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Website Review: CharityUSA

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Most people are inherently good in at least some small, out of the way corner of themselves. I have always thought this and maybe that is what gets me into relationships with some pretty bad people. On the other hand, I have seen quite a few people (who society might perceive as being "bad") do some very good things under the right circumstances.

Take me for example. I am not a saint by anyone's standards, but this year I actually donated to Obama for President. It was the first time in my life I actually made a donation to a political campaign. Barak Obama is something of a physical embodiment of his message of change, and I thought then, and do now, that he is the first person of color to have a realistic chance of being elected President.

Most Americans would like to do something for someone, to feel as though they make even a small difference in our world. Just working to pay the bills takes up most of our time, and even with the best intentions it is hard to get anything done, so most of us end up doing very little.

Today I ran across a site that claims to allow anyone and everyone to do something positive for various causes just by clicking on links to sponsor sites. A friend of mine had links to this site on her Myspace page, so I checked them out. I thought it was a cool idea, but I wanted to dig a little deeper before I gave the site any publicity. After all, there are so many things on the web that are either totally bogus or pretty questionable at best.

Greater Good Network is run by CharityUSA.com, a for-profit company based in Seattle, Washinton. It has been around in one form or another since 1999. The company sells advertising on its site. The advertisers pay CharityUSA on a per-click basis for the traffic the site drives to theirs. A part of the proceeds are then donated to the charities represented on the site.

This is pretty much how Google’s "Ad Sense" program works. I had an account with Ad Sense when I was running my blog. I was making around $300 a month from it, so I know from personal experience that the concept does work.

I did some quick research on the web about the company and found the news on them is heavily weighted to the positive. Snopes gives a positive analysis of the site and references several major media stories related to CharityUSA. The large majority of references to the company I read seem to be positive as well.

CharityUSA then seems to be a valid resource for busy people who would like to feel as though they are doing something positive for the world and its inhabitants but who don't have the time or resources necessary to do much by themselves. Simply by clicking on the site and maybe browsing through some of the very cool merchandise advertised there, you can donate a little of the advertisers money to worthwhile causes without any out of pocket expense to yourself. 

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About Mike Johnston

  • Pete

    Thanks Mike; you have helped me help them. Hearty barks and meows to you~

  • Samantha Klein

    This sounds more like an ad than a review.

    It seems inappropiate to me to review a fundraising organization as a Web site. The more important issues would be about the effectiveness of the effort and I would expect a review of a fundraising organization to rely on more research than using the “references” they give themselves (snopes).

    While CharityUSA.com seems to be a shadowy private, for-profit organization that doesn’t even identify the people behind it at their corportate Web site, just a quick Web search turned up a filing with the State of Washington.

    This report provides a bit of financial information for the company’s 2007 fiscal year. For that fiscal year, the company reported “raising” $11,280,900 of which $1,724,030 or 16% went to charity. Of the $1.7 million given to charity, $498,735 came from cash contributions, which CharityUSA passes through to charities. The remaining $1,225,295 given to charities came from advertising revenues and sales commissions. That’s less than 12% of the %10.7 million in revenues from those sources.

    As the company notes in this report, they pass through 100% of “sponsor advertising” to their partner charities. They also use this “fact” repeatedly on their Web sites to pitch their “service.” They do not provide a breakdown of revenues in the Washington State report, but clearly if they are passing through 100% of advertising revenues and only donated $1.2 million total in 2007, the vast majority of their revenues are in sales commissions and the vast majority of those revenues are going into the company’s coffers, not to charity.

    I don’t think there’s anything illegal here, but I feel that the company misrepresents itself and its accomplishments. Their FAQs say, for example, that “GreaterGood.org is an independent charitable organization” when it’s not a charitable organization in any sense of the word (and therefore conveniently not subject to the state disclosure laws charities must follow). It’s a company that hit upon a clever way to make money from Web advertising and affiliate programs. It probably does no harm – since they are clever enough to pass through actual cash donations – but I don’t think it is the altruistic organization many seem to think it is. It’s no different than any company who says if you do X, we will donate Y – with Y not amounting to much.

