NEW YORK (AP) - Paula Duffy powers up her computer each morning and takes on the weight of the world.
She's bombarded with e-mail pleas to the online charity she runs from her living room: The mother of a girl murdered in New Mexico can't afford a tombstone; a tornado victim in Oklahoma lost her daughter and everything she owns; a 72-year-old woman in Delaware declares ``I want a job.''
Duffy, a former nurse and social worker, has long had to scrounge for cash, raising money through eBay auctions and from casual surfers who stumble on her Web site, givingboard.com.
Now, she has an unlikely new source for donations: Internet shoppers.
Her site is among 6,500 nonprofits listed at iGive.com, one of a proliferating number of ``shop-for-a-cause'' Internet ``malls'' that feature a smorgasbord of retailers - including big ones such as Amazon.com and Toysrus.com - and channel a portion of sales to charity.
The majority of the malls are profit-making businesses that accept advertising and keep a portion of commissions paid by retailers. The amounts going to charity are often small, but in Duffy's world every penny counts.
Since March, nearly 400 people shopping at iGive raised $1,680 for Duffy's organization at a time when she stood $1,000 short of the amount needed for the murdered girl's tombstone.
``Without iGive there's a lot of people who would not be getting help. It's very efficient. It's made a huge difference,'' Duffy, 51, said from Atlanta, where she lives with her husband and teen-age daughter.
Other small nonprofits said the ``do-good'' shopping portals allow them to compete with the big boys for donors and visibility. Large charitable, educational and relief organizations believe the benefit is not so much the cash raised as it is the exposure to young Web-savvy, upwardly mobile shoppers.
With an annual budget of about $50 million, the Humane Society of the United States received about $1,200 in the third quarter from Greatergood.com, one of the malls.
``This is all feel-good money,'' said Steve Putnam, a Society spokesman. ``People want to do what's right and good for the world, and we wanted to get in on new ground.''
Brevin Balfrey-Boyd, a 20-year-old sophomore at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., has spent about $100 at Greatergood on behalf of the Wilderness Society.
``That's $100 more than I would have spent online. It's not as convenient to shop this way, but it goes to the Wilderness Society and that's great,'' he said.
Online watchdogs also seem pleased.
``A lot of it is found money, people who may not have had the slightest intention of donating to a charity and then bang, find the shopping mall,'' said Daniel Langan, a spokesman for the National Charities Information Bureau, a monitoring group in New York. ``Most of the malls seem to be forthright. We haven't had any complaints about them.''
State regulators and other observers warn shoppers to check the fine print on payout schedules, the percentage of purchases flowing to charity and policies covering the release of their names and personal information for future solicitations. They also warn that some of the malls are better than others in trying to ensure that charities they handle are legitimate.
``We do check thoroughly,'' said Allison Clark, a spokeswoman for iGive in Evanston, Ill., ``but if you really wanted to be a fraud there are so many ways.''
iGive has sent about $200,000 to charities since Oct. 1 and $525,000 since its inception in November 1997. Depending on the retailer, up to 15 percent of each purchase is passed on to charity, with an equal commission going to iGive.
``We wanted to turn everyday shopping into philanthropy and make it a business model that is sustainable,'' said Robert Grosshandler, iGive's founder and chief executive.
Another of the charitable malls, 4charity.com, has passed on close to $500,000 since June 1998. Tracey Pettengill and her co-founder, Scott Dunlap, started the site while in business school at Stanford as a way for fellow students to help the Special Olympics.
While some of the malls keep 50 percent to 80 percent of the money retailers pay them, 4charity said it passes on every dollar. Dunlap has even pledged all of his 4charity stock to be held in trust for nonprofit organizations.
``It's really a labor of love,'' Pettengill said of the mall. ``Nobody was focused on helping nonprofits on the Internet.''
Nick Allen, co-founder of digitaldonor.com, a consulting firm that helps nonprofits get the most out of the Internet, wonders how easy it will be to monitor the flow of money through charitable malls, but he says causes do seem to benefit regardless of how much they receive, or how often.
``I have the sense that they're pretty legitimate,'' he said. ``But who's going to control the data here? They're trying to make money in a very competitive environment.''
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