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6 pain-free ways to give to a cause -- Page 2

Here's a sampling of current cause-related charities:

To the highest bidder: Assuage any guilt you may feel over dropping $300 on Metallica tickets by buying them through Giving Works, the for-charity division of online auction powerhouse eBay, where sellers can designate the charity of their choice to receive a percentage of the sale's final value (usually 75 to 100 percent). While the selection isn't great, you might be able to score something interesting, such as a walk-on role on the TV show "Judging Amy," auctioned recently by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Another bidder won the chance to be a field reporter at a Pittsburgh radio station -- and raised money for the cancer center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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High-tech environmentalists: California customers can sign up for DSL or dial-up Internet service through Red Jellyfish, which will make a yearly donation to the Rainforest Action Network on their behalf. Or get a flat 5-cents-a-minute rate for long distance from San Francisco telecommunications company Working Assets -- not too shabby, even with a $5.95 monthly fee. The long distance carrier divides 1 percent of its total revenue among 50 pre-approved, progressive nonprofits, like Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and the Sierra Club. Bonus: New customers get coupons good for a free pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream each month for a year.

Shopping for dollars: At Pick 'n Save, a Wisconsin-based supermarket, you can designate a local nonprofit -- a Girl Scout troop, a hospital, a historical society -- to receive 1 percent of your total grocery store bill every time you use the store's Advantage Plus card. Or register your supermarket loyalty card, debit and credit cards at escrip.com, so your purchases at Vons, Safeway, Whole Foods and other stores can earn up to 4 percent cash back for registered nonprofits.

Hitting the road: The Better World Club bills itself as a socially conscious automobile club -- and to prove it, it donates part of its profits to good causes (so far, $6,000 has gone to Portland, Ore., public schools). Memberships start at $49.95 and include all the roadside-assistance services you expect from other motor clubs. Travelers also can help by giving back frequent flier miles through programs such as American Airlines' Miles for Kids in Need, which helps provide free flights for seriously ill children and their families. Most airlines offer similar programs, so check with a customer service representative.

Pull out the plastic: A number of larger nonprofits, such as the American Cancer Society and many university alumni associations, have linked up with banks to produce affinity credit cards, which donate money to the organization every time you charge. Although donation rates vary, "in general, the amount of money donated through affinity credit card programs is on the order of a penny per dollar," says Hessekiel. "Let's say you spend $10,000 a year on this credit card; you'd be giving $100." It's not much, but because there's usually no annual fee, adding an affinity card to your wallet isn't a hardship. Plus, the card itself can have a billboard effect. "You may inspire somebody else to support this cause," says Hessekiel. Check with your favorite charity to see if it offers an affinity card, says Akins, who adds that signing up for an ASPCA credit card at the organization's Web site provides an additional $75 bonus for the animal rescue organization. "That's like saying, 'I'm giving you a $75 check and I didn't have to write it,'" adds Hessekiel.

Snack attack: Each box top you mail in from a General Mills product -- everything from Cheerios to Hamburger Helper to Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough -- earns 10 cents for your local school. Campbell's runs a similar program that lets schools collect labels from Prego pasta sauce, Pace salsa, Campbell's chicken noodle and other products, and then redeem them for education-friendly prizes such as art supplies and software.

Taking advantage of cause-marketing programs shouldn't replace the cash you usually donate. But check writing and cause shopping can work together to put more money in the hands of needy nonprofits. "People often think that it's an either-or situation, and it's just not," says Hessekiel. "This is just another relatively painless way to give."

Melody Warnick is a freelance writer based in Iowa.

-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2004




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