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Originally published Monday, January 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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E-conomy

Small firm's "helpware" has big impact

You're a small software company in Bellevue whose business model involves helping charitable causes. A tsunami hits Asia, sparking one of...

Special to The Seattle Times

You're a small software company in Bellevue whose business model involves helping charitable causes. A tsunami hits Asia, sparking one of history's biggest relief efforts ever. What do you do?

If you're MaestroSoft, you offer up your expertise and services to relief organizations.

"We knew we couldn't come up with huge cash donations like a big company," said Jay Fiske, president and chief executive for MaestroSoft. "We figured by offering our services we could potentially have as big an impact."

If you're looking to sponsor a tsunami-related fund-raiser and are a government-approved charity, here's the deal. Through its online service, MaestroWeb, MaestroSoft will get you a full-bore, bells-and-whistles Web presence capable of handling everything from the publicity to the grunt work, from running reports and accepting reservations to doing transactions, all free.

Founded in 1996, MaestroSoft knows fund raising. A spinoff of Northwest Benefit Auctions, it pioneered charitable auctioneering via the Internet. Give it a worthy cause and it can have a full Web site up and running within 24 hours, enabling organizations to post items, take bids, collect money and send thank-you notes.

Its list of clients reads like a do-gooders Hall of Fame: Children's Hospital, Friends of Costco Guild, March of Dimes, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Heart Association, the American Cancer Society. All told, MaestroSoft has accounted for more than $2 billion in charity fund raising.

MaestroSoft can coordinate banquets, run golf tournaments, conduct online auctions. Think of a charity event, and it can come up with the online component needed to make it work. Even if you're just looking for cash contributions, MaestroSoft can set up a secure-transaction Web site.

Jay Leno should have a MaestroWeb site for that star-autographed Harley Davidson he's donating for tsunami relief. Even your neighborhood clothing drive could benefit from a Web page. Set up a site, Google tsunami relief and Wallingford, and see what happens.

This, after all, is one reason why Web logs have gotten so much attention for tsunami-related efforts. Google indexes most blogs, so Web-wide identification is available within minutes.

You could also go the eBay route. But Fiske points out that eBay is a pretty wide net. You can post only one item at a time. People have to be looking for that item to find you.

With MaestroSoft, you can group a whole lot of auction items together in one site. And then you can e-mail supporters to get them to your site. Seattle schools, for example, have had great success auctioning off things like class quilts, which would appeal primarily to parents or friends of the classmates themselves.

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"They started from ground zero with their technology," said longtime Seattle charity auctioneer Dick Friel. "It's impressive to see how they're extending their reach and affecting so many lives."

MaestroSoft makes money by selling software packages such as GolfMaestro Pro and integrated Web services. A lot of organizations don't want or can't afford to hire a webmaster and sponsor a Web site temporarily for a specific event.

For the tsunami project, MaestroSoft polled its eight employees on whether they'd be willing to do what it took. "Everyone said, 'Absolutely,' " Fiske related. It became a worthy cause for a company used to helping others with worthy causes.

It's a bit early to tell how successful MaestroSoft's tsunami effort will be. It began spreading the word late last week and hopes to have a couple of high-profile takers in tow sometime this week.

"We're counting on word of mouth," Fiske said. That, and word of Web.

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of "Gates." He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.

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