MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm back now with Omar Gallaga, our resident tech expert, as we continue to look at the effort to put tech to work for good. Omar, I guess we could call this e-charity. And I'm interested from your perspective, what are perhaps the three best examples of how technology is helping us help others.
GALLAGA: Well, one of the biggest changes is accountability, the way people keep track of where their money went and how it's being used. Also social networking, the way people connect with other people who are giving or the organizations themselves. And also just the physical ways that people are donating. People can donate by texting the word kettle to the Salvation Army, a quick $5 donation via your mobile phone. It doesn't really get any easier than that.
NORRIS: I just want to make sure I understand that. I text the word kettle and the Salvation Army automatically gets $5 from me?
GALLAGA: Right, it's charged through your mobile carrier. And you know, they've rolled that out in a couple of cities, and it really doesn't get any easier to donate $5 than that.
NORRIS: You know, I understand how technology makes it easier to give or makes it easier to coordinate some sort of philanthropic effort, but computers can be a bit cold. And I'm wondering if technology could depersonalize the act of giving, whether you're giving or even getting that thank you note if it comes in your inbox along with all the other emails from the pitches and the schedules that you get.
GALLAGA: Well, I found actually the opposite to be true. Earlier this year, I donated to a Web site called Donors Choice. The site connects teachers and students to people who'd like to donate and really breaks it down to a specific project at a specific school. A few days later after I donated, I received an email from a Mr. Schmidt who was trying to raise money for AV equipment for a school in Wisconsin, a low-income school. So a few days later, I got a note thanking me, telling me what that money was being used for and made me feel more connected to that charity and made me feel like I'd helped some people.
NORRIS: If you've ever been involved in any kind of charitable work, one of the things that they will tell you is make sure that the people that you're speaking with hear your passion, hear your heart and your voice. How do you do that on a computer?
GALLAGA: Well, a lot of the charities have embraced social networking but have also set up places where people can share their stories or post videos and photos. I'm thinking specifically of one called Sharinghope.tv that the American Cancer Society built. And there, you can hear from cancer survivors who post videos like you would on YouTube. You know, the site doesn't do the hard sell. You don't see a huge donate button, you know, right in front of you every time you see a video. Instead, you're seeing people tell their own stories, and it really puts a face on the organization.
NORRIS: Omar, you've mentioned a lot of different examples, but is there one that stands out in particular. Is there sort of a example A of how technology has changed the way that we can participate in charitable giving?
GALLAGA: Well, gift cards are always a big deal during the holidays, and there are several websites including Charity Choice where you can purchase a tax deductible gift card and give it to someone as a gift. The gift recipient then goes to the Web site and is able to choose from a pretty wide list of charities where they want those funds to go, including the Red Cross, the NAACP and the Sierra Club. It really puts a new spin on what's becoming a very traditional gift of gift cards.
NORRIS: So instead of a scarf or pair of slippers, I'm going to give you this gift card which is a chance for you to give something to someone else and maybe feel pretty good about yourself.
GALLAGA: Yeah, and it's also a lot easier to wrap.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: Of course. Thank you, Omar.
GALLAGA: Thank you very much, Michele. And I'll be posting links to all of the sites we mentioned and a few others on the Web site, npr.org/alltech.
NORRIS: That's Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman, and he speaks to us on our All Tech Considered segment.