Website guides intelligent charity giving


Christian Ramirez will contribute a portion of the $300 billion Americans will give to charity this year. Like many, he sometimes bases his decision on a flyer he receives in the mail.

"Like kids with cancer, that kind of stuff - that is the charities that I give to. So I give to direct mail," said Ramirez.

Others give to phone solicitors, but Vivi Fissekidou has stopped doing that.

"You never really know who they are or what they are and what they're using the money for. So I think it would make more sense to research an issue," said Fissekidou.

Enter Donation Dashboard. You rate fifteen charities, from not interested to very interested, enter your contribution amount, and voila - a non-profit portfolio, including your chosen charities and some similar ones you may never have thought of, all based on statistical analysis.

It's the work of the UC Berkeley Center for New Media and director Ken Goldberg.

"Essentially it uses the wisdom of crowds, when you put in your information, you are helping this greater service by collectively letting this statistical engine be more intelligent," said Goldberg.

The spirit and mission of Donation Dashboard is what attracts contributor and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster.

"Once this thing is up and running on more than one server and has more nonprofits and gets rid of the rest of the bugs - I'll be interested in presenting it to Craigslist users who I think will really enjoy using it," said Buckmaster.

Ephrat Bitton had to choose the initial 70 charities out of the one million available.

"Charities that people were familiar with, but also nonprofits that were doing creative work that people might not have heard of, but people would be interested in donating to," said Ephrat Bitton, UC Berkeley Center for New Media.

"The highest rated ones are Doctors without Borders, KIVA, NPR," said Tavi Nathanson, UC Berkeley Center for New Media.

Those are the most popular right now, but San Francisco based nonprofit Youth Speaks isn't even on the list.

Artistic director Marc Joseph believes, when Dashboard grows up, Youth Speaks will be there.

"Much like MySpace or Facebook or other social networking sites that began with only a few members that are now in the billions," said Marc Joseph, Youth Speaks.

Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie once said it's more difficult to give money away intelligently than it is to earn it in the first place. Well, Donation Dashboard, as the name suggests, wants to put you in control of your contributions so you can make an intelligent choice.

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