Click on charity

Toys for Tots calls the Net a godsend for nonprofits accustomed to expensive direct-mail fund-raising.

Published December 9, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

We'd like to interrupt your regularly scheduled holiday shopping season to inform you of a new place to spend money online: Toys for Tots. The 51-year-old organization, which distributes holiday toys to impoverished children across the country, recently launched a new system for accepting donations online.

Last year, without the help of the Net, Toys for Tots collected toys and cash donations that let the organization give over 11 million toys to nearly 5 million children. But the organization only reached about 33 percent of all the children living in poverty in the United States. According to Maj. Bill Grein, Toys for Tots vice president of marketing, the organization is hoping that the Net will "significantly affect our donations" by enabling Web surfers to give money with a few clicks.

So far, the Net has only provided a small percentage of the organization's total donations. In the first week of December, 400,000 visitors dropped by the site and donated around $1,000 a day. Grein expects that number to increase, in part due to upcoming online marketing efforts, but also because of the annual charity rush that occurs during the last two weeks before Christmas, when that holiday guilt kicks in.

Grein asserts that the Net is a godsend for nonprofits accustomed to more expensive direct-mail fund-raising campaigns: "It's much, much cheaper -- you don't have to buy a 33-cent stamp, stationary and printing, handling charges," he says.

Toys for Tots' online donations were enabled by a start-up called Entango, which helps nonprofits do online fund-raising. For a fee of 5 percent of each donation, Entango does all the backend paperwork, gathers e-mails into databases, sends receipts and catalogs the data.

According to Richard Cox, CEO of Entango, online donations are just starting to take off, thanks in part to the public-relations efforts of the American Red Cross, which raised over $1 million online this year. Online givers are generous, too: The average online donation for the American Red Cross is $125, while the average for traditional direct-mail and phone methods is $75. Other groups that have recruited Entango to gather donations for them include the AIDS Action Committee, the University of Dallas and Planned Parenthood. In pursuit of the often-lucrative online spender, Cox is hoping just about every other nonprofit will soon follow suit.

As he puts it, "If I can buy my groceries online, why can't I feed the homeless online?"

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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