Purchasing a specially colored or designed product with the guarantee that the proceeds will benefit a charity isn’t a new concept. Maybe this morning you spritzed on some of your limited edition Breast Cancer Awareness Signature Eau de Toilette from Coach, and listened to a song written exclusively to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina on your (PRODUCT)RED Apple iPod. You bought those products knowing there would be a gain on both sides; you’d get a useful product, and a well-deserving charity would receive a cut of the profit. But it can be expensive for companies to manufacture specifically branded limited edition tie-ins, which makes it tempting for a consumer to go the route of cheaper product…which isn’t linked with a non-profit. Not to mention, it’s impossible for you as the buyer to decide how much of the proceeds actually benefit breast cancer research, and how much lines the pockets of major corporations.

So, what’s a charitably-conscious consumer (as well as a donation-dependent organization) to do about all this?

Let’s imagine for a sec that there’s an internet-based alternative to charity-sponsored merchandise, where buyers can pay what they’d like, splitting the cost as they see fit between company and charity. And maybe a specific example of this model involves the sale of video games created by independent developers, exclusively packaged together and heavily discounted to appeal to consumers for a high volume of sales.

Okay, okay. You can stop imagining. It’s real, it’s called Humble Bundle, and it has raised over $33 million combined for charities like the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation since its inception in 2010.

Humble Bundle is a privately held corporation that relies on a type of commercial charityware (or donationware, as a broader term for all similar licensing models) to raise money for non-profits through the sale of software or applications: in this case, “bundles” of indie computer games, and occasionally other media such as music and eBooks. In most cases, donationware means that a piece of software is priced as “free,” but requires a mandatory donation be made to the developer and a non-profit of the developer’s choosing in order to complete the transaction. Humble Bundle is a standout in this genre by utilizing a “pay what you want” system, where the buyer is given the power to donate as much as they’d like as well as decide how the money is split between the software developer, the charity in question, and the Humble Bundle website itself.

The site always lists their average and top donation numbers in real time as the sale progresses. For the current Humble Bundle sale, a mix of nine PC/Android games along with some soundtracks, retailing for over $95 and benefitting Child’s Play Charity and Electronic Frontier Foundation, the average purchase amount is a mere $3.89. (Interestingly, the average amounts based on OS are displayed as well, with the amount steadily increasing from PC to Mac to Linux.) So while $3.89 split between three parties (though the scales are customizable, Humble Bundle suggests a default division of 65% to the developers, 20% to charity, and 15% to themselves) may not sound like a lot, it’s worth noting that over 140,895 total purchases have been made, with a current top contribution of $500.

As we type this article, this particular Humble Bundle has raised $548,519.03 with 6 days remaining of its campaign, and the numbers are rising so quickly that we’ve watched that information became outdated seven times before the end of this sentence. Seriously.

Does donationware sound like an interesting approach for your non-profit? Talk to Faircom about it!

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