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March 14, 2010; | If a $130,000 investment yields upwards of $500,000, is that a decent return for charity? That’s one of the questions Alaskan state lawmakers are asking as they debate whether to continue a program that allows residents to donate to charity some of the annual dividend each citizen receives from oil, gas and mineral royalties.

Two years ago the state established the “Pick-Click-Give” program that encourages Alaskans to designate a portion of their Permanent Fund Dividend, which in 2009 totaled $1,300 a piece. (Donations are done online at a state website at the same time residents apply for their annual dividend.)  At the time, the Rasmuson Foundation pledged nearly $1 million the support the program, including costs to administer and promote it, during the first two years.

In 2009, the program contributed about $500,000 to nonprofits in the state. Now, unless Alaska agrees to continue the program and pay about $130,000 in public funds to administer it, this will be its last year.

Disappointed by the relatively modest contributions in the first year—and before the tally is in for 2010—some lawmakers are balking about continuing the program at public expense. Also, some observers believe that donations for 2010 will increase substantially. In an opinion piece in the Alaska Observer, Juneau resident Ben Brown says the legislature shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the program. He wrote that it is “unreasonable and unfair to expect ‘Pick-Click-Give’ to be an overnight success. It needs time to become familiar to Alaskans, and for the glitches to be worked out. It is eminently possible that within five or ten years, as many as 5 percent of all applicants will donate online to their favorite nonprofits.”—Bruce Trachtenberg