Some networks meant for social good, but for a price

Crowdrise, Jumo, Causecast, Causes on Facebook and others try to use social networking and crowdsourcing to build interest in charities and causes, and to help them attract donations.

“2010 has really been the year of the social network for social good,” said Katya Andresen, chief operating officer at Network for Good, a nonprofit that handles processing and other administrative chores for many of the new sites.

In a recent study of online giving, Network for Good found that the experience when donating online is important to people. “I think many of these new sites are trying to make online giving, which is rather transactional in nature, an experience of greater intimacy, and that’s valuable,” Andresen said.

But to many in the nonprofit world, the value of the sites remains to be seen. For one thing, they hand partial control over charity brand names and trademarks to users who are often unknown to the nonprofit groups they support. And virtually all of them ask users to pay to donate.

“I think of them as disintermediaries because they stand between a nonprofit and its supporters, and what most of our clients’ value is establishing that direct connection,” said Gene Austin, chief executive of Convio, a company that provides technology to help nonprofits manage relations. “It’s especially concerning if they’re taking a cut.” To Austin and others, the new sites operate on a model that evokes memories of the United Way a decade ago. It began to lose ground when donors questioned why they should make donations through United Way when they could give directly to a charity.

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