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Charitius.org

A global charity search engine, that serves as the single source of truth for core charity information. The prototype is no longer live.
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In 2006 I made my first attempt at a charity platform. The goal was to make it easier to find charities you can trust. The site (Helpalot.org), had about 300+ accounts and over 100 charity projects. The main thing that went wrong was that I wanted to add all sorts of features at once. Ten years later, I’m trying a simpler approach to roughly the same problem. Here is The post kicking off the project, with some 10 year old background information :).

Problem to solve

When we search for ways to bring about positive change, we look for people and institutions that share our values and intent. Millions of charities provide this service where governments are not able or willing.

You can research charities, but it’s hard. Most people don’t have the time or capacity to delve deep. There is a multitude of institutions that provide certificates and try to objectively review charities. This is a valuable part of how we can learn about charities, but all charity platforms have their own way to analyse, and may focus on only one country or one type of charity. Also these platforms often see charities as their customers, and can serve ads to push certain charities over others.

Therefore, we need to support and improve the way we as a society learn about charities. This will not only stimulate a fairer distribution of donations and effort, it will also grow the trust people have in charities as a whole and start converting cynics back to optimists.

Make learning about charities easy

  1. Reduce information overload
    Aggregating relevant charity information and spend less time switching interfaces and filter out ads and other irrelevant information.
  2. Rules that stimulate valuable feedback
    We want to learn what rules we can set that have the desired effect.
  3. Simple interface without distractions

While the main focus is to support people who want to learn about trustworthy charities, we believe that this tool will also be beneficial for charities. When appearance of charities closer matches the actual activities and results, more effort and money can shift from marketing to their real cause.

Core principles

Single focus on trust
No donations, maps, games, etc
Global
Sources from everywhere
Independent
No payments, no conflicts of interest
No campaigns
We don’t push a message or charity

A feedback machine

The goal is to build a feedback machine that is meant to become a small but valuable part of the fabric of society. We need the core part first; something to give feedback on, on top of that we can add ways to provide and discover feedback.

These are the main stages:

1) Search engine: A simple way to find charities across the globe.
2) Add context: Use public available sources to provide context.
3) Add feedback: Let users provide feedback based on strict guidelines.
4) Open access: Enable others to make use of the data via an API.

Evolution of the logo

I don’t see myself as a visual designer, but I’ve seen them at work. The main secret is keep iterating and taking your time.

The tiles represent the aggregating nature of the platform. You could also create neat animations based on letting these tiles take on different shapes as a group.

The prototype

Home

Home (bottom half)

 

Search result

This is a static page, the real result page did not include the certification part yet.

About

Part of the page detailing the vision.

Rate a charity

You can create an account based on your Twitter account and then rate a charity.

Charity page

Page based on real content from the database holding over 1.4 million charities.

Status

The website has been live for over two years, but in 2018 I pulled the plug. The search engine was too slow, and I didn’t think charitius.org would pass the scrutiny of the new GDPR law.

The site included 1.400.694 charities, coming from Australia, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the USA.

The prototype was made in Flask (a Python web framework), and I tried to make use of full text search based on Flask-Whoosh-Alchemy and related libraries. When I added the 1 million charities from the USA, the search suddenly became.. super.. slow.. Taking over 30 seconds to provide a result. Here I missed a developer with experience who could guide me towards a solution. Maybe I should have gone with a more proven PHP platform to build the prototype?

The data was coming from these open data sources:

Australia data.gov.au/dataset/acnc-register 2016-07-31
Canada http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/ 2017-03-14
Netherlands www.belastingdienst.nl 2017-03-10
New Zealand https://www.charities.govt.nz/ 2017-03-03
United Kingdom opencharities.org/info/about 2016-07-31
United States of America
apps.irs.gov/app/eos/forwardToPub78Download.do 2017-03-18
www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-business-master-file-extract-eo-bmf 2017-03-18

I made custom scripts to convert them to csv files, I then imported to an sqlite database.

PythonAnywhere was so kind to provide me with extra storage for the free tier and the website itself was available on www.charitius.org.

Future

I’d love to revive this project one day. The concept is clear, it mostly needs a (development) team and attention. If you want to be part of that team, let met know.

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