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THE symmetry is elegant: almost a billion people in the world lack access to clean water, while the social media sites Facebook and Twitter have roughly the same number of users. Marrying the two is Water Forward, a site launched last year that aims to raise money for clean drinking water in poor countries. Designed as an online photo album, users buy space for friends at $10 per portrait. The funds go to an organisation called charity: water, which has since 2006 collected over $40m, much of it online. Other charities are eager to exploit the fund-raising potential of social media. Nine out of ten non-profits in America have a presence on Facebook according to the latest Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark (NSNB) report, a survey of nearly 11,200 non-profit professionals.
The internet abounds with social-networking tools raising money for good works, such as Causes (an application on Facebook), Crowdrise and Network for Good. These sites and platforms let users connect with charities and each other, plan events, donate directly or create projects to fund-raise among friends. On Causes, for example, participants can use a birthday to rally friends to give to a particular charity.