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Charity-buff? Play online games!

Feeling light in the wallet yet generous this holiday season? You can still benefit your favourite cause. Here is how.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2007 15:57 IST
Paul Thomasch

Feeling light in the wallet but generous of heart this holiday season? You can still benefit your favourite cause - without spending a dime - via a host of fun and easy websites.

Among the most popular charity sites is Free Rice, with some 500,000 daily visitors looking to play word games and at the same time donate food for the hungry. Sponsors, who run advertisements on the site, pay for the food.

Free Rice is the brainchild of computer programmer John Breen, who came up with the idea of a vocabulary game to help his son prepare for college entrance exams. Breen later decided the game could also be used to help charities and teamed up with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Here's how it works: A word pops up on the home page of the site, with four short definitions listed below. When you click on the right answer, 20 grains of rice are donated to the WFP by the site's advertisers.

So far, more than 10 billion grains have been donated.

"We get phone calls all day long about the site. People love it, they are delighted by it," said Bettina Luescher, a WFP spokeswoman. "A school child can play this game and a nuclear scientist can play this game."

Those who want to skip the word games have plenty of other click-to-give charities to choose from, including The Animal Rescue Site, a partner of Petfinder.com.

Each time a visitor clicks on a large purple rectangle on the right-hand side of the Web site, a donation is made to provide food and shelter for unwanted animals. It also tells you how much was donated with your click and the entire operation is sponsor-funded.

"This is money out of nowhere," said Lisa Halstead, chief operating officer of CharityUSA.com, which runs the site. "This is money that people are contributing because they're willing to take quick action."

You can shop their on-line store for jewelry, clothing and accessories, with up to 30 per cent of the proceeds going to the cause. Gift packages include everything from feeding a rescued wild horse ($22) to paying a teacher's salary in Afghanistan ($40).

As part of a broader network run by CharityUSA.com, breast cancer, child health, literacy, hunger and protecting endangered habitat such as the rainforest also have links to sites on which you can click to give.

"We get a lot of feedback from people thanking us," said Halstead, adding that they also receive many inquiries about how the system works.

Meanwhile, some corporations are getting into the act, moving away from fruit cakes, mouse pads, and desk calendars as gifts for business contacts during the holidays.

Take marketing company NSI, which last year came up with an idea to send "Joy of Giving" holiday cards to clients, staff and vendors with a link to its seasonal Web site.

Once there, the "Joy of Giving" card recipient can click on one of 10 charities, including the American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Humane Society of Missouri. NSI will then make a donation to the charities depending on the number of clicks each one received.

NSI Chief Executive Mark Montavani said the response this year had been even better than in 2006 from the roughly 1,000 card recipients.

"I've never heard anything but positive response. I think people really like to be included," he said. "The bottom line is it's nice to be able to do something that's a little bit different and in the spirit of the season."

If you want to donate to a charity but need assurance that your money is used in the best possible way, try one of the Web sites to help guide you. Charity Navigator, for example, rates charities and provides tips on everything from protecting yourself from scams to specific questions to ask before donating.