The Cost-Free Way to Give Back to Your Community
by Susanna Eng-Ziskin,
Reference Services and Collection Coordinator
and Kimberly Embleton, English and Humanities Librarian,
Oviatt Library, California State University–Northridge
Looking for a way to give back during these hard economic times? Recession, layoffs, high unemployment — all can make it hard for people to think about donating to charity. When we have less money, giving away what we do have seems even less appealing. But that is exactly when charity and nonprofit community organizations need donations the most to help others in need. According to a survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy (Noelle Barton and Caroline Preston, “America’s Top Charities Face Tough Fund-Raising Year,” Oct. 29, 2009 [http://philanthropy.com/article/Tough-Times-for-Americas-T/57727]), 400 of the country’s largest charities expected a median 9% drop in giving during the year 2009.
But there is a way to give back without spending a cent of your own money. No check-writing. No time spent volunteering. Simply doing something we all do probably every single day — clicking that mouse in a search engine. But not just any search engine, rather the ones created specifically to raise funds for charities and nonprofit organizations. According to the 2009 Global Edelman Goodpurpose study, despite the recession, people do want to give back in some way and, in fact, 63% of respondents, “are looking toward brands and companies to make it easier for them to make a difference” [http://www.edelman.com/news/ShowOne.asp?ID=222; retrieved 11/23/09].
Like any other search engine, these charity-based search engines raise money from sponsored links and advertisements. So for every search a user does, a portion of the search engine’s revenue is donated to a charity, which can be a nonprofit organization, a school, a college or university, or religious organization. It’s as easy as that. The only question now is why wouldn’t you?
Here’s a rundown on some of the more successful search engines.
Launched in 2005 by brother and sister team Ken Ramberg and JJ Ramberg, GoodSearch donates 50% of its revenue to the charity or school of the user’s choice. Ken, a former founder of JOBTRAK, and JJ, an anchor at MSNBC and former director of marketing at Cooking.com, have found a way to give to charity without the user spending a dime and have been pretty successful so far. For each search performed, about 1 cent is donated. As of November 2009, more that 84,000 charities have signed on to receive donations from GoodSearch, which claims that more than 100 new groups join every day. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals alone has received almost $30,000 [http://www.goodsearch.com/successstory.aspx].
GoodSearch is powered by Yahoo! and the same search performed in both engines returned identical results. One downside of searching through GoodSearch is that you don’t have access to Yahoo!’s advanced search functions, but for most searches, this isn’t a terrible drawback. When the anticipated merger between Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo! is finalized, GoodSearch will also use the Bing search engine.
Goodshop was added to the GoodSearch family in 2007. GoodShop is an online shopping mall where each purchase made in the mall generates a donation to the user’s selected charity. Amazon, Macy’s, and iTunes are just a few of the many participating vendors with the donations ranging anywhere from 2% up to 30% of the purchase. There are some restrictions and not every purchase may apply, but the majority of purchases do qualify for a donation.
Do Great Good
Do Great Good is a really new search engine from InfoSpace, the creators of the metasearch engine Dogpile. Do Great Good extends Dogpile’s Search and Rescue program, which allows users to help raise funds for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Search and Rescue was such a success, raising about $200,000 in just 2 months in 2008, that InfoSpace launched Do Great Good in the summer of 2009.
Unlike GoodSearch, InfoSpace selects which charities receive the donations. Users may suggest charities for inclusion in InfoSpace’s giving but do not have the option to select which charity receives the revenue from their searching. And though Do Great Good is now separate from Dogpile’s animal-based Search and Rescue, many of the targeted charities still focus on aiding animals. As with Dogpile, Do Great Good simultaneously searches Yahoo!, Bing, and Ask.com. Both GoodSearch and Do Great Good allow you to download toolbars for even easier searching. As of February 2010, Do Great Good had given more than $400,000 to charities.
Every click is a privately owned British search engine that will donate to any charity in the U.K. It markets itself to businesses, colleges, and schools as a way to raise funds. Individuals and companies can choose to donate their search revenue to the charity of their choice. Searchers from schools and colleges can choose to have the funds go directly to their own institution or a charity. Launched in 2005 by Polly Gowers, Every click has raised almost £ 1 million to date for British charities.
Search Kindly is an Illinois-based search engine that uses Google to “take the money that you directly and indirectly donate to us and use it to build mobile libraries for underserved schools” [http://www.searchkindly.org/index.php]. Run solely on a volunteer basis, 100% of its advertising revenue goes to charity. One major difference in searching, however: A search performed from the Search Kindly page takes you out of Search Kindly and directly into Google. So, though Search Kindly does get the revenue from your first visit, to really optimize the fundraising potential, you have to go back to Search Kindly for follow-up searches.The site has been mired in some delays with the IRS and is currently trying to obtain federal tax-exempt status, which, if successful, would make it the first search engine with tax-exempt status donating its entire profit to charities. At presstime, Search Kindly was still in a holding pattern as far as donations go and expects to resume its contributions when all is settled with the IRS. It also plans to create a program called Operation Library Box in which donations would go to materials needed to aid overseas libraries. So far, the engine has raised more than $13,000.
i’m making a difference
Microsoft’s i’m Initiative puts a different spin on using the internet to support social causes. It is not a search engine, though. Instead, every time you use Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging or Windows Live Hotmail for your email, Microsoft will donate a portion of its advertising revenue to the organization of your choice. In either service, you simply select i’m Making a Difference in the options link and then choose from ten major associations, such as the Sierra Club or the American Red Cross and start instant messaging and emailing. According to the site, Microsoft has raised almost 2.5 million dollars since 2007 with this inititative [http://im.live.com/Messenger/IM/About/Default.aspx].
