On Monday, I heard about something interesting. Apparently, I could donate $20 to Haiti relief via RPGNow.com, and I would get over $1000 worth of products. This sounds great. I investigated it, and the money specifically to Doctors Without Borders (a.k.a. "Medecins Sans Frontieres", excuse lack of accents since my keyboard makes those nearly impossible) and their Haiti relief effort.
Before I go on, I'd like to point out that I don't need convincing. On Tuesday (when I looked), I donated the $20. I had been meaning to donate, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so. For various reasons, they say to leave 1 business day to process (by now, mine should be done) and another 1 to 2 business days to get the e-mail saying that the downloads are ready.
I started mulling this over in my mind. Theoretically, donating to the relief of Haiti is already a good thing, but can I prove it? In a much more concrete manner, my transaction has produced value. My $20 has not ceased to exist - it has gone to Doctors Without Borders, who are in turn helping Haiti. However, there are suddenly $1000 worth of legal downloads that did not exist before. Note that I did not necessarily generate information - the files already existed and were already downloaded by countless others - but I did generate value.
To put it into terms of the two entities directly affected by this: I lost $20 in capital and gained $1000 in market value of electronic products, and Doctors Without Borders has gained $20 in capital. Thus, they netted $20 and I netted $980, in capital and market value, respectively.
Of course, that explanation has a clear flaw. While $1000 is the market value of products that I will receive, if I do not actually use any of them, then it is $0 gross gain and -$20 net gain for me. For this cause, I consider that acceptable, but that does not actually explain anything.
My true net gain will be -$20, plus the market value of each product that I eventually use. I obviously cannot determine that before I even receive the products, but I can estimate. The products in the bundle are listed on the site, so I will go through that list and try to determine which products I will actually use:
17 Archer Feats/17 Bard Spells/17 Magic Shields/17 Monk Feats/17 Plants/17 Rogue Feats: $0.99 each - (d20 system) I expect to be able to use at least 2 of these. $1.98
Adventure Essentials: Holy Water: $1.99 - (d20 system) $1.99
Adventure Essentials: Rope: $1.99 - (d20 system) $1.99
Apocrypha - Myths of the World: $0.00 - (no system) This sounds handy for inspiration for lots of things. $0.00
Basic Poker Playing Cards 1: $0.50 - (no system) These sound fun/handy to have. $0.50
Bits of Magicka: Pocket Items: $4.50 - (d20 system) I'm fairly confident that, at some point, I'll be running a game where a player wants to pick pockets, and I'll want to make it interesting. $4.50
Book of Races: $8.00 - (D&D 4E) Odds are good that I'll play or run 4E at some point, and that this will be handy either for a race used or for reference. $8.00
I'm going to pause here for a moment. I've reached the bottom of the second page of the list, and there are 12 pages total. My total estimated value is $(1.98+1.99+1.99+0+0.50+4.50+8.00) = $18.96. Unless the remaining 10 pages of listed products are unusually dry of useful material, I expect to at least double that amount, resulting in about $18 of net profit on my end.
Well, that was an interesting exercise, even if I didn't finish it.
If there's a lesson to be learned from this, I'd say that, if you want to donate to Haiti and also like RPGs, go through RPGNow to do so. You'll help Haiti, produce value, and possibly profit. If you want to donate to Haiti but don't like RPGs, then donate through whatever means you prefer.