  • Natasha Burton

    Thanks to both Mike and Samantha for researching this. I would agree that the company seems shady…that is why I was doing research on them. It was the fact that they have not published really specific explanation of how they work with their “affiliate” sites, who is really selling the merchandise in their “shops,” etc. I will keep in mind that greatergood.com seems to be a perfectly legitimate as an online vendor, and will consider that were I to do business with them, a couple of the dollars I spend might go to charity. Unfortunately, now that I feel they have misrepresented themselves, I am not sure I want the rest of the dollars going to the people at CharityUSA.

  • sc

    I was thinking of giving to this charity until I read Obama in write up. No Way

  • PashaP

    To Samantha Klein:
    You failed to make any distinction between the facts and your opinions. If you had only taken more time to read Mike Johnston’s article (and the WA State Commercial Fundraiser Profile Report for Charity USA you provided), you might have realized your opinions lack critical thinking. Maybe you were unable or unwilling to analyze without bias, but in my opinion, your viewpoints are unnecessarily negative, cynical, and baseless. I also wondered whether your misperceptions, misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the facts were intentional, but I will leave this for the readers to decide as I explain further.

    When you presented the reader with percentages and dollar amounts that go to charity, why would you question the amount when detailed explanations were clearly provided in the same (one-page) report, showing how money is raised, distributed, and used? It seems you were unwilling to read the rest of the (one-page) report, so I’m asking readers exactly how would we expect Charity USA to be able to partner with 40 countries, send buyers to 23 countries, work with payments to charity that vary between three and thirty percent, network with companies on Click-Thru Campaigns that don’t cost the user anything to participate, and absorb the cost of bank/financing fees from credit/debit card donations?

    There’s more I did not list; my point is, if we don’t know how to run a business of this scope or scale, who are we to judge how they run their business? Try not to make assessments without researching or presenting all the facts, or infer their business isn’t being run properly, especially when you made no claims regarding your own education, accreditation or experience in the business field or with this type of business model.

    In my opinion, your failure to answer your own question, when the explanation was in the same report, indicates you came to this forum with a closed mind and preconceived notions about the company. Otherwise, please tell me how could I be wrong? And your use of the term “shadowy” might be considered libel.

    You said Charity USA: “…doesn’t even identify the people behind it at their corporate Web site…” If you took the time to click on “About This Site,” you would find: “The Hunger Site is owned and operated by Tim Kunin and Greg Hesterberg, co-owners of CharityUSA.com (parent company of GreaterGood Network).” (You might have to select Page 2 to find either their names or their backgrounds, depending on the amount of information each site contains about the particular site you’re on).

    You also didn’t state your opinion on issues Charity USA addresses. It could be you don’t care about poor women, children, animals, literacy, breast cancer, the rainforest, or, if you do care, what are you doing to help? Are you against any form of help to the poor and marginalized, or must it be your way of helping others? Please don’t disparage people’s willingness to do something for those less fortunate than you.

    The Colbert Report interview of author Sheryl WuDunn, who wrote “Half the Sky,” had a story about a micro loan (I think for $65) that was given to a woman from Pakistan who ultimately helped herself and others in her village. I learned more about her story from other sources.

    Her husband would beat her, and threatened to “trade her in” because she had given birth to two daughters, when he had wanted a son instead. He was unemployed before his wife used the micro loan to start an embroidery business, and she became successful enough to hire 30 villagers, including her husband!

    Empowering women, as the Charity USA report states, (is reinforced by): “…our belief that selling artisan products made by rural women is one of the most important things we do because it reduces intergenerational poverty and has been correlated with improved education for children, reduced incidence of disease, and increased family and community incomes.”

    Samantha, as a woman (specifically, and a human being in general), don’t you care about the struggles and hardships women and children endure? If you think any organization is somehow self-serving, by your not describing anything compassionate about yourself, even if you think it’s off topic, readers will focus not only on your failing points but your humanity, further distancing your credibility from your ability to reason, in my opinion.

