One man had the idea to create a website where people would pay to be advertised on. The payments would not be in cash, but rather in cups of staple food, paid for by the people who wanted to advertise their businesses. It is said that thanks to this site, over 10,000 metric tons of food have been donated. Strangely, the home page still says that one person dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds. It has also an interesting world map that lights up every time one person dies of hunger. It is strangely interesting to sit there watching people die in different parts of the world.

The Hunger Site was a very "trendy" thing in Finnish media some time ago. Every columnist had to mention it. Which is nice, really. I want to see more popular things that help people in need. If even part of those people who visited the website after reading about it from the paper become regular contributors, that will help many people. It's so small effort that everybody really should go and push that button every day. Set it up on your Netscape Personal Toolbar or whatever, just visit the site daily.

According to the website, GreaterGood.com takes 25% of the revenue to offset operating costs. The rest goes to Second Harvest and the Mercy Corps. Second Harvest distributes food in the United States. Mercy Corps is an international organization. The legitimacy of the Mercy Corps aside, there is something unsettling to me about The Hunger Site.

The fact that it has been forwarded in e-mail so many times, that it has shown up on every blog imaginable, has become a fad in Finland (according to the above writeup), leads me to believe it is actually detrimental to donation as a whole. All it requires is a mouseclick. It takes so very little to do so very little, but it makes you feel so good. While it can be argued that the return on donations do not have to be proportional to the investment, there are other implications.

Although making donating easier sounds like it would encourage more donations, it is different from making donating trivial. That is what The Hunger Site is doing. You do not (directly) invest any money. It takes almost no effort to help.

Secondly, there is a detachment from the cause. When Sally Struthers begs you to feed the children, you can see the starving children. You can empathise. When you drop a quarter into the beggar's hat, he or she thanks you. There is interaction between the donor and the receipient.

These two things can lead to an apathy towards donation as a whole. By detaching the donor and making the donation trivial, the donor gets an artificial sense of satisfaction, creating a bubble around him or her. It is a comforting sphere, but separates the donor from the reality. In effect, it creates less incentive to donate to other causes.

The Hunger Site operates on an aggregate basis. The hope is that while each individual makes little impact, combined with all the other individuals, that person can make a difference. However, the question remains, is the good The Hunger Site is doing enough to offset the damage its donation model is causing to donation as a whole?

The point of my writeup is not to bash The Hunger Site. It is certainly an innovative donation model, a meme that has spawned other similar sites. I think, however, that the act of donating in this respect has become mindless. It is my intent to make people think more carefully about the implications.

The Hunger Site is one of hundreds of online sites that allow you to give money to charity at the click of a button, paid for by sponsors. I heard about it about two years ago, and when I remembered I would go and click on the button and have a momentary glow of feeling good.

I then got told about the UK campaign Give Water (http://www.givewater.org/). I was very sceptical, as I didn't understand why Thames Water couldn't just give the money to the various funds they support. I sent them a rather cutting e-mail inquiring about this, and had a very detailed reply. The online charities are trying to raise awareness. They are sponsored by big companies who can afford to give. This dosen't devalue your donation. It's like writing a letter on someone's behalf to Amnesty International. If they're going to give money for a few minutes of your time and benefit the world as a whole, then surely it is better to click?

For a great list of online donation sites see free donation.

I'm a student. I'm hugely in debt. I don't have the big bucks to make any kind of difference to a charity, but I can give my time so that somebody else does. We all talk about the state of the world and how we'd like to change it, but words are meaningless without actions.

Click because you can.

There is a problem with The Hunger Site, The Rainforest Site, and the various other spinoffs. When you click the give food button, you are in effect taking some money from the Christian Children's Fund, World Vision and a few sites selling fair trade style products, and giving the same amount of money to Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest to be distributed. When you click the button, World Vision sends Mercy Corps some money in return for showing you some adverts. Unless you actually buy something advertised, you are merely moving money from one group of charities to another. This seems distinctly pointless, unless you hold Mercy Core in much higher regard than the other charities. Personally, I would feel far more justified in clicking daily if the adverts providing the money were from Starbucks.

Clicking might make you feel good, depending on whether you agree with the above or not, but it does not seem to benefit the world as a whole, in any direct way.

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