FreeRice.com revolutionises charitable giving online

By Ben Dwyer

User research informs education website

FreeRice is an online game that enables players to turn their knowledge into food for the starving. This is an excellent demonstration of the power of the Internet, to raise funds and engage donors with your cause, providing valuable lessons for all charities.

Viral marketing

On 1st November 2007, I stumbled across FreeRice.com, through a link from one of the blogs I read. I can be sure of this date because as soon as I saw it, I made a blog entry of my own about it. I was so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with everyone I knew. This demonstrates the power of viral marketing.

In 2000 the number of clicks on TheHungerSite.com was more than 3 times higher than it has ever been since. This shows that, whilst viral marketing can be effective at the start of a campaign, the long term strategy must be smarter.

It is too early to tell if this effect will be replicated on FreeRice.com, but the giving totals over the last 7 months tell an interesting story. Whilst the total donations peaked in December 2007, the figures since February have been rising again. Because users are not limited on how much they can give, it is possible for the totals to continue rising, even if the number of users stays the same.

About the game

The game is a simple vocabulary test; for every correct answer twenty grains of rice are donated, through the UN World Food Program, to help end hunger.

The site was created by John Breen, who also created TheHungerSite.com. It marks a significant change in the way that people can donate to causes they believe in. TheHungerSite.com has been enabling people to donate one cup of food a day since 1999, though advertising. FreeRice.com has taken this concept to a new level by allowing its users to donate as much as they like – the longer they spend on the site, the more they give.

The site isn’t just about giving to charity either; the users benefit themselves. The vocabulary game adjusts to the users vocabulary level so that they are playing at the “outer fringe” of their, where learning can take place. There are many benefits to the user in improving their vocabulary.


The concept is simple but highly effective. The site generates enough food to feed over 7000 people a day, making a significant contribution to those people’s lives.

The thousands of people who use the site everyday are learning new words and becoming more aware of the issue of world hunger.

Those who advertise on the site also benefit from being associated with donating to a cause that its audience believes in.


Reasons for the success

Importance of engagement

This site is a brilliant example of the importance of interactivity in engaging users. The game is addictive which engages users and keeps on the site for significantly longer than you would expect on a traditional charity’s website.

Time is money

One of the great things about this idea (as with thehungersite.com) is that rather than donating money, users are encouraged to just give their time. The game is fun and educational, and many of those using it are likely to be young people who are still acquiring their vocabulary (the game was invented when Breen observed his son study for the SAT). Generally this demographic will not be willing to donate their pocket money to causes like this, but they do have a lot of free time and this game enables them to turn this time into food.


Lessons for charities

This site is a great example of how effectively the Internet can be harnessed to raise money for good causes. The concept is simple and requires little investment, but is able to make a significant impact.

As usually happens with new initiatives, it is not the big charities who have taken the lead by engaging users online, but hopefully they are able to learn from this great example of interaction with their donors. An interactive strategy doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be well planned.

This opens up huge possibilities for all charities. to find out how these lessons can be applied to your organisation.

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Meet the Author

Ben Dwyer