Hopefully by now you’re familiar with the concept of group buying: A site goes to local businesses, convinces them to offer up a product, service or gift card at a deep discount, and then turns around and offers that discount to site members.  The businesses benefit from increased exposure and incentivized customers, the buyers get more for their money, and the group buying site takes a cut of the action for their troubles.  All in all, a pretty good deal.

Last year we told you about two of these sites, Groupon and LivingSocial, and in that same post one of our readers turned us on to What’s the Deal.  Since then, we’ve reaped the benefits of quite a few reduced-price meals and a few other deals as well.  Hopefully you have, too.

If three’s a crowd, what does that make four?  This morning, Deals for Deeds went live with their first offering: $20 for 10 gourmet ice creams or milk shakes at ACKC (a $43 value).  Trade in your “deed” – what D4D calls your deal receipt – for a punch card entitling you to ten delicious treats over the course of the next year.

But Deals for Deeds has a secret weapon that they’re hoping will help them stand out in a crowded field: charitable giving.  Find out all about it after the jump.

The founders of Deals for Deeds promise that at least 5% of every Deed purchased will be donated to your choice of one of three local charities.  Beneficiary groups will rotate on a regular basis, but the inaugural options include Food & Friends, Washington Animal Rescue League and the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  You’ll be able to see how each charity is doing right there on the main page, which could make it interesting if the distribution ends up being particularly unbalanced.

So how does a site like this come into being?  In the case of Deals for Deeds, three UPenn graduates got together and decided to build a better mousetrap.  They saw an opportunity to “connect environmentally and socially conscious consumers with the local businesses and charitable organizations that share their passion…” through the medium of collective buying.  Some of the earliest deals they’ll be rolling out include environmentally-conscious food options like Freshii and Arganica Farm Club.

They’re not exactly reinventing the wheel, here…but that’s not the point.  Even in their own promotional materials, Deals for Deeds acknowledges its similarity to Groupon and LivingSocial.  But they’ve found a fresh angle with their commitment to charitable giving, and it sounds like it’s working.

Harrison Miller, Josh Hoffman and Evan Fain have been cultivating the relationships necessary for this kind of program since they got started: convincing businesses to offer enticing deals, vetting local charities to find the ones most likely to provide that last bit of incentive to buy in.  They’re also eager to hear from the D4D community that they’re hoping to quickly develop.  If you’ve got a charity you’d like to see considered (or an idea for a deal you’d love to see), they want to know about it.  They’re also planning to demonstrate continued support for the DC community through “assorted farmer’s markets, block parties, neighborhood days and other community-based events.”

In the end, it will be interesting to see how Deals for Deeds competes with the national muscle behind Groupon and LivingSocial.  The “Visit More Cities” button up top is a dead-giveaway that they’re hoping to expand into other markets as well, most likely following an expansion pattern similar to their competition.  If they succeed, it will likely be on the strength of their community approach as much as the quality of the deals the offer.

Who would have guessed there’d be such fierce competition to help us save money around town?