donating Items

Between outdated — but still fully functional — computers, peripherals and devices, textbooks and educational materials, your dust-attracting CD collection and your wardrobe, every web worker has something they can donate to a cause within their own community. Even in my tiny town we have thrift stores, frequent fundraisers, and community education programs that could use one of these old computers I have lying around.

Donating items is a good way to help out within your own community. But you can make the web work for you in this regard, too. If you’re an eBay fiend, for example, and love the thrill of auctioning off your old stuff, perhaps you’ll consider giving a portion of the cash you make from those sales to a local charity.

Donating Time

Most of the employers I’ve worked for have invited staff to get involved in charity work. Some offer a day or two of leave to each person each year for this very purpose; others form teams to participate in corporate sports fundraisers and similar events.

Of course, those working for themselves have free reign to dedicate whatever time they like to a charity. Whether it’s local orĀ  global, your chosen NGO will likely have some programs in which you can participate for a day, or a day a month, and so on.

Donating time can be a good way to meet people who are interested in the same issues as you, and to get the satisfaction of making a practical contribution to something you believe in. It can also take you to other countries, to experience a different way of life. I know of a social media manager who’s currently doing a two-month stint working for a charity in Africa. She needed no special skills — just a willingness to give.

Again, research is key. Follow your favorite causes on social media, or sign up to their newsletters, and you’ll be kept abreast of all the activities you can contribute to. Greenpeace has a very well integrated approach to communicating news, information and opportunities to interested donors.

Donating Expertise

Yes, you might use your web design talents to reskin the website of your local community house, but the web provides plenty of options for you to donate expertise. Some offer you the chance to relocate for a period of time — weeks, months, a year — to use your skills to assist an NGO, local community group, or charity organization’s development.

This can be a really satisfying way to spend a period of your working life. As well as exposing yourself to different cultures, it can give you the opportunity to contribute what you may believe are your greatest capabilities, and to really get behind a cause in what may feel like the most constructive way.

The web can help you to research your options, as well as the issues and cultures you may consider contributing to. Obviously, these kinds of opportunities take a lot of commitment, so you’ll want to know what you’re up for before you begin.

How do you contribute to the causes that you believe in? And how do you find new opportunities to give?

Image by stock.xchng user sundstrom.

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