With the nation's emotions running high after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, David Weiss joined the millions rushing to send money to agencies charged with helping victims and their families.
Over and over again he tried, but the American Red Cross Web site was overwhelmed.
Frustrated, Weiss called the charity's St. Petersburg office. Could he set up a link on his company's Web site to make it easier for people to give money, he asked. The answer was yes.
Nine years later, Weiss' Paybyweb Pinellas Park business has helped the organization raise millions for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and most recently, January's earthquake in Haiti.
Donations to Haiti through his Web site are nearing $1 million, part of the rising trend in online charitable giving. Noelle Barton, manager of special projects for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, says growth of online fundraising is outpacing more traditional methods. Online giving, though, still makes up only a small percentage of donations received by large charities, she said.
"In the past, we've seen big upticks of people giving online after major disasters, after Sept. 11, after the tsunami,'' said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, a national group that evaluates charities.
"Those were times when people wanted to give immediately. Those tragedies helped people feel more comfortable about donating online,'' she said.
And while the Red Cross still gets donors who walk through their doors to hand over a check, growing numbers prefer the convenience of giving online, said Lise Amundrud, Pinellas County financial development officer for the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross.
"It's one of the many ways to give. And one of those many ways happens to be coming from Pinellas County,'' Amundrud said.
Weiss's Paybyweb business, located at 4505 Park Blvd. in a Pinellas Park strip mall, sets up companies to accept credit cards and electronic checks. After the Haiti earthquake, he set up a link that let thousands of people from across the country donate to the American Red Cross.
Donations arrived online and by mail for as little as $1 and as much as $25,000, Weiss said. The grand total — minus Paybyweb's reduced fees to the Red Cross — is close to a million dollars, though the exact amount will not be known for weeks, he said.
Weiss, 47, started his business in 1992, after borrowing $1,000 from his mother to buy a printer. At first he specialized in check draft printing and verification services, before becoming a credit card service provider. He eventually moved into Internet payments. Today Weiss processes payments for such companies as AAA Motor Club South, Investors Business Daily and Nightingale-Conant Corp.
Working with the Red Cross has been rewarding, he said. "My hope is that my children learn a valuable lesson by seeing the importance of all of us doing our part," said the father of four boys age 18 months to 18 years.
"It's a lot of work for his company to do,'' Amundrud said.
"We've had many businesses in Pinellas County step up to help, Sweetbay Supermaket, Tampa Bay Rays, HSN, Ceridian … David is just part of that movement that wants to help.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.