JGooders seeks Jewish philanthropy revolution

Just like Obama, JGooders.com seeks to move donations online.

jgooders 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jgooders 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
About half of US President-elect Barack Obama's unprecedented $640-million campaign war chest was raised in donations of less than $200, mostly via the Internet. Almost £ 360 million were donated to charity through the small on-line gifts of some 6.4 million visitors to the British charity Web site JustGiving.com. The Internet, says Israeli Ronit Dolev, is fundamentally changing philanthropy. Dolev is the cofounder, together with Smadar Fogel, of JGooders.com, a new "on-line philanthropic arena that's relevant to this global generation." "In the past, 10 percent of the people gave 90% of the money," she told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "The Internet is opening up the forgotten 90%." Formally launched here on Sunday, JGooders.com is a for-profit company that connects Jewish charities to the enormous potential of small on-line giving. Adding a project to the Web site costs a charity $180 per year, but allows it to start receiving on-line gifts as small as $5 from site visitors who pay by credit card. On its second day of operation, the site already boasted 150 projects, some added by large organizations such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jewish Agency. "The biggest [Jewish] organizations understand that this is the future of philanthropy," said Eli Shua, the startup's chief operating officer. The key, he explained, was to operate with the efficiency of an on-line business. The credit card companies take the standard 3% fee for each transaction, while a nonprofit foundation created specially for the purpose takes another 1% to finance the transfer of funds to each project. The remainder, 96% of the gift, reaches the charity. JGooders' profit comes from the once-a-year listing fee for projects and the fact that it has an extremely small corporate overhead - just four employees. It does have its detractors, though. Sources in several of the federations attending this week's General Assembly in Jerusalem expressed concern that their campaigns could be harmed by JGooders. "It may be more attractive and convenient for the younger generation to give directly to certain causes over the Internet," one source said. "This could either broaden the pool of donors, or harm our community campaigns in North America, especially during the current financial crisis." But, for the site's founders, the Internet is not only a cheaper arena for philanthropy, it's actually better in every way. The Web platform allows JGooders to interact with the Web site users in ways unimaginable with classical philanthropy. Each project added to the site gains not just a Web page, but an entire social network of its own with which to interact with donors and supporters. Donors, too, gain Web 2.0 abilities, including creating portfolios through which they track issues or projects of interest. A sophisticated search feature allows finding a project by the level of donation needed, the population or country affected, or the issue it deals with - aliya, coexistence, environmentalism, heritage, religious institutions, and lots more. "People can do much more than donate" through the site, Dolev said. "They can volunteer, because projects can ask for more than money. They can specify what sorts of volunteers they need." Donations can be anonymous, and can be divided among "packages" of projects. JGooders is also implementing careful checks of the projects being added to its site. "We require from each organization a list of its board members and its financial and incorporation records," said Dolev. All are visible on the project's Web site. In true cyber-style, the company even plans on adding a rating system allowing donors to rate their satisfaction with the project or nonprofit. "Do good," implores the JGooders Web site. With visitors able not only to donate, but to volunteer and network around their giving, the founders are confident they have found a "complete solution" for social action. It just might be, they say, the next big thing in Jewish philanthropy.