The popular webcomic Penny Arcade's efforts to raise funds for hospitals in the US is proving a roaring success.
This holiday season it collected more than $850,000 in cash and kind.
''The program has been a tremendous success,'' said Robert Khoo, president of operations and business development at Penny Arcade.
Like most other organizations, charities have taken advantage of the internet's broad reach. From eBay auctions to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation to Toys for Tots' online initiative, the web makes it easier than ever for individuals and corporations to support their favorite causes. The success of Penny Arcade's toy drive also points to the growing community surrounding the gamer-centric webcomic, which spawned the country's biggest gamer gathering, Penny Arcade Expo, says Jenna Wortham, writing in the Wired, the internet magazine.
By focusing on e-commerce rather than asking would-be donors to drop off toys at a central location, the Penny Arcade toy drive has quickly become a success.
Child's Play Charity, a Seattle-based nonprofit that runs the drive for Penny Arcade, partnered with Amazon.com to set up individualized wish lists for more than 45 hospitals nationwide. Donors select a hospital, purchase videogames, toys or movies from the institution's wish list, and the donated goods are delivered directly to the hospital. Child's Play also accepts cash through PayPal, funneling the funds directly to the medical establishments.
Since its launch in 2003, the Child's Play Charity has garnered close to $3 million dollars in cash and toy contributions and reeled in dozens of sponsors.
That's not bad for a charity effort originally conceived to help counteract the negative stereotypes of gamers.
''The media seems intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs just waiting to go off,'' wrote Gabe, the cartoon alter ego of Penny Arcade co-creator Mike Krahulik, in a blog post announcing the charity effort in 2003.
Despite its rapid growth in four years, Child's Play's haul is still a drop in the bucket compared with Toys for Tots' overall charity effort. Toys for Tots got its start in Los Angeles in 1947, and has since grown into a national charity drive. It has amassed more than $387 million since 1991, when the nonprofit Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Foundation took over management of the program.
The gaming community's strong internet presence was only one factor in the decision to make the Child's Play toy drive an online-only affair, according to Khoo.
''There are massive inefficiencies in the way old-school charities handle contributions that an online drive solves,'' he said.
Toys for Tots added its online donation component in the late '90s. A representative said it's a crucial aspect of the organization's fund-raising effort. ''It's a pain for most people to drive to purchase a toy, and then locate a drop-off site. It's much easier for people to just donate online,'' he said.
Rick Beneteau, founder of Internet Toy Drive, an official corporate sponsor that raises money online for Toys for Tots, estimates his site is likely to pull in several hundred thousand dollars this holiday season.
''It's absolutely easier to raise money and generate awareness online,'' said Beneteau.