    To Natasha Burton:
    I am amazed by the opinion: “I would agree that the company seems shady…that is why I was doing research on them. It was the fact that they have not published really specific explanation of how they work with their “affiliate” sites, who is really selling the merchandise in their “shops,” etc.”

    Notice I didn’t say “your opinion” because you have none; you clearly borrowed this opinion from Samantha, because if you read the (one-page) report, there’s more to the narrative that either of you were telling the reader, and the concept of how “affiliate sites” work is extremely simple, has been around for at least a decade, and the answer to how it works is readily available to anyone with internet access or an email account (by emailing the company or they’re affiliates to find out it’s a cost-effective way to generate revenue, and to answer your own question).

    When you said: “…(I) will consider that were I to do business with them, a couple of the dollars I spend might go to charity. Unfortunately, now that I feel they have misrepresented themselves, I am not sure I want the rest of the dollars going to the people at Charity USA.” I am disappointed you used terms like “shady” and “misrepresented,” remarks that might be considered libel, instead of following through on your own research or taking a moment to think for yourself.

    Two things: If you think your contribution isn’t being distributed to your satisfaction, you can visit any of their sites to join their free-to-use Click-Thru Campaigns, you are generating revenue without spending your own money, and if you do buy something, you are getting something you want, but you are helping not only this generation, but generations to come, and if you just want to donate dollars to the cause, if you had read the (I keep stressing, one-page) report, it said: “One hundred percent (100%) of monies given as contributions from the public were paid directly to charities, without any deductions for expenses incurred by CharityUSA.com, LLC, (such as credit card processing or bank fees).” That means they will forward 100% of your donation, and absorb any processing fees!

    And finally, to sc:
    “I was thinking of giving to this charity until I read Obama in write up. No Way.”

    So am I correct to think the only deciding factor preventing your generosity to those in need is because the author that gave a favorable review of said charity gave money to Obama? What mechanism affects your ability to one moment feel inspired towards charity then rationalizes your dislike of Obama as the reason for changing your mind?

    I’m sorry to have to read more into this, but in my opinion yours is a childlike response that ended up hurting others, and it sounds like your hatred (continues?) to outweigh your compassion. Maybe you need to learn how to compartmentalize…unless you’re having a joke at our expense, you’re not making a bit of sense. Please stop to think how much so little money does for poor people, women and their children, animals, literacy, breast cancer, and the rainforests.

    As Gandhi said: “Become the change you want to see in the world.” I think this means you must accept responsibility for your negative viewpoint, and consider how your reaction harms the world around you.

  • VKRT

    We do business with lot of companies that keep 100% of the profits to themselves. Charity USA is giving at least some of it to charity.

  • Lori Reynolds

    Thank you PashaP! I have been clicking thru and buying items from this charity for years. I had decided to research as some of the items I have purchased have not been of the best quality. As I was reading through Samantha Klein’s opinion, I was beginning to doubt my judgment in continuing to support CharityUSA. However, I had thought to myself it has helped people in poorer nations live better lives. To me that was worth it even if the company is a “for profit” organization. You helped reinforce my conviction.

    And also, thank you for addressing the, for lack of a better word…IDIOT, who said blah blah blah Obama, you responded in a way that hopefully will make that person acknowledge that those type of comments only perpetuate that, yes, we truly do live in a society that allows ignorant people to say whatever is on their mind, no matter how moronic.

  • Suzanne

    Pasha P.: While you make some good points here, I just received an e-mail to click through for Animal Shelter relief, your self-righteousness leads me to believe that CharityUSA, while doing good work, does not contribute in the way I would prefer to give my hard earned charity dollars and that would be in relationship with the organizations actually providing the services. This does not make me less charitable, Pasha, just charitable in a different way. I am erasing the e-mail.

  • Pam

    According to the State of Washington Profile for this company, CharityUSA, for the fiscal year 2010, about $20 million dollars were raised in total from direct donation and from sales made by their affiliate programs. Of this amount, almost $4 million was given directly to the supported charities. This is about 19% of the revenues. Greater Good network does more than just make the charitable donations, though that is hugely significant. They also seek out and support fair trade items, looking for small artisans in poverty stricken nations to help them get started, help them help themselves. This costs me nothing, this effort to make a difference however small, unless I decide to purchase something, which helps even more. I look for and support the companies that support the various sites as well. They pay for the advertising, but we are totally free to buy their products or not. Why not support what this organization is trying to do? Why not?

