Best Free Volunteer, Charity, and Donation Technology

 
Introduction

 

There are many free ways to volunteer, give to charity, and use the Internet to help other people.

WFP's Red CupsI. Most Interesting Charity/Volunteer Services on the Internet

       One of my favorite places to investigate charities is at the Charity Navigator. You can find charitable organizations to help you donate cars, support the troops, find charity events, or feed the hungry. One of my favorite free programs for volunteer helping is BOINC. It helps turn PCs into engines for scientific projects that seek to advance our knowledge, cure disease, or find other intelligent beings across the universe! And they can't do their work without volunteers.

II. Play Games for Charity

       You can also help charity for free! An interesting option is free Internet games like FreeRice.

III. Click a Day for Charity

       You can use The Hunger Site and similar sites to fight starvation and support many other causes, and all you have to do is click everyday or leave a website/application open. They give to selected charities based on the amount of fees they get from advertisers or organizations.

IV. Charity Search Engines

       A flexible option is the GoodSearch toolbar or its search box that aptly replaces your current search engine (Google, Yahoo!, etc.). You pick your favorite charity or organization, use the search engine like normal, and watch GoodSearch divert some of its fees from advertisers to your charity. All for doing what you would normally do anyways.

V. Volunteer Sites on the Internet

       But other places provide massive databases for volunteer opportunities, volunteer ideas, and virtual volunteering or charity opportunities: Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch, USA Freedom Corps, and Network for Good.

VI. Volunteer in Collaborative Knowledge or Wiki Sites

       The Internet allows for us to share information in elaborate and easy ways. You can volunteer your time, energy, or expertise and have fun in the process! Many scholars discourage using sources such as Wikipedia because some of its articles might be written by some kid in his basement. But then if you follow around those same scholars, you have a very high chance of seeing them use Wikipedia over and over and over again!

Notes

I checked all websites with WOT (www.mywot.com). Some people left comments on WOT wondering how you can be certain that free online charity sites actually make the donations they say they do; I'm not entirely sure how to discover this, but it's a good guess that the information is available to the public since the websites name the charities to which they donate.

FreeRice, for example, is actually mentioned right on the website of its charity of choice. And popular charities named on GoodSearch would be fairly angry if they never received a check. If in doubt, contact the named charities and ask.

Feel free to help me by adding to this list. Consider writing a comment below about your favorite places online for free charity, volunteer helping, volunteer opportunities, charity events, etc.

The Volunteer and Charity List: Find the Best Websites, Webware, or Freeware to Help Other People Online
 

I. Most Interesting Charity/Volunteer Services on the Internet

Guide to Intelligent GivingCharity Navigator. Read several tips about giving charity from the Charity Navigator. They have excellent financial reviews of charities. They strive to help you make the most impact with your money, time, donations. I found an interesting list of the top ten most inefficient charities and many other top ten lists.

Charity Navigator has a "Donate" link on its site that automatically adds charity donations over in a cart at Network for Good, but I like to use it mainly to learn more about charities. It is especially helpful for evaluating free click websites to see if they make donations to effective charity partners.

But for many this is not a primary concern since even if a charity is spending a large percent of its finances on advertising or administrative costs, you may still want to support it for the importance of the cause (and sometimes to make their cause successful they may need to spend). But one of the best features on Charity Navigator is the ability to compare similar types of charities to see if there is a major difference. This gives you a tremendous tool to make intelligent gifts to charity.

Related Sites

  • American Institute of Philanthropy: An important watchdog group that produces grades on charity organizations based on detailed financial analyses. It has an interesting top-rated list and about 500 ratings overall. I especially enjoy their articles and their "Tips" page.

BBB Wise Giving Allience: Provides a search engine for a collection of Better Business Bureau accreditation reports. In order to get certified a charity must pass its 20 standards of accountability. The reports sometimes grade charities on a scale of A+ to F. It also provides contact details and allows you to file complaints against charities. But I found the site a bit difficult to navigate, and I had some trouble finding the charities I was looking for until I had it limit search results to charities and to BBB accredited charities. It's an excellent source to read about charity details, but it seems a bit like GuideStar in that it leaves a lot of the analysis to the reader.

