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On the money: making charity easier

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Helen Purves Helen Purves | 13:58 UK time, Thursday, 18 November 2010

In the olden days, before PayPal was invented (well, before the millennium anyway) donating to charity either meant putting money in a collecting box or, after 1980, ringing into the occasional telethon.

Then there were the ubiquitous raffle tickets, often by post, with the prizes that nobody ever appeared to actually win.

More enthusiastic people would attempt to get themselves sponsored - generally for hardcore sporting activities like marathons, sponsored swims or the perennial national favourite, the baked bean bath. In those days, sponsorship would involve a tatty bit of paper circulating friends and family, with hastily scrawled pledges to donate.

Except people are finding new ways to donate - and the internet has proved to be an extremely important tool. Whether it's for organising the troops, spreading the word or providing an easy way to donate, the internet's there to provide a helping hand.

A great example is this year's Children in Need, which has changed a great deal from its telethon days in the 80s. As well as being able to donate in a few clicks with PayPal and via the Red Button on your TV remote, there are also a host of online auctions to raise cash.

This year, the Children in Need message is being spread in a plethora of ways: you can add Pudsey ears to your profile pictures, or become a fan on Facebook (you'd be in good company - over 60,000 people have already done so) or play games on the Children in Need website.

The BBC supports the charity by adding banners to the top of nearly all of its websites (you might have spotted this already) so the millions of people who visit the mammoth BBC website will know how they can get involved.

Of course, Children in Need aren't the only people to engage with this kind of cross-promotion: and it makes sense for charities to spread the word through these ready-made channels. After all, telethons are expensive - but anyone can set up a PayPal or JustGiving account, and the world is full of website designers with a cause.

One such cause is the annual global moustache-growing attempt Movember (in aid of men’s health), which has seen a phenomenal rise to fame which has been strongly aided and abetted by its immense popularity on the internet. Movember's first year (2004) there were 432 participants: this year over a million people have signed up. Back in 2004, the cause was spread by word of mouth - but this year, moustache fanatics can have their own profile pages, spread the word through Facebook, upload video diaries, check out iPhone apps and even buy commemorative moustache combs.

In fact, most charities are starting to harness the power of the web. After all, we pay for everything else online - groceries, clothes, bills, furniture - why should charity be an exception? Charities like Cancer Research can help people set up their own pages where they can blog about their fundraising attempts, tally up the donations and post pictures and more. You can become part of fundraising groups and start some healthy competition amongst your peers to see how much you can raise - or, depending on how you look at it, to help you all see the bigger picture.

But of course if you're feeling old-school, the baked beans await. After all, it's all for a good cause - and as ever, every little counts.


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