03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Latest Online Gaming Winners? Worthy Charities

It's amazing someone hadn't thought of this before: Raising money for worthy charities by...playing video games. And if your boss sees you gaming at work, now you can tell him you're not goofing off, you're raising money for a good cause.

Good luck with that. (Even though you're telling the truth).

A fast-growing web site,, couldn't have come along at a better time.

As you may know, because of the bad economy, this hasn't been an easy time for nonprofits and charities to raise money. At least, not by traditional methods.

But raising money for worthy groups like international aid organization Mercy Corps by people playing popular games on their computers like Solitaire, Bubble Burst, and Sudoku? That's another matter.

GamesThatGive is the brainchild of Adam Archer, who was part of the Apple design team that developed the iPhone.

Archer got the idea for GamesThatGive after a two-year backpacking trip to some of the poorest nations in the world. After he returned, he recalls, "I was walking through a casino in Las Vegas. And I'm watching people literally throw money away." So, with a few friends, Archer decided to bring "cause marketing" to online gaming.

Major corporations and advertisers wanted to be in gaming, too, and Archer's idea appealed to such companies as Starbuck's, Quaker, McDonald's, and Domino's Pizza, whose ads appear as backgrounds under the games.

The game-player has his/her choice of 13 charities: Among them are Portland-based Mercy Corps, which recently opened its new headquarters in that Oregon city; the American Heart Association; UNICEF; United Way; and The Wilderness Society. These charities receive 70 percent of all the site's revenues. Registration isn't required and even though the user doesn't pay a penny, the longer one plays, the more charities benefit.

"We're seasoned web marketers," says Jacob Colie, Mercy Corps' internet marketing director. "This seemed like a really smart idea for us, a good match." Colie says Mercy Corps expects to raise between $7000-$10,000 from the gaming site in the first six months.

"It's also a huge opportunity for advertisers," adds Colie. "They want to get into gaming, but they weren't sure how. And it's a captive audience."

As you play, for example, Solitaire, a running total in one corner of the screen tells you how much your designated charity is getting from your time online. If you move an ace up, "Performance Donation. Great Job!" pops up on your screen briefly. (Portland's KGW-TV did a story on GamesThatGive that includes a demo).

Another innovation: Mercy Corps has also just begun beta-testing another innovative online approach to raising funds ( that allows anyone to set up their own personal fundraising link.

Gaming, corporate advertising, and charities - a powerful new combination.

And if your boss is less than understanding about your charitable gaming?

At the bottom of the GamesThatGive screen, there's a handy "Boss is Coming" link that causes a legal-looking business document to instantly pop up on screen.