GuideStar: I'm less favorable about GuideStar for most users. Some information is only viewable by premium visitors and it requires you to register. I didn't like having to put in a zip code. Though, check it out if you want more information on a specific charity of interest. If you just can't believe that a certain charity gets low ratings on Charity Navigator, then you can look at their IRS forms and make your own judgment. But GuideStar doesn't perform comparative ratings and it is really better as a tool for researchers.
 

BOINC research screensaversBOINC Research Manager. The SETI@home manager and screensaver came out of work at Berkeley, but they developed BOINC as a more general and secure research tool. It harnesses the collective computing power of home PCs to help "cure diseases, study global warming, discover pulsars," and further many aims of science. You could volunteer some of your computer's processing power to help create a powerful supercomputer.

SETI@home, for example, is endorsed and supported by the SETI Institute (3/4 stars from Charity Navigator), so some of these BOINC projects are serious scientific pursuits (well, as serious as SETI can get!).

There are many different versions to download, supporting Windows 98-Vista, Mac, Linux, and XP-Vista 64 Bit. After you download and install BOINC, you can use its setup wizard to add projects and create your preferences. Or if you want a simple way to setup BOINC projects, then try one of the suggested account managers: GridRepublic or BAM! or World Community Grid.

The account managers help sync settings to the BOINC manager, divide the workload between different projects, and queue applications based on their report deadline. But the research projects are the same no matter which manager you use since they are run independently by the researchers. The project manager runs from the tray on a schedule or constantly, and it's separate from the BOINC screensaver (installed automatically).

Here are general guides for choosing projects:

  • The BOINC website provides several tools to help you evaluate and choose projects: a few tips for how to go about choosing projects, a list of the top volunteers (get ideas by looking at projects others like to choose), and a link to published results of research done in the projects. It provides links to project homepages so you can evaluate their research.

You might want to limit your choice of projects by looking at the Berkeley BOINC project list, a hand selected list based on their communications with representatives from the projects. In general the BOINC website stresses the importance of the intellectual goals of the project, the published results, and the nature of the project (profit/non-profit and whether any published results are freely available or not).

The BAM! website also has a helpful list of the most popular projects.

Since the BOINC project manager runs independent, you don't need to use the BOINC screensaver. You could choose to use some other screensaver or none at all. And the manager itself displays graphics from the projects and allows you to open them in a separate window.

You can control many preferences for the BOINC manager. The "simple view" allows you to set workloads to run on a schedule or to connect online only at certain times, limit max CPU and memory use (it may at times go over the max limit you set, but it seems to limit itself to the max you set for each individual task on average), and set it to run only after a certain amount of idle time. It also has a handy "snooze" button that pauses workloads or applications.

You can also set preferences online to allow you to import the same settings on multiple computers. The online settings and the local advanced preferences (from the "Advanced view") are more elaborate and allow much more control. For example, after I registered and added a couple of projects, it started to run two applications from the selected projects locally. You can restrict it to use 50% or so of the processors and then it will only run one application at a time.

It is not primarily a screensaver, but the screensavers are amazing and show data from the projects. If you have multiple projects, then it automatically changes to the screensaver for whichever project is currently running. See radio signals with SETI@home, folding proteins with Rosetta@home, constellations and pulsar locations with Einstein@home (my personal favorite so far), etc.

The Folding@home software application is based on a similar distributed computing project out of Stanford, except it's now specially designed for its protein folding project (to help look for cures to diseases). I found it interesting that the site says: "our application needs not the hundreds of processors found in modern supercomputers, but hundreds of thousands of processors [like those found in PCs!]. Hence, the calculations performed on Folding@home would not be possible by any other means!"

The BOINC site says much the same thing. In other words, only volunteers can make this sort of research possible. There are also many academic papers listed on the folding@home website, and it asserts in the FAQ section that it's completely non-profit and purely academic in nature.

 

II. Play Games for Charity

Play and Feed a Hungry Person!FreeRice. Play educational quiz games to help fight hunger around the world. Click on the "Subject" tab for many more quiz games, including famous paintings, math, English grammar and vocab, geography (including world capitals), and four other languages. The question difficulty adjusts to meet your ability.

