International Charities Attract Donations Through Internet

By Elizabeth Kelleher
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Overseas giving by Americans is on the rise, charities say, as people focus on the plights of victims of military conflicts and natural disasters in other countries and as fund-raisers use the power of the Internet.

While less than 1 percent of Americans donate money internationally, said Heather Simpson, an executive director of the Atlanta-based humanitarian organization CARE USA, there has been “an awakening of the U.S. population to global issues and what they can do to make a difference.”

According to the Hudson Institute, a Washington policy research entity, U.S. charities gave $5.7 billion in overseas aid in 2004, the latest year for which data are available.  Volunteer time devoted to overseas projects added another $4 billion, and overseas giving by religious organizations, $4.5 billion.

These aid dollars come from individuals and foundations donating to organizations like CARE, which after World War II began to send food to Europe and now works in 70 countries to boost small businesses, help AIDS/HIV patients, solve water issues and improve education.

Simpson pointed to education as a major recipient of Americans’ growing generosity.  After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, she said, people began to understand what life was like for an Afghan woman:  Donors wanted to help girls go to school.  CARE, having educated girls secretly in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, was in a position to attract their donations.  “Over the last five years, we have seen a steady increase in supporters,” Simpson said.

Save the Children, a Connecticut-based international relief and development organization, raised $100 million after the December 2004 South Asian tsunami.  “We are raising more money from the private side [as opposed to government grants] than in the past,” said Michael Kiernan, the charity’s spokesman.  Two recent gifts, together, equal the annual revenue of the organization six years ago, he said.

Save the Children uses the money to feed malnourished children; it distributes a conveniently packaged nutritional product, called “Plumpy ‘Nut,” to mothers in Africa, helping them revive starving children without having to take the children to hard-to-reach treatment centers.

Recent donations to the organization also will help newborns.  (Two million infants die each year during the first 24-hours of life.)  To combat hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature that can put infants at risk of death, the charity donates knit caps to the babies and teaches mothers to carry newborns skin-to-skin. 

It also teaches midwives to use sterile instruments.  In rural areas of Bolivia, Kiernan said, a piece of pottery is broken when a baby is born and used to cut the umbilical cord;  “We convinced them to boil [the broken pottery] first.”


During the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, a Web site called Network for Good received 1,300 donations per hour.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports online giving is on a steep climb.  Electronic gifts reached $908 million in 2005 for 162 charities it surveys, a 150 percent increase from the year before.  The publication says “staggering sums of money” were donated to aid tsunami survivors alone.

“It’s impulse giving,” said Katya Andresen of Network for Good, an Internet site that features thousands of charities and was started by high-tech executives who believe it should be as easy to give online as it is to shop.

During the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Network for Good received 1,300 donations per hour.

When potential donors see heart-wrenching footage of a disaster on television, they have a strong, but fleeting, desire to act that Internet-based charities, which can receive donations almost instantly, are well suited to tap.

Kiernan said Save the Children has seen an “enormous” increase in online donations recently.  He said some are from traditional donors switching methods of giving, but many are from new, younger donors, bringing new money to overseas causes.

The Internet also allows charities to help smaller charitable causes.  Former World Bank employees started GlobalGiving, an online marketplace of small-scale, global projects, after studying popular social Internet sites that profile people, like Myspace and Facebook.  They then created profiles of projects by geography, theme or sponsor. 

Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving’s president, said the she and her co-founder know the massive World Bank budget goes a long way toward eradicating poverty, but they wanted to espouse smaller, but legitimate, solutions.  The site once featured a man – with no organizational affiliation – who wanted to raise money to distribute blankets in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

A software developer, after visiting his wife in Uganda, decided the Internet could help struggling Uganda entrepreneurs. He sought to help by arranging an easy, online way for his own friends to make the Ugandan businesspeople $100 interest-free loans for one year.  His Web site, Kiva, whose nonprofit status is pending approval, was launched in October of 2005 and, thus far, is run by an unpaid staff living on savings.

“Thank God, for the blog-o-sphere,” said Kiva President Premal Shah, referring to the fact that Daily Kos, a popular Web log on current events, featured Kiva, bringing it scores of donors.  That flurry filled all the loan needs listed on the site.  So now Kiva has formed partnerships with charities around the world to help it find some more struggling entrepreneurs.

 For more information on U.S. charitable giving, see the electronic journal, Giving: U.S. Philanthropy.

More information on Network for Good and GlobalGiving is available on their Web sites.