A good cause, or another nonprofit scam?

Posted on June 10, 2008

One of my friends sent me a link the other day to a site that claimed to plant trees while using its search engine. The Ecoogler seems like a good idea, and a worthy cause, but it takes just a few minutes to realize that maybe it's not.

1. The site listed has no affiliation with google, except that the site is using the google search.
2. There's no guarantee they are actually donating any money to add trees in the rainforest.
3. They are making money off of people who use their search page. They are using Google AdSense to earn revenue for the site. It would be similar to having your own site and having google ads on it.
4. Even if they are actually donating money, you have to do 10,000 searches before they pay to plant one tree! For those 10,000 searches, the company could earn anywhere from nothing to six figures, although on average, it would probably be somewhere in the hundreds range.

Now, this doesn't mean that every site that promises something is bad. It's just tough to check for the accountability of what they are doing. FreeRice is a word game site that promises to donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to help end hunger.

There are a couple of ways to tell the difference between what's fake and what isn't. Probably the biggest are

1. If there are a bunch of ads on the page.
2. If they tell you that they donate so much money per search you make.

With both of these methods, the website is earning revenue, and there's not really visibility to how much they are "donating." At freerice.com, it's definitely feasible they aren't donating rice. But why would they have the site? They aren't earning money for pageviews or ads or searches, so it seems like it would have to be legit.

Another friend sent Freekibble and Freekibblekat, which both donate pieces of kibble to help feed the animals (at these sites, though, they donate 10 pieces per day, regardless of the number of questions you get right). It's a great idea to help out the less fortunate, but many sites seem to be stuff their own pockets instead of others.