Each answer you get correct contributes 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The website loads in a flash and has very minimal clutter. It is by far the best of its kind that I have seen so far.

I'm fairly certain that the WFP gets this donation -- I checked the WFP website and it has a huge FreeRice banner in the lower right corner in which they thank it for providing "food rations for over 20,000 refugees from Myanmar who are sheltering in Bangladesh. [In addition] pregnant women in Cambodia, schoolchildren in Uganda and Bhutanese refugees in Nepal received rice thanks to the award-winning site."

 

III. Click a Day Sites

The Hunger Site

The Hunger Site. Consider clicking everyday at The Hunger Site or one of its other related sites. "The staple food funded by clicks is paid for by site sponsors and distributed to those in need" by two charity partners to help stop hunger: Mercy Corps (3/4 stars on Charity Navigator), Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), and Millennium Promise. In addition the website claims: "100% of sponsor advertising fees goes to our charitable partners. Funds are split between these organizations and go to the aid of hungry people in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America."

If you are a supporter of these charities, then you might want to receive an email reminder to click everyday, send ecards, receive their free e-newsletter, link to The Hunger Site, Stumble them and this list(!) to help others to find them, and so on. Dialup visitors may have some problems connecting and it is a slow and high traffic website, but you probably won't have problems at least clicking when you get to the site.

One of the best parts about The Hunger Site is the choice to support several different causes operated by CharityUSA/GreaterGood, using the same click a day feature (you can access all of the following from tabs at The Hunger Site or at the following links):

  • The Breast Cancer Site: Your clicks benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation (4/4 stars from Charity Navigator) to help fund free mammograms.

The Child Health Site: Your clicks benefit Mercy Corps (3/4 stars from Charity Navigator), Prosthetic Outreach Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (3/4 stars), and Helen Keller International (4/4 stars).

The Literacy Site (at The Hunger Site): Your clicks benefit First Book and Room to Read (both get 4/4 stars from Charity Navigator).

The Rainforest Site: Your clicks benefit The Nature Conservancy (4/4 stars from Charity Navigator), The Rainforest Conservation Fund, The World Parks Endowment, and Rainforest2Reef.

The Animal Rescue Site: Your clicks benefit (quoted from site) "Fund for Animals' renowned animal sanctuaries (including Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in California), pet shelters supported by the Petfinder Foundation, North Shore Animal League [1 star organization at Charity Navigator], and other worthy animal care facilities supported by the GreaterGood.org foundation." Some of these are very vague assertions and many are not rated by the Charity Navigator as of yet, but all the possible charities that get the donations are listed at GreaterGood.org.

EcologyFund: it's a mess like most CharityUSA sites and I haven't investigated the charities it donates to as of yet (and most aren't listed at the Charity Navigator), but it gets an "excellent" from WOT (with 3 web bugs, more than the usual one -- Google analytics -- for these family of sites above). This is a separate site and not a tab on The Hunger Site, but it is run by the same group.

 

Care2Care2 also has a long list of click a day sites. It's a collaborative community with social networking and informational features, such as petitions to sign, click a day sites to visit, newsletters to get, eCards to send, groups to join, and many ways to contribute collaboratively. It's mission is to "make it easy for everyone to live a healthy, green lifestyle and impact the causes they care about most." It's basically a "green" site, with a few "liberal" partnerships (in the US, the ACLU is generally considered to be on the left of the political spectrum, but it's contentious and the ACLU would probably provide counterexamples!). I like that its click a day sites post the favored charity front and center so that you don't have to search around for them:

 

IV. Charity Search Engines

GoodSearch: You Search...We Give!

GoodSearch. Search using GoodSearch to benefit a charity of your choice. This site directs a minimum of 50% of its revenue from advertiser fees to various charities for each valid search.