Do Good and Do Well
These are just a few of the many charitable search engines available. A simple search using the terms “charity search engines” will help you locate others all over the world. Whether you want to help the environment, underprivileged children, those battling cancer, or your own local neighborhood church or school, there is a search engine available to help you give back.
But with so many different options out there, both big and small, you must do your research and check out the credibility and honesty of the search engine you choose. For starters, you can check reputable websites, such as http://www.philanthropyjournal.org, to see if your search engine of choice is mentioned. If so, it stands to reason that it’s probably a reliable site. Its omission doesn’t preclude it being reputable, it just means you may want to dig a little further. For example, is the website open about how the donation process works? Does it specify how much money has been raised, as a whole and for individual charities? Is there contact information? If a site is not forthcoming with this type of information, proceed with caution.
Charity search engines such as GoodSearch.com can seem like a savior to any nonprofit organization, especially in times of financial downturn. This is no less true for libraries, be they public, school, or academic in nature. When first introduced, many libraries jumped on the GoodSearch bandwagon, hoping it could help alleviate some fiscal worries. In fact, there are currently almost 600 libraries signed up with this particular charitable search engine.
Looking through the earnings of some of the libraries, though, one can see that GoodSearch.com hasn’t necessarily been the financial panacea hoped for. In fact, many libraries haven’t even reached the $20 threshold. If your nonprofit doesn’t earn at least $20 in a year through its charitable searches, it will not receive any money at all, and the funds earned will be redistributed to other qualifying organizations. This may prove distressing to some, but there are libraries which have in fact managed to make a profit. Frequent users would no doubt love to be able to support their local libraries, especially if they could do it without burdening their own wallets. However, they won’t necessarily go out looking for opportunities to do so. You need to promote it just as you would would any other library fundraising effort.
Libraries which have earned substantial amounts of money through GoodSearch.com tend to do things a bit differently than the rest. Most libraries we looked at that used GoodSearch.com obviously provided a link to it on their websites. Many libraries, however, hide this link on pages not frequented often enough, such as the How to Donate to Your Library page. While we hope to attract masses to those pages, most users do not come to our library websites for this reason. The New Castle-Henry County Public Library in Indiana links to GoodSearch.com right from its homepage, so it’s viewable every time anyone logs onto the website [http://www.nchcpl.lib.in.us/rooms/portal/page/Sirsi_HOME]. It is a constant reminder to patrons that they can both search for their informational needs and donate to the library simultaneously.
While placement on the homepage is the most important way to get the attention of your users, it shouldn’t end there. Make use of any and all social networking applications your library currently uses. For example, if your library has a Facebook page, follow the lead of the Altoona Area Public Library in Pennsylvania and post an announcement about GoodSearch on your Facebook wall. Or, if you have a Twitter account, Tweet about it every once in a while to remind your users how they can help. Not everyone will necessarily check your library’s webpage each day, but avid users of Facebook and Twitter will likely see your posts and Tweets right away.
Another consideration is ease-of-use for your users. Most users of Google or Yahoo! appreciate their intuitive interfaces and we don’t necessarily want to complicate things for them. So make it as easy as possible for your users to use GoodSearch.com. Many libraries provide a basic link to GoodSearch.com and instructions on how to find the library’s name in GoodSearch’s database of nonprofits to designate the library and then start searching. Others, such as the Ohioana Library [http://www.ohioana.org/help], provide a direct link that takes users to a page where they can begin their search straightaway. The New Castle library mentioned above does the same but goes a step further: It doesn’t just provide a web address, it made a graphical interface which is far more intuitive and recognizable.
Savvy library staff will take any opportunity to promote GoodSearch to their users. Both Ohioana Library and the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation ask their staff to add a line about it in their email signatures. The Ohioana Library has raised more than $300 so far using this charitable search engine, employing several strategies to get the word out. Asked about giving advice to others who want to do the same, office manager Beth Poley says, “Make sure that GoodSearch is the default search engine on all of your in-house computers. Our staff uses GoodSearch, which makes up quite a bit of our total usage. Also, continue to remind your members that GoodSearch and GoodShop are helping your organization. Use your email signature line, put a link on your website, and include information in your email newsletters.” She added that the newsletters are where the library seems to get the most feedback from its users.
A final strategy may be to advertise your goals and successes on your webpages. For example, if you’re trying to raise money for a specific collection or program in the future, let that be known and update your users on the progress that’s been made. If the money is going to a general fund, give examples of how many books can be bought for the amount of money raised. Making your goals more tangible gives a face, as it were, to your library’s needs.
Susanna Eng-Ziskin (email@example.com) is Reference Services and Collection Coordinator
and Kimberly Embleton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the English and Humanities Librarian at the
Oviatt Library, California State University–Northridge.