Making It Easy: Swipe Your Card, Donate to Charity

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Civic-minded credit and debit card holders are getting a new automatic donation option -- great new for charities, which have seen donations relatively stagnant throughout the five-year economic slump.

According to the Indiana University Lily Family School of Philanthropy, U.S. charitable donations grew at a paltry 1.5% pace last year, adjusted for inflation. Study analysts says Americans want to do better, but the economy holds them back.

"When you consider all the factors that go into determining how much we give to charity, modest growth makes sense and is actually encouraging," said Gregg Carlson, chairman of the foundation, which publishes Giving USA. "Most households feel pressured at every economic corner, but the longstanding social contract between Americans and the nonprofits they believe in remains resilient and intact; many see giving as a core budget item. The amount devoted to that category might shift up or down with annual economic realities, but it doesn't go away."

While Carlson adds that the charitable giving outlook is moderately bullish, fundraising providers are linking arms with major retailers and card companies to make giving even easier for easily distracted Americans.

Take Goodsearch, a San Francisco online charitable giving service introducing a program this week linking donations to credit and debit card payments.

The service, called Goodswipe, allows U.S. card consumers to donate to more than 110,000 charities and causes by swiping their payment card at more than 75,000 U.S. retailers, hotels and restaurants.

The program, which has the Plink online rewards point provider as a partner, gives donations of up to 3% of a purchase price when users swipe their card at brands such as Gap , Kmart , Burger King , 7-Eleven and Regal Cinemas .

Setup is fairly straightforward too: A card user visits the Goodswipe website, plugs in credit or debit card information and can start redirecting retail card payments directly toward favored charities. You can donate to as many charities as you like every time.

"With a one-time sign-up from their supporters, causes can have an automatic stream of donations," Goodsearch CEO Scott Garell says. Card users can also leverage various online and offline rewards programs using Plink, company officials say.

Tying credit and debit card purchases together to donate to charity is an intriguing idea whose time has come.

For cash-strapped charities, it may come not a moment too soon.