Philanthroper uses Web to connect nonprofits with givers

The Philanthroper website highlights a different nonprofit each day and lets users make a $1 donation online.
The Philanthroper website highlights a different nonprofit each day and lets users make a $1 donation online.
Posted: February 14, 2011

Mark Wilson was enjoying his success as a technology writer when he had a flash of introspection. It was payback time, the moment for him to honor his good life by supporting nonprofit groups doing good work.

"When I did searches online, I was overwhelmed by thousands and thousands of causes," the 28-year-old Chicagoan said. "Even if I could choose, then I would ask if this was the right organization for the cause."

Out of that "donation paralysis," Wilson created Philanthroper, a website that adapts the increasingly popular online deal-a-day formula to nonprofit fund-raising.

Like Groupon, probably the best-known website of this genre, Philanthroper's goal is to connect as many people as possible to the featured organization. (, The Inquirer's website, offers a similar daily-bargain service called Dealyo.)

But while Groupon touts discounted entertainment tickets, meals, and other local products to its 55 million subscribers - get $50 worth of food and drinks at your nearby café for just $25! - Philanthroper pinpoints national or small regional organizations worthy of attention.

It looks for financially solid groups that do their work a little differently and then tells their story in a "bite-size morsel of content," Wilson says. If you like what you read, you can donate $1 on your computer or mobile phone - no more, no less - through Philanthroper's electronic-transaction partner.

Since Philanthroper's launch in January, a different nonprofit has been featured every day, none of them yet from the Philadelphia region.

Philanthroper's biggest haul so far has been $300 for the Kids in Need Foundation, a national nonprofit that gives school supplies to low-income students.

"It is a trend that sort of falls into the micro-giving category or crowd-funding," says Cynthia Bailie of the New York-based Foundation Center, which promotes philanthropy through analysis, data, and training.

By limiting giving to $1, Wilson hopes that people will make philanthropy a habit. "It's a small enough amount that most people can give casually, but big enough that dollars can add up."

In these economic times, nonprofits need to add up all the dollars they can. With reduced donations from government, corporations, foundations, and individuals, the nation's 1.8 million to 2 million nonprofit groups have suffered.

In a 2009 study from the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University, 57 percent of groups surveyed in the Philadelphia region said their financial condition was worse than in the preceding year. A 2010 Nonprofit Research Collaborative report found that many of the nonprofits surveyed were seeing a slight rebound in donations, though they still were struggling.

While the value of face-to-face contact remains important, another old-time solicitation method, direct mail, is losing favor because of its high administrative cost and even higher annoyance factor for people who come home to yet another nonprofit plea for support.

E-solicitations also level the playing field by allowing small nonprofits to publicize their work to the same audience that bigger players reach.

Philanthroper is not alone in this high-tech territory.

Donations via cell phones gained notice last year after the Haitian earthquake. At, creative projects involving art, fashion, and film can solicit a mass audience for funding.

The website for nonprofit Kiva connects individuals willing to lend money with small business people around the world. American Express sponsors a contest in which online votes help determine which groups get funding from the company.

All this gives people such as Philanthroper's Wilson hope - and realists pause.

"I wouldn't hold great promise for a dollar a day," says Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership. "You'd do better holding bake sales."

Patricia Goldberg is willing to use cupcakes and computers to help Abington's Storybook Musical Theatre, which puts on children's productions.

Even with an annual budget of $150,000, "it's always been an uphill battle for us to get funds," says Goldberg, the group's artistic director.

So it participates in GoodSearch, an online search engine that donates a portion of ad revenue from each search to the searcher's choice of charity or school. Goldberg might use Kickstarter for a project and says she will explore Philanthroper, too.

Says Goldberg, "We're trying to get money any way we can."

Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214 or Follow her on Twitter @carolyntweets.

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