objects/charitydefinition80.jpgThe words computer and Internet aren't instantly associated with philanthropy and the good of mankind, but the World Wide Web really does have a benevolent side.

One area of the Internet world that does not receive enough publicity (move over Gates and Department of Justice stories) is the Internet's capacity for online giving. The quickness and pervasiveness of high-tech activities can make giving easier and more effective than ever. Three avenues of giving online are available. One is donation of money; another, gifts of time, and lastly, gifts of support.

Your generosity can make an appreciated impact in so many needy areas of our world. Donating money on the Net can be very rewarding. As well as being the vehicle of the donation, the Internet can help confirm that your dollars are not misdirected and give you confidence that your charity of choice is legitimate.

Non-profit groups you visit online should have an "org" Web address (such as www.unitedway.org). If you are considering making a donation to an organization and notice that its Web address ends in .com, you can double-check their non-profit status at an IRS directory site.

Make sure the organization you are donating to has a listed phone number and/or physical mailing address. If not, let suspicions take you to www.networksolutions.com to find out who owns the Web site. Their WhoIs Search will be helpful in finding ownership information. This information can then be used at The Better Business Bureau Philanthropic Advisory Service where you can further check out the organization in question.

For an even more comprehensive check, you can request IRS Form 990 from the organization. This will give you information on the group's income, expenses, administrative overhead percentage, etc. Sites such as Guide Star have these forms scanned and posted on their site for use by the public.

The Internet offers a wide selection of sites for checking out the credentials of charities as well as for advice on how to give. Often computer users can locate reports on the charity's programs, administration, and fund raising activities. Other sites give advice on tax deductions and how to select a charity. Try The National Charities Information Bureau for some useful information. American Online sponsors a Web site called Helping Org, which is an excellent site for all things non-profit.

Independent Charities of America is itself a non-profit organization that pre-screens high quality national and international charities for donors' considerations. This site categorizes fields of interest such as animals, children, education, environment, faith based, health and medial research, human rights, international relief, military/patriotic, and women and family issues. There is an Emergency Action Alert service you can register with to be notified by e-mail when a disaster strikes. You are given information about which certified charities are assisting in the relief efforts. Descriptions of their activities are given to help donors make a decision on which charities to support.