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BC student’s site taps Amazon sales to help charities

Staff at the Children’s Museum in Dover, N.H., helped youngsters and parents create sculptures from cardboard tubes.

Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe

Staff at the Children’s Museum in Dover, N.H., helped youngsters and parents create sculptures from cardboard tubes.

Growing up, Dan Sipple learned the importance of charities. His father ran a safe home for boys, and the younger Sipple often met them. But he also saw the stress running an organization put on his father — dealing with funding cuts, for example. There must be a better way for nonprofits to raise money, he thought.

Now 19, Sipple, thinks he has come up with one. Last November, while a freshman at Boston College, he launched Buy For Us , a program that gives about 5 percent of a customer’s purchase price on Amazon.com, and some other sites it owns, to a charity.

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At Boston College, Sipple is studying economics and computer science. The website, he said, is a way for him to blend together his two loves: technology and doing good.

“I gained a kind of altruistic view of the world,” he said. “I kind of always wanted to help people through computers and technology.”

Dan Sipple, 19, created a website that helps nonprofits like the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Dan Sipple, 19, created a website that helps nonprofits like the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.

Sipple said Buy for Us operates as part of Amazon Associates , a program where companies collect a portion of any sales they steer to the online seller through a link on their own websites. The money Buy For Us gets from directing customers to Amazon is then donated to a charity of the buyer’s choosing. Buy For Us keeps a small percentage of its Amazon revenue to pay for administrative costs.

A spokesman for Amazon would not disclose whether others among its Amazon Associates have a charitable component like Buy For Us.

The website’s start is still modest — it has raised about $600 for charities since November. A push in the past month earned most of this money.

‘I kind of always wanted to help people through computers and technology.’

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“I was hoping for a little more, but we’d never done anything like this before,” Sipple said. “It’s a new thing, I guess anything really counts.”

Still, it’s a good example of how a company uses an existing system, such as the Amazon Associates program, in a new and different way, said Craig Bida, executive vice president of cause branding and nonprofit marketing at Cone Communications.

“The message to people everywhere is that social impact can come in many forms and there are a lot of models that are already existing in our environment that can be tapped for good,” Bida said.

Plus, a charitable cause is good for business. BiddingForGood, which helps schools and nonprofits raise money through online auctions, found in a survey of 2,049 people last year that 94 percent of customers said they were more inclined to shop with a company that supports charities. And 67 percent of the respondents said their biggest reason for using BiddingForGood was its dedication to supporting causes consumers care about.

So far most of the 10 charities in Buy For Us’s stable are based in New Hampshire (that’s where Sipple is from), including the Malley Farm Boys Home, the safe home in Somersworth, N.H., that Sipple’s father, Mark, runs. Qualified charities or their supporters can enlist in the program right on Buy For Us’s Web page, clicking the “add a cause” tab.

Another charity the site supports is the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire , located in Sipple’s hometown of Dover. The museum’s executive director, Justine Roberts, said the “broad participation at a very low level” model Buy For Us adopted is something she is seeing more of, not just in the nonprofit fund-raising sector, but in businesses in general.

“We’re talking about very small amounts at any one time that add up. But we’re also talking about building relationships,” she said. “I think this is going to stick whether it translates or can ever replace large corporate gifts — which I doubt — but I think it’s an important supplement and it’s where the trend is.”

Buy For Us also is helping A Leg To Stand On Inc., a New York City foundation that gives rehabilitation services as well as prosthetic limbs and surgery to children with limb impairments at a cost of about $250 per child. Executive director Gabriella Mueller said A Leg To Stand On has an affiliation with iGive, a company similar to Buy for Us, but that Sipple’s company stands out because the donation rate is generous compared to many others. A Leg To Stand On hasn’t raised a lot of money through either site, but Mueller said it’s still a good way for her charity to get its name out there.

Sipple has developed an offshoot that operates on the same principle as Buy For Us. The project, called Textbooks For Life , helps college students search for textbooks on Amazon, with about 5 percent of the sales price going to a single group called “charity: water,’’ a nonprofit that builds wells and thereby creates sustainable jobs in communities that lack adequate water supplies.

“The cost of textbooks can financially hurt college students, [but this way] they can potentially get behind something and it wouldn’t hurt as much,” Sipple said.

Laura Finaldi can be reached at laura.finaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauraefinaldi.
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