Last year, Alex Groth and Kevin Jennison wanted to help charities and donate money to causes they cared about, but as busy and financially strapped college kids, they felt like they couldn't do anything that'd make much of an impact.
So instead, they invented a way to donate money to charity just by surfing the Web.
Groth and Jennison, both of whom now work for a start-up in Silicon Valley, created Tab for a Cause, an app for Chrome or Firefox Web browsers that will automatically donate fractions of a cent to charity each time someone opens a new tab.
That may not seem like much, but those pennies can add up when you think of the number of tabs each person opens up each day.
It works this way: The app replaces the blank pages that come up when you open new tabs to go to a website with special pages designed by the team at Tab for a Cause. Those tab pages include blogs with information about several causes as well as advertisements.
Every time you open a tab and view the ads, Tab for a Cause gets money from the advertisers, and you don't have to click the ads for the donation to be made. The proceeds from the ads are donated to the charity you choose. Essentially, you are giving to charity by merely surfing the Web the way you normally would.
"In college it doesn't seem like any donation I can give to a charity is going to be very impactful," said Groth, 22, who graduated from Pomona College this year. "And I kind of wanted to create a way where everyone can be giving to charity regardless of your monetary worth at that time."
Groth and Jennison, 21, said they came up with Tab for a Cause after thinking about ways that charities could better connect with people by using the Internet.
"Thinking about this we realized that new tab pages are pretty much blank real estate for us to capitalize on and allow charities to reach people," said Jennison, who graduated from Grinnell College this year.
Since launching last August, Tab for a Cause has gained 3,000 users and donated about $4,000 dollars.
Each tab generates a tenth of a cent to a fifth of a cent, but Groth said that on average, their users open 10 tabs a day. That's just one cent per user per day, but as Tab for a Cause says on its site, "those pennies add up."
Installing the program isn't difficult. Go to Tab for a Cause's home page and click "Get the extension." From there, click Add if you're on Chrome or Allow if you use Firefox, and the program will install. On Chrome, you'll be able to use it the very next time you open a tab, while on Firefox you'll have to restart your browser first.
Once installed, you can adjust your Tab for a Cause settings.
For now, you can only give to preset causes and charities. Tab for a Cause focuses on water, education, human rights, the environment, children and peace, and you can select how you prioritize those causes. By default, you can support each cause equally, but you can decide to support some causes more than others or dedicate your tab donations to a specific one.
Groth and Jennison said they are working on a way in which donors can designate their own causes and charities, not just from a pre-selected list.
Tab for a Cause works with Educate, Water.org, Room to Read, Human Rights Watch, Conservation International, International Peace Institute and Save the Children. Depending on how you've prioritized your causes, Tab for a Cause will donate the money you generate to the appropriate charity.
You can also adjust how often you want to see the special tab pages. You can choose to see them as infrequently as every sixth time you open a new tab, but Groth and Jennison said most of their users choose to see the special pages every time they open a new tab.
If you connect to the program using Facebook, you can also see how many tabs you've opened as well as how many your friends have.
Four times a year, Tab for a Cause selects winners from pools of users who opened the most tabs in a single week. Those winners get to choose which charity will get a $500 donation, which comes from the Tab for a Cause team or the organization's sponsors.
For now, Tab for a Cause doesn't have any clear-cut goals, but it hopes to be in the tens of thousands of users by early next year.
Groth, Jennison and the rest of the five-person team work on Tab for a Cause during their spare time. Any operating expenses come out of their own pockets, but to Groth and Jennison, that's just part of their contribution.
"We just look at any operating costs as our donation to charity," Groth said.