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Tweeting for $10: New appeals for holiday giving in tough times

United States, November 20, 2009

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Kristi Heim

The Seattle Times
November, 2009

Despite the lingering economic woes that most Americans are still feeling, only one in five plans to reduce donations to charity this holiday season, the American Red Cross found in a new survey. More Americans will cut back on travel, decorations, parties and gifts.

The results tell a somewhat different story than a recent Harris Interactive survey that showed charities will probably see a decrease in generosity this season. Some large charities are preparing for lower holiday giving.

Regardless of how they interpret the data, charities are downsizing their appeals and targeting smaller donations. They're also making the most of free social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and asking supporters to help them spread the word.

The United Way of King County recently launched its Give 10/Tell 10 campaign, which asks for $10 contributions to help struggling families hit by the recession avoid falling into homelessness.

"We really wanted to do something different to get the word out to people that the needs are so great right now and provide a low barrier way for them to get involved," said United Way spokesman Jared Erlandson. "The thought was what if we could get people to tweet not just about what they are doing tonight, but about how they just helped someone stay in their home for the holidays then we could really have an effective vehicle to get our message out."

Mercy Corps is getting creative around Thanksgiving with a new online tool that allows families and groups of friends to make donations together. The global charity is calling on people to match the amount they spend on their own Thanksgiving Day meal with a donation that fights global hunger. The average American family spent $45 on Thanksgiving dinner in 2008, Mercy Corps said.

Other interesting new twists include gift cards with a $5 donation to charity built in. The recipient can choose where to direct the $5 gift from among more than 5,000 charities.

Getting donor fatigue? Another option is to vote for your favorite charity and have a large bank pick up the tab. Chase is donating $5 million -- $25,000 each to the top 100 charities on Dec. 15 and $1 million grants to five others in February.