Admit it, these billionaires are making us look bad.
First, Bill Gates makes headlines by announcing his plan to shift his focus from his duties as full-time chief of Microsoft to his charity. The $30 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the single biggest philanthropical entity in history. To put this in perspective, Canadians as a whole made just under $7 billion in charitable donations in 2004.
A few weeks later, Gates's move inspires billionaire investor Warren Buffet to donate a staggering $37 billion to the Gates Foundation.
And back at Microsoft, this fall the company will put a Pink Ribbon Mouse on shelves to raise money for breast cancer research. The wireless unit will retail here for $40, of which 25 per cent goes directly to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
But for those of us without a personal gross national product of the European Union to give away, it's nice to know that charity really does begin at home.
Take Cat Connors. In 2000, the Portland, Oregon, native decided to test her limits by updating her blog (www.frykitty.com) 24 hours straight, with one post every 15 minutes. Ninety-six posts and one case of Mountain Dew later, she knew she was onto something.
"There weren't that many bloggers around at the time," says Connors, "and we were all experimenting with the form, trying this stunt and that. At the end of it, I realized I'd boosted my site visits tremendously just by updating so frequently. I knew there had to be something I could do with that."
And there was. The next year the Blogathon was born, a 24-hour blogging marathon raising money for each participant's charity of choice. In a single day, a hundred or so bloggers raised $20,000. T
he next year they did it again, doubling their donations. Connors ran the Blogathon until 2003 and this year returns to administering the marathon event.
"Growing up poor, one of my greatest frustrations was always my own impotence in the face of the world's troubles," says Connors. "Sure, I could volunteer or give a few dollars, but I believed myself creative enough to do better. The Blogathon is great at allowing people to give whatever they can and see the cumulative effect."
One of the beauties and, well, horrors of blogging is that just about anyone can put up anything he or she wants. As you might imagine, this makes for some pretty spectacularly bad entries toward the early hours of the morning.
"People with a plan in the first place usually manage to keep it together very well," says Connors. "They know their aim, they have a last post in their head, and everything looks great. Everyone else, though... oy. We get nuts."
It's still amazing to see how the Internet harnesses the power of social networks to bring people together for charitable causes. The boys from Web comic Penny Arcade continue to knock socks off with the sheer tonnage of toys they collect across North America with their yearly toy drive, Child's Play.
After Hurricane Katrina, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia offered potential donors links to get whatever help they could offer, from boats to bucks, through to the right organizations. Connors's own charity of choice is Modest Needs (www.modestneeds. org), a non-profit that offers emergency funds for families hit with short-term crisis.
It makes you think that there might be something inherently good about a tool that can connect so many like-minded people. Maybe it does this because it was coded like that from the start.
"In its infancy, the Web was about universities sharing information. It was a trust-based system," says Connors. "Nonetheless, I don't think geeks are any more or less likely to be altruistic than any other segment of society. The news hammers home the idea that humans are brutal, violent, uncaring. But people are also generous, selfless and desperate to help in any way they can. All you need to do is offer them an opportunity to do so."
For updates and to find how you can take part in future Blogathons, visit www.blogathon.org. The Pink Ribbon Mouse will be on sale at all Compuserve locations starting in September.