E-Mail Service Is No Penny Ante Deal

eGenerosity.com, Lafayette, IN, has a new twist on an old expression. Instead of a penny for your thoughts, the Web site is offering a penny for your e-mail.

The site recently debuted a Web-based e-mail service that donates 1 cent to the charity or school of the user's choice whenever he sends an e-mail. The cost is covered by marketers who, in return, have their logos and product offers inserted in a banner at the bottom of the e-mail page.

The e-mail accounts are accessible by password and offer users an address book and the ability to send and receive attachments. The addresses will read [email protected]

Users can select from any charity or school that appears in the government's publicly listed database of nonprofit organizations.

eGenerosity has signed up several hundred users and is securing deals with schools and nonprofit agencies.

“We are looking for ways to make everything on the Internet have a philanthropic component,” said Bret Besecker, co-founder and chief operating officer at eGenerosity. The company also offers online shopping and search engine services that donate small portions of the proceeds to charity.

The key to developing E-Mail That Gives, however, was getting marketers to support the cost of the e-mails. The viral marketing potential helped to convince advertisers of the e-mails' value, Besecker said.

“We discovered that we have a powerful model for retailers,” he said. “Not only does the retailer get a promotional message to the subscriber but to all the people they send e-mails to.” Besecker said he feels that retailers are the most logical partners, since many already participate in eGenerosity's online shopping program.

The firm collects detailed demographic information about its e-mail registrants, but none about the recipients of the e-mails and promotional messages. For that reason, many initial advertisers are promoting what Besecker described as “broad, consumer-based products” such as flowers, toys and electronics.

Despite its name and appearance, eGenerosity is a for-profit start-up seeking to become the Web portal of choice for “socially conscious” consumers.

“Our goal is to become the Yahoo of e-philanthropy,” Besecker said. “So we've been spending a lot of time building up our [assortment] of products. We're some ways away from Yahoo, obviously. But we're beginning to provide a lot of the same services.”

E-Mail That Gives, which Besecker said would remain in beta test mode until mid-July, is eGenerosity's newest product. The company also offers registered customers two other opportunities to earn money for nonprofit organizations.

Like a handful of self-titled “charity” Web sites, eGenerosity offers an online shopping mall where customers can buy merchandise and have a portion of that transaction donated to their favorite nonprofit group. Other Web sites in this space include iGive.com, greatergood.com and charitymall.com.

When eGenerosity launched in mid-1999, it was named ShopGenerosity.com and offered only the online shopping mall. The site quickly added a program called the Search Engine That Gives, which pays 1 cent to the user's charity every time he or she conducts a Web search.

In both instances, eGenerosity earns its revenue from its partner companies. When a retailer gives it an incentive fee for referring an online sale, eGenerosity turns over half to the user's charity and keeps half for itself. The search engine is powered by Google.com, which pays 3 cents to eGenerosity for every search performed by users. eGenerosity, in turn, keeps 2 cents.

The company already has captured the interest of some of the industry's permission-based e-mail marketers, such as TargitMail. Besecker said the discussions have taken place so far at only the most basic level.

“The details haven't been put on the table yet,” he said. “They were just sending out feelers.”

While eGenerosity does intend to allow marketers to reach its audience through e-mails or newsletters, it is adamant about protecting the confidentiality of its customer lists. It will not sell or rent its names for independent mailings. As a result, all marketing communications must pass through the eGenerosity system.

By agreeing to accept these e-mail promotions and eGenerosity's own bimonthly newsletter, the users' charities will be paid a few more pennies each time a message is received. The exact price will depend on the deals struck with the marketers sending out the promotions, Besecker said.

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