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At Humanitarian Site, Crises Spur Donations

Nobody likes to see crises like the one raging in the Middle East. But for Human Rights Watch, world crises that spark interest in its humanitarian mission also spike donations.

“News portals such as CNN and BBC drive a lot of traffic to our Web site for more background on why a human rights issue is happening,” said Minky Worden, electronic media director at Human Rights Watch. “The more people come to our Web site, the more opportunities they have to donate. We want to engage these people in our mission. If they want to give us money, that's wonderful.”

Worden said that the Web site normally draws 10,000 visitors per day. But during the Kosovo crisis, for example, the Human Rights Watch Web site drew up to 20,000 visitors per day. “We had so many visitors, it was crashing the site,” she said.

Online coverage by Human Rights Watch of the arrest and detention of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet prompted one donor to send a check for $150,000.

“We thought it was a hoax, until we deposited the check,” Worden said.

“As an international organization, our e-mail base is absolutely critical,” Worden said. “And our Web site is becoming a very important outreach tool.”

Last year, the Web site's second year, Human Rights Watch received $15,000 in online donations and $25,000 from the sale of online publications. Worden expects that income to double this year.

A year ago Human Rights Watch began setting up satellite sites in languages other than English. The first was in Russian because the organization had several staff members who spoke the language. Chinese, Portuguese, French and Spanish sites soon followed. These sites do not offer the opportunity to donate, but they do have links to the main Web site. These satellite sites often are the only source of information for people who speak the language of their respective site.

Human Rights Watch is the largest human rights organization in America, with an annual budget of $15 million. Unlike other humanitarian organizations, Human Rights Watch doesn't know what expenditures will be in any given year.

Also unlike other humanitarian organizations, Human Rights Watch does not take money from traditional sources.

“We accept no money from any government or the UN, directly or indirectly. That would compromise our independence and the perception that we are fully impartial,” Worden said.

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