Start-Ups

10 charities harnessing the power of the digital age

To have a bigger impact, charities have turned to the internet and digital media to promote their missions and raise money. These 10 are leading the way. Here's how.

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Make-A-Wish helped Batkid save San Francisco.
 Image: Make-A-Wish

Supporting a cause you believe in is easier than ever now that charities have embraced technology, the web, and social media. In fact, for some of today's most powerful and important charities, it's difficult to see how they could have ever gotten off the ground before the digital revolution.

Here's a list of 10 charities harnessing the power of technology to win victories for humanity. Some exist solely online, and others have had to completely transform over the years to appeal to today's tech-savvy citizens, but they all are using technology for good.

1. Epic Change

Epic Change calls itself a "social innovation lab that believes love changes everything." The non-profit has had several campaigns using social media and technology to inspire grassroots change. In 2009, Epic Change showed Shepherds Primary School in Tanzania the internet for the first time and allowed them to browse for information. The campaign was called TwitterKids of Tanzania, and now the school uses Nooks to watch Khan Academy videos, posts photos and chats with people around the world on Facebook, and uses Amazon Kindles as part of their coursework. To Mama With Love is an online art project to honor mothers around the world with photos, words, and videos that raised nearly $17,000 in a week leading up to Mother's Day, which was used to build a children's home in Arusha, Tanzania.

2. Heifer International

This charity would not be possible without technology. Through the internet, Heifer International links communities and brings about sustainable agriculture by providing people with animals instead of only servings of food. This way, they can feed their families for years, start a business, and create a sustainable income. Send a sheep for $120, or a share of one for $10. A cow is $500, or a share is $50. The organization also empowers women -- who produce 80% of the developing world's food while owning 2% of land -- with donations to send girls to school or tools to help start small businesses.

3. Make-A-Wish Foundation

Make-A-Wish grants wishes for children diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses every 38 minutes, on average. The majority of kids choose Disney World, while others choose to meet a celebrity or go to a special event. In November 2013, however, one little boy chose to be Batman for a day, and completely transformed the way the charity used social media and the internet to grant a wish. Miles, who lives in San Francisco, saved the city from bad guys while acting as Batkid for a day. Twitter was abuzz with his story, with people around the world encouraging him. The city newspaper had a special A1 page for him, and people gathered in the streets to watch him save the day. That day, 545,576 #SFBatkid / #Batkid tweets and 16,000 instagram photos were generated.

4. WaterisLife

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WaterisLife made a video to expose the irony of #firstworldproblems.
 Image: WaterisLife

The popular hashtag #firstworldproblems has taken on a whole new meaning because of this charity. As part of its campaign, WaterisLife had people in developing countries read some of the examples of the #firstworldproblems tweets to expose the irony of the comments. The first video debuted in 2012. The non-profit's big project was "The Straw," a $10 portable water purifier that can be used in any water source. WaterisLife has projects in Haiti, where they sent filters post-earthquake in 2010 and continue to help with clean water and hygiene education and sanitation solutions in Ghana and Kenya.

5. Save the Children

The organization launched an augmented reality campaign in 2012 using Aurasma to raise money for the East African Appeal campaign. A digital message was embedded in their newsletter to subscribers. Those with Android or iOS devices could download an app, point the camera at the newsletter, and watch a special video about the campaign. It then led them to the website to make a donation or learn more. Save the Children also uses infographics, data analytics, and social media in their campaigns.

6. American Red Cross

The Red Cross, which has been around since 1881, is a prime example of how to keep up with the changing world while keeping the same mission. A Red Cross survey showed the internet is the third most popular way for Americans to get emergency information, so the organization joined forces with Google and FEMA to help people "Get Tech Ready" for disasters and emergencies using social media, texts, and maps. There are now special Red Cross apps for floods, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes, as well as ones that help locate shelter, water, and pet first aid.

7. Vodafone Foundation

The Vodafone Foundation is a charity that believes mobile technologies can be used to tackle some of the world's most difficult problems. In 2011 the foundation partnered with Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania to use M-Pesa to enable some of the poorest women to access and pay for surgeries, increasing life-saving treatment. The organization also developed a mobile handset that is enabled to contact emergency services quickly in cases of domestic violence, and has several phone apps in different languages used for educational programs all over the world.

8. Omakase

Omakase is a charity named after the Japanese word for "chef's choice." It was built to appeal to the San Francisco tech startup scene, which severely lags in philanthropic donations. The experts at Omakase choose the non-profits, so the only decision users have to make is how much to donate monthly. Each month, the organization sends out updates about the charities they fund -- and they are ones that harness technology to better the environment, educate youth, and generally make the world a better place.

9. Kiva

It's hard to compile a list of charities harnessing the digital age without Kiva, the most famous microfinancing service. Choose a borrower from the many profiles and stories listed on the site, fund their project, and get repaid over time -- you can then cash out your money or reinvest in another budding entrepreneur. The repayment rate is 98% to date, according to the organization. Kiva Zip, which is relatively new, offers a more direct lending system without the microfinancing institutions as the middlemen. The organization also has web and smartphone apps for various languages and operating systems to make it easier for people to browse, learn, and choose projects to lend to.

10. Practical Action

Practical Action is an international non-governmental organization based in the UK that uses technology to challenge poverty in developing countries. The organization has four different categories they work on: energy access, food and agriculture, urban water and waste, and disaster risk reduction, and they also tackle issues related to climate change and inclusive markets. Practical Action uses mapping, technology training, new energy technologies, and education on all issues that contribute to the cycle of poverty.

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About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She writes about the people behind some of tech's most creative innovations and in-depth features on innovation and sustainability.

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