The best part is the flexibility to give to most any charity. For example, I doubt many websites would create an entire free click donation site for something like the Ayn Rand Institute, but I was able to easily name them as a charity. The same would go for many other charities or non-profit organizations (schools, hospitals and clinics, volunteer services, political organizations, fraternal organizations, professional associations, religious organizations, governmental agencies, etc.), but only one at a time. You could also get their toolbar for IE (or add them to your search box for IE, Firefox, or Google Chrome).

The search engine is powered by Yahoo!, so if you use it daily it will not decrease the quality of your search results. Plus, you don't have to deal with all the clutter of Yahoo!. You can click on an "Amount Raised" button to track the impact of the site on your charity. It suggests that in the past it has given 1.3 cents per valid search, but they officially estimate that it will be about 1 cent per each valid search. It is sort of like a "penny for charity" searcher!

With a high number of visitors the math is favorable: "if 1,000 people search an average of twice a day = $7,300 for charity, and if 10,000 people search an average of twice a day = $73,000 for charity" (per year). I love the idea that it has no maximum level of contribution. It has a minimum of $20.00, but you could always concentrate on your favorite charities that already have sufficient support.

If you want to search the site every time for the same charity, then create a custom bookmark or homepage by including the charity ID to the URL:

"http://www.goodsearch.com/?charityid=xxxx" (replace "xxxx" with the Charity ID located on the Amount Raised page and leave out the quotes).

Warning: Some searches do not count toward charity. These include searches for images, videos, stock quotes, URLs (search terms ending in .com, .org, .net, .edu), well known URLs (HotMail, ESPN, MySpace, Facebook, GMail, AOL, etc.; I don't know if they have a complete listing?), word definitions, Yellow Pages searches, searches without a charity selected, and fraudulent uses of the site.

By fraud they mean non-human use of the site or repeated manual clicks (I think they mean that you can't just sit there and click on the same search over and over and over). These actions could get you banned from the site or your charity delisted. The general anti-fraud rule is to use the site as you would any other search engine. This seems like a lot of exceptions and suggests that it's mostly for profit (I would say it's half a profit organization, but many searches do not count for charity).

More math: GoodSearch will not send less than $20.00 to any charity, however; and it sends out checks only once per year (in December). So you need to search 2000 times in order to ensure that your charity gets a check of $20.00 ($20.00 divided by .01 cents), which is an average of 6 searches a day for the year. If a charity gets less than $20.00, then the money is allocated to other organizations that have met the minimum (and maybe to an organization you like or do not like?). The best part is that it turns your normal, everyday searching habits into free charity (free for you, anyways) and you get to pick the charity!

Other Yahoo! based search engines

  • FreeRice: Now FreeRice provides a charity search engine and toolbar (called Search the Web). If you don't want the toolbar, you can uninstall it and just keep its search engine in your search box.
 

V. Volunteer on the Internet

idealist.org -- Action Without BordersIdealist.org. Learn more about volunteering and connect with others around the world. It has a broad vision of providing "an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives."

It has a nice news blog, a new section specially for volunteering abroad, a unique forum, and an extraordinary section of resources. They have a large database of volunteer opportunities, places to find out about career fairs and graduate fairs, and groups to join to find people like you.

 

VolunteerMatch -- Where volunteering begins.VolunteerMatch. Find listings of volunteer opportunities in your area. It has a search engine by zip code and keyword. But best for this list is a search engine in the lower right corner for Virtual Opportunities. Many of the virtual listings request help from web developers, research assistants, grammarians (grammar checkers), grant writers, and other specialists. So you could find the charity or cause of your liking and then donate some of your skill and time to help them out.

They define "virtual" as having no set location, so some searches may bring back options that are not strictly online opportunities (some may be by phone, mail, etc.). You must register (free) to get contact information and read more about the volunteer listings. It also allows you to use Google Earth to find volunteer needs. But be sure to check out the helpful Google map to locate disaster volunteering opportunities or you might want to read some of the inspirational personal stories of volunteers.

 

Make a Difference. Volunteer.USA Freedom Corps. It was created after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to help citizens volunteer. It has an impressive search engine powered by Network for Good in the top right corner of the website. It provides an advanced search and many search features. You can search by zip code, state, and area of interest on the simple search interface.

