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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

November 20, 2009 at 11:48 AM

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Tweeting for $10: new appeals for holiday giving in tough times

Posted by Kristi Heim

Despite the lingering economic woes that most Americans are still feeling, only one in five plans to reduce donations to charity this holiday season, the American Red Cross found in a new survey. More Americans will cut back on travel, decorations, parties and gifts.


Volunteers Ken Newman, right, and Caren Shepsky heft a 50-pound bag of rice at the Cherry Street Food Bank, run by Northwest Harvest. As hunger has worsened, Northwest Harvest's pantry is seeing more than 2,500 visitors on busy days this year, up from a peak of 1,800 visitors last year.

The results tell a somewhat different story than a recent Harris Interactive survey that showed charities will probably see a decrease in generosity this season. Some large charities are preparing for lower holiday giving.

Regardless of how they interpret the data, charities are downsizing their appeals and targeting smaller donations. They're also making the most of free social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and asking supporters to help them spread the word.

The United Way of King County recently launched its Give 10/Tell 10 campaign, which asks for $10 contributions to help struggling families hit by the recession avoid falling into homelessness. After making a gift on the site, donors have the option to pass on a message emailed to 10 friends, encouraging them give, too. The charity is also using Twitter and Facebook to network, post links and share facts, such as "$25 = a week of food for a homeless person in Washington."

"We really wanted to do something different to get the word out to people that the needs are so great right now and provide a low barrier way for them to get involved," said United Way spokesman Jared Erlandson. "The thought was what if we could get people to tweet not just about what they are doing tonight, but about how they just helped someone stay in their home for the holidays then we could really have an effective vehicle to get our message out."

Mercy Corps is getting creative around Thanksgiving with a new online tool that allows families and groups of friends to make donations together. The global charity is calling on people to match the amount they spend on their own Thanksgiving Day meal with a donation that fights global hunger. The average American family spent $45 on Thanksgiving dinner in 2008, Mercy Corps said.

Other interesting new twists include gift cards with a $5 donation to charity built in. The recipient can choose where to direct the $5 gift from among more than 5,000 charities.

Getting donor fatigue? Another option is to vote for your favorite charity and have a large bank pick up the tab. Chase is donating $5 million -- $25,000 each to the top 100 charities on Dec. 15, one $1 million and five $100,000 grants to others in February, and another $1 million chosen by an advisory board of active philanthropists.

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