Eating Out? Bring a Charity to Dinner

One company is making philanthropy as easy as, well, ordering a pizza.

As times get tougher, it can be tougher to cut that check to charity; one study found that two-thirds of people plan to cut back on giving because of the economy. To counter that worrisome trend, a few for-profit companies are making it their business to support their nonprofit counterparts by making donating easier—automatic, even.

We reported on the alarm clock that donated to charity every time you hit snooze, and there’s always been that affinity credit card offer for your alma mater, but now GoodSearch (no relation to GOOD, though we have worked together) is trying to expand that principle so consumers can support more than 100,000 charities each time they order a pizza or head to their favorite bistro on date night. “The mission of our company is to empower people to change the world through simple everyday actions,” says Scott Garell, the company’s CEO.

His company’s core offering, GoodSearch, is essentially a portal to Yahoo, but each query sends one penny to a charity users sign up to support. The service has raised $8 million since launching in 2005. After establishing its model, the for-profit company added GoodShop, which sends your charity a donation each time you buy through the web portal (which also offers tens of thousands of coupons). It’s kind of like a cause-driven Groupon, without the snarky emails and offensive Super Bowl commercials.

Today, the company is launching GoodDining, which offers affinity eating, made as easy as can be. GoodDining has partnered with Rewards Network, a diners’ rewards program for more than 10,000 participating restaurants to pull off the same auto-donate deal as their online shopping and search portals. “The reason this is an innovation in my mind: [E]very single day of the year you can eat out and make a difference in the world,” Garell says.

The rewards are automatic: Once you register your credit card, eating at participating restaurants begins to rack up the giving totals. And the more you eat, the higher the percentage of your bill that goes to charity. If you spend less than $750 over the course of the year, 2.5 percent of your dining dollars goes to your chosen nonprofit. Shell out more than $750 on restaurants, and the affinity donation is bumped to 5 percent, with an extra percent tacked on for filling out customer surveys about the restaurants.

The cost of the donation is not passed along to consumers; rather, the restaurants pay a fee to GoodDining to participate. The company wouldn’t say how much of that fee they keep and how much they pass along to the charities. “For [the restaurants], this is a marketing program,” Garell says. “They look at this as a loyalty program. It’s less expensive than a Groupon, for example, and they get forever loyalty.” The larger goal is for diners to come to know which eateries mean an auto-donation to your school or soup kitchen, and which don't. If Joe’s Pizza participates and Sal’s doesn’t, GoodDining’s founders hope you’ll choose for charity when ordering out.

GoodSearch founder JJ Ramberg says the expansion of her company’s affinity programs is just getting under way, “You could look at everything” as a way to raise money for charity with everyday actions, she says.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Ollie Crafoord

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