In Sandy's wake, tech companies emerge as the ultra-samaritans

By Nathaniel Mott , written on November 12, 2012

From The News Desk

It takes a lot to hold a nation's attention for an appreciable amount of time. Lance Armstrong's doping and the David Petraeus affair will grab headlines for a few more weeks before leaving a few thousand Twitter jokes to gather dust. We, as a general rule, tend to forget about any issue or scandal after just a few weeks' time.

Hurricane Sandy is on its way out as a hot-button topic. While articles poured in by the dozen in the week leading up to the storm and for a while afterwards, many news outlets have stopped offering front-page coverage to the after-effects of the storm. Though the storm has left scars on the East Coast, it is no longer leaving as heavy a mark on the media. But that hasn't stopped a number of companies from trying to help those affected by the storm. Every once in a while companies will do a good thing just to do a good thing.

Some companies have helped by offering their resources and expertise free of charge. Airbnb created a listing of free accommodations for Sandy victims, and a number of tech-related organizations, including Google and the New York Tech Meetup, gathered donations and volunteers to help mend Far Rockaway, one of the areas most affected by the storm.

Others are making it easier for those around the world to help indirectly by donating to various relief funds. Two notable examples, Deposit a Gift and Indiegogo, have raised a collective $360,000 for Sandy relief.

A bootstrapped donations-slash-gift-registry platform, Deposit a Gift has partnered with The New York Foundling to help raise money for families affected by Sandy. Deposit a Gift will also be donating 4 percent of contributions to the fund, which will be used to offset Foundling's costs. According to founder Dana Ostomel, Deposit a Gift has raised over $30,000 for Foundling.

Another crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo, has raised over $330,000 (at time of writing) for 116 Sandy-related campaigns. The platform has been made free to use by any verified nonprofit, and both Indiegogo and PayPal have waived their usual fees to ensure that 100 percent of the money raised makes its way to beneficiaries and the American Red Cross.

Each of these companies could have said that they couldn't afford to help those affected by the storm or written a check (as Apple did) and called it a day. Instead, they decided to pass on revenues and offer their services for free to make it possible for thousands of other people to contribute offer a bit of cash or a place to stay.

Now, weeks after the hurricane has passed, there are few headlines to be had. Sandy is, unfortunately, a stale subject for anyone that hasn't been left homeless or hurt by the storm, and the news cycle continues to churn with new product releases, funding announcements, and juicier scandals that appeal to those without a New York area code.

Besides the warm, squishy feeling that comes from doing good, each of these companies are building a goodwill bank that could come in handy later on. Contrast this with Uber, which introduced surge pricing during Sandy to get more drivers on its service (key phrase), paid the fee itself for one day, and is now dealing with the fallout that comes with profiteering off tragedy. The company has worked to redeem itself – if removing the term "surge pricing" counts – but the company's actions have likely left a sour taste in many New Yorker's mouths.

Sometimes, it seems, altruism can pay.