  • Mary

    I believed in this site and wanted to help. Placed an order, got an email that made me ? my action SO called the 800 # to cancel my order (plan to send or give to a Veteran in person). I called the Tele # listed, not once–three times. The message I got was one x 3 I shall not forget–sexually explicit. Tried calling the “top brass” I assume–a number for what appears to be over on consultant to this website–not once, twice–second time left a message–I tried REALLY hard top get a real live voice at both sites. NEVER, never, never will I order from this site again–I can send donations directly to 7 countries in Africa. I am disabled, trying to do good–that message, heard twice, lingers and makes me really sad–I believed in this site. Having been to these “poverty stricken countries” and, yes THEY are living 24/7 in poverty–I understand the needs. It feels so wonderful to see a child light up like the biggest Christmas tree you can think of because you gave him/her a beanie baby, coloring crayons, a book and or simply played an interactive game ie. Duck,Duck, Grey Duck–the smiles and laughter live with me and make me smile–not so persons/companies that profit from 3rd-4th world countries

  • Ginny

    Many good charities give a much greater percentage of donations that actually get to charity. You can google a list.

  • Burnz

    Sounds like Pasha might work for or benefit from the companies she so self righteously over defends. While making very little real arguments for these companies, she overly criticizes others for their facts and thoughts. The “Obama” one is, however, justified.

  • Andrea

    Bravo PashaP !!! I applaud your very well thought out response. You are a person whom thinks before they speak. There are not many people that do that on line. Don’t know why ppl are making such a big deal outta nothing. If you donate cash it goes directly to charity, otherwise a portion of the ad click through and sales goes. The ads cost the nothing so you give nothing outa pocket and get to help a charity, please explain what you are losing in this deal? If you purchase something you get an item to enjoy and get to donate too. The companies selling stuff are separate from CharotyUSA. ChairtyUSA makes a deal with company XXX. Company XXX will sell things through CharityUSA site. In return for all the advertisement and business that is generated by CharityUSA, company XXX will donate a portion to the various different charities and or CharityUSA for operational expenses. So as I see it its a win win for everyone and a very good idea. My expertise you ask? I was on the board of directors and founding mother of JM&J Foundation for the Needy in my hometown for over 10 years. we helped the homeless some, but we mostly helped Atlantis community with remodeling apts so those that were otherwise able mentally but needed some assistance because of their physical disability could get out of nursing homes and live a full life. I have put together many charitable events including selling of magazines and other items. Items I for one didn’t make 100% of the profit from since I was dealing with other companies. Mary its funny you never really give any details about what the email that made you ? anything said or what the message said when you called. I called their number sexually explicit? Wow, either you dialed wrong or should get your hearing checked right away. I talked to a real live person in less than 5 mins. Pleasant women who was happy I called and very willing to answer any question I had. Being so vague leaves me to the conclusion you are full of it. PashaP view is 100% right on and more ppl should be more thorough on their thoughts before they decide to publish them to the internet.

  • Andrea

    Oh and I almost forgot Suzanne

    you said “leads me to believe that CharityUSA, while doing good work, does not contribute in the way I would prefer to give my hard earned charity dollars and that would be in relationship with the organizations actually providing the services. This does not make me less charitable, Pasha, just charitable in a different way. I am erasing the e-mail.”

    No actually it makes you senseless since you deleted an email that cost you zero out of pocket, and only 1 sec of your obvious priceless time to click a link. Which the advertisers will donate to that charity a certain amount with out you buying anything.

    Not to mention where you said ” does not contribute in the way I would prefer to give my hard earned charity dollars and that would be in relationship with the organizations actually providing the services.” They provide many services one of which is helping people start their own business making them self sufficient.

    But then again I have always believed that ” Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about” This is truly the case today