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Earlier this week we all witnessed the horrible tragedy of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured just under 180 -- many seriously.

But as we experienced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and hurricane Sandy, when it comes to lending a hand in times of real need, Americans shine.

While donations and charities are a part of every recovery effort, What has changed over the past several years is how people donate their money.

During the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake we got our first taste of the power of crowdfunding, when the mobile carriers enabled micro-donations to the Red Cross by sending text messages to a designated number. Tens of millions of dollars were raised in this way.

Nnow social media is playing a role. For the Boston marathon bombing, for example, crowdfunding sites have been set up for individual victims, and within just a few days have already brought in over $1 million in donations at the time of this writing, mostly in small increments of $10 to $50 -- some contributing more, some contributing less.

Help for Patrick and Jess -- a campaign on, raised $200,000 within 24 hours to benefit Patrick and Jessica Downes, newlyweds who both suffered severe leg injuries.

According to a story on CNN, these types of campaigns have wide appeal because they allow people to give in a more personal way and everyone can see immediate results.

Such sites can be used for non-emergency fundraising, as well. Setting up and managing such site is fairly straightforward and can be done in a few steps. First, you create your site on your selected crowdfunding platform. Mmany offer multimedia options, such as the ability to post a photo or video, as well as a dollar-figure goal that you are looking to reach. The page offer custom colors and designs.

Next, you share the site on your other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Online fundraising tools make it easy for visitors to invite others, as well. Donations are collected in real time, minus a transaction fee taken by the crowdfunding host, usually in the form of a percentage of the donation. Activity and donations can be tracked by  online dashboards provided by the host. That's all there is to it -- simple!

Crowdfunding sites can be a flexible way of soliciting donations for a variety of local causes, such as money to upgrade a local school yard, to help buy new uniforms for a sponsored little league team, or to help local food banks.

Some, like Kickstarter, are also used to fund entrepreneurial ventures of many kinds, and others. Some are very specific, like gambitious, which only funds video games.

According to CNN Money, both GoFundMe and GiveForward, which charge transaction fees of about 5 percent, have safeguards to deter scams and ensure that the funds go to the intended victims. GoFundMe requires organizers to link efforts to a legitimate Facebook profile and has a team that vets any suspicious campaigns. GiveForward provides a live "fundraising coach" as a guide, who will only write checks in the name of the beneficiary.

Below is a list of some crowdfunding sites: