It’s no surprise in this election year that we’re realizing how powerful social media can be for making things happen — whether it’s support for a candidate, the launch of a movie or a a car. Or for a cause.

Cause marketing has been around for a while. But established players are now waking up to how to use social networks (Facebook, for example) to raise money for charity. Parade Magazine and The Case Foundation joined forces in December to launch the Giving Challenge. (Watch the YouTube video.)

Parade and Case will contribute $500,000 to the charities which attract the most individual donors. The deadline is Jan. 31, 2008.

I confess I didn’t know about this worthy effort until yesterday. I had my head in the sand (really, it was snow) over the holidays. In addition to battling a case of the flu.

Yesterday I received an email from a Washington D.C. business contact, Susan Trinter, asking if I’d help spread the word. She is asking for contributions to two of her favorite D.C. causes: Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund (donate here) and Washington Animal Rescue League (donate here).

Remember, any amount helps garner the matching gift from Parade / Case as it’s number of donors and not just dollars that they’re tracking.

Wow… it took 5 minutes to set up a donation page through Facebook Causes

I then decided to spend a few minutes on Facebook Causes to see if I could set up a Giving Challenge page for Global Community Services Foundation, a Fairfax, VA-based group I’m on the board of. We support village-level, community projects in Southeast Asia including housing, schools, cultural centers for ethnic minorities and self-sustaining micro-enterprise.

We’re holding our first major fundraiser, Adopt-a-Village-Gala, in Hanoi on Jan. 18, 2008.  Of course you can still support GCSF (even a token amount) here, if you can’t make it to Hanoi.

All I can say is wow… it really works. I created the GCSF Giving Challenge page in minutes and was able to immediately donate $50 via credit card to test it out. (You have to register if you’re not already on Facebook).

Hope you’ll join in with a small gift to Global Community Service Foundation, Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund or the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Note that the Hoop Dreams and Rescue League links are powered via Network for Good, which is also affiliated with the Giving Challenge.