Your search results simply provide links to other volunteer websites, so it is more of a central hub of information and a true mega network of volunteering opportunities. It provides links to VolunteerMatch, Idealist.org, and many other organizations. And it also has an excellent additional list of services: http://www.usafreedomcorps.gov/about_usafc/partners/index.asp.

Related Sites:

  • Volunteer.gov: Volunteer to help improve "America's natural and cultural resources." It emphasizes volunteer jobs to help preserve natural resources on public lands in the U.S. It allows you to search for government volunteer opportunities by state and location. Check out the events calender for a few new volunteer opportunities, including virtual jobs like web designing, or writing and editing articles for websites. It also has a RSS feed for recent volunteer opportunities.

VolunteeringinAmerica.gov: Another government site but oriented towards data and research: "The most comprehensive look at volunteering in all 50 states and 162 cities across the country. Included in the Web site are volunteer rates, rankings, and area-specific trends as well as additional information and analysis" (quote from the website).
 

VolunteerNetwork for Good. Use a search engine powered by both VolunteerMatch and Guide Star. Here you can search for volunteering opportunities by state, keyword, or name, and there is also an advanced search. It's founded and sponsored by a few major organizations (Yahoo!, AOL, Cisco) and provides many charity options, but some of these will obviously cost money. But you could also just stay to searching for volunteering options.

It easily allows you to search for volunteering, charities, or both. The "Volunteer" tab takes you to a search engine automatically setup to search just volunteering options. Plus it provides several other links and information for volunteering, but I couldn't get all of the links to work so some might be dead.

 

VI. Volunteer in Collaborative Knowledge or Wiki Sites

Write at Tech Support AlertGizmo's Freeware. How could we miss the chance to plug our own site? You might have heard of submitting news stories for numerous websites (Drudge Report comes to mind), writing letters to the editor or pooling your knowledge with others at Wikipedia (and at many forums across the Internet), so consider writing for Gizmo's Tech Support Alert. Share your experiences with free computer software and help others with computer problems by leaving comments, editing or contributing articles, participating in the forum, or volunteering as a category editor. Help people get back to work and get the full power out of their computers!

 

Wikipedia. The "fourth most visited website" in the world (but ranked 6th right now by Alexa). It's a great resource for its quick updates, broad coverage of information, and quick loading articles. It falls under a charitable organization, called the Wikimedia Foundation (rated 3/4 stars from the Charity Navigator). Wikimedia projects also include:

  • Wiktionary - multilingual, free dictionary
  • Wikiquote - database of quotes from "famous people, books, speeches, films, or any intellectually interesting materials; also proverbs, mnemonics, or slogans."
  • Wikibooks - free ebook resources for students and teachers (whether self-taught or in school)
  • Wikisource - collection of texts that are free and open sources (laws, classics, other free works)
  • Wikispecies - a species database for taxonomy (aimed for scientific users)
  • Wikinews - reports the news on a wide variety of subjects
  • Wikiversity - dedicated to learning communities of all levels, and research
  • Wikimedia Commons - "central repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media."
 

Open Directory Project. Volunteer editors provide a massive web directory. It's administered by a small staff under the Netscape Communication Corporation. DMOZ stands for Directory Mozilla. I noticed that WOT site advisor works nicely for its listings.

  • The Google Directory enhances the directory listings from DMOZ. The results are ranked by popularity, and the search results use Google's search engine. Alexa uses a similar DMOZ directory listing and enhances it with its own popularity ratings.
Others for Quick Reference

These are other possibilities which were brought up in comments here, noted from other sources, or found in a search engine. As they are not in the review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to their sites for ease of reference.

  • Easy Donations: Lists a selection of donation sites, geared towards easy possibilities. There are email accounts to help the Amazon rain forest, grid computing, search engines, and information about lights, recycling, junk mail waste, and shopping.
  • Green: I just noticed a Firefox add-on that replaces ads wherever you surf with its own ads! It then diverts some of the revenue for its specially placed ads to fight global warming. Get the add-on for firefox here. "We use the ad revenue to purchase and retire carbon credits from suppliers like CarbonFund. Carbon credits are a standard mechanism for funding environmental projects" (FAQ).
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