Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Causes.com tries to get shoppers into the spirit of charitable giving

Causes Causes.com has rolled out its new charity gift cards in California supermarkets in hopes of taking its online fundraising business offline.

Causes, which helps donors link up with charities online, has teamed up with gift-card marketer Blackhawk Network to sell $25 and $50 pre-paid gift cards in 800 Safeway and Vons supermarkets in California. Givers get a tax write-off. Recipients log on to Causes.com/giftcard to choose from more than 1 million nonprofits.

"This is the only card in the world that says the person you are buying it for wants to do good for the world," said Causes Chairman and co-founder Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook Inc. who is portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the film "The Social Network."

Causes, which runs one of the most popular applications on Facebook and one of the largest online platforms for activism, reaches out to circles of online friends and encourages them to connect with each other to support worthy causes. The theory: People are more likely to donate money, albeit in small amounts, to help a cause that is important to someone close to them. Friends who respond to that subtle social pressure get something in return: social recognition.

Causes has recruited 140 million users who have given more than $27 million to nonprofits around the world. Causes helps nonprofits raise about $1 million a month. It asks users for a voluntary tip of 10% or more on donations, and partners with corporations that pay between $50,000 and $300,000 for sponsored fundraising campaigns.

Seanparker This month, Causes raised $9 million in venture capital to add more engineers to the 16-person company. Investors in the latest round include New Enterprise Associates, Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway and Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff. Causes has raised a total of $16 million.

"Causes is transforming philanthropy by applying social media principles, which provide a network effect that previously was not possible," Benioff said.

That has been the experience of the World Wildlife Fund. In its first fundraising campaign on Causes.com, WWF has raised more than $110,000. David Glass, the organization's director of online marketing, said the pace of donations is quickening.

Causes has also teamed up with UC San Francisco for an eight-week social-media fundraising campaign for a children's medical center at Mission Bay, enlisting teams led by influential Silicon Valley technologists as well as celebrities Ashton Kutcher and MC Hammer to compete for the bragging rights to name a hospital wing.

Internet fundraising over the last decade has generated strong interest in the nonprofit world, but still lags direct mail, events and other more traditional ways of soliciting donations. Of the $263 billion American give to charity each year, 5.7% is given online, according to the Blackbaud Index of Online Giving, which tracks fundraising. Of that, less than 1% comes from social media, estimated Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions at Blackbaud.

Social-media fundraising could get a boost if Causes gift cards catch on with shoppers this holiday season, MacLaughlin said.

"We are at a stage of Causes where it's all about closing that loop: The action that you take online resonates in the real world, and the action you take in the real world resonates online," Parker said.

Check out our story here.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photos: Causes gift card (top); Sean Parker, former president of Facebook Inc. and co-founder of Causes.com. Credit: Causes.com; Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

 
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