Come to think about it, it's surprising that the current wave of Web trends hasn't moved more into the realm of the nonprofit. You'd think that the focus on "people power," citizen media, and user-generated content would have sparked the imagination of some Bono acolytes with Web development skills. And indeed, there are a few sites out there--Care2 comes to mind--but most of them actually existed well before anyone was talking about "Web 2.0."
But that all could change with Changing the Present, which was one of the presentations at last night's NY Tech Meetup. Founder Robert Tolmach described it as a "comprehensive marketplace for the social sector," but in simpler terms, it's a way to give and receive gifts that have a social conscience. We're not talking organic-cotton denim or fair-trade coffee: the gifts for sale on Changing the Present are all donations to a variety of charities.
The site is very much still in development, as many of its features are not active yet, but I have a feeling that this will be a pretty impressive service when it's complete. When choosing a gift, you navigate through a set of 33 categories--global warming, human rights, disaster relief--and upon choosing a category, an extensive amount of information is available about exactly what each charity within it does. Changing the Present has a large board of advisors who have helped choose the content in each category: in the Environment section, for example, the advisors include the executive directors of both the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Alliance.
Then, when you've chosen a gift--I picked the $50 Adopt a Penguin through Defenders of Wildlife--you can add it to your "shopping cart" or to a wishlist or registry, just like with any other online marketplace. Changing The Present can arrange for a card to be sent to the recipient for a small fee; there is additionally a small transaction fee charged to the person who buys the gift. All gifts are tax-deductible (for the donor), and Changing the Present is itself a nonprofit, so there is a feature in which visitors can donate to the site to keep it operational.
And, as with just about any Web service these days, there are social networking functions so that you can use the profiles of other Changing the Present members to meet new people and come up with more gift ideas.
Perhaps the most original feature of Changing the Present is the "Stupid Gifts Hall of Shame," which highlights things like inflatable dog hats, sling-shot monkeys, and talking toilet paper rolls. It's a hilarious feature, and a great procrastination tool, as you can sit around for quite some time going through page after page of stupid gifts and rating just how stupid they are, but even this part of the site has a message. Tolmach devised the Hall of Shame in order to showcase the fact that people spend money on ridiculously useless presents when they could instead be spending that same cash on something worthwhile.
So, by changing the present (i.e. the gift), you change the present (i.e. now). Kind of a cool play on words.