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If it isnt useless then what would make it beneficial regarding homepage rankings?
Many votes from many websites are good, regardless of whether they are reciprocated.
As far as generating one-way links, look to industry related websites, especially non-profits and .edu's that are informational in nature.
Exposure is good.
In that case it's best to install a blog, strip the uneccessary add-ons (calendar, css formatting, etc.) and make it so someone at the charity site can update it themselves through the blog interface.
Get an "edu" link by donating some time to update your child/niece/nephew/sibling/kid next door's school website. They have no idea of the value of what they are giving away, and it helps you create a little good karma to make up for some of the other things you are probably doing
This one I like ...
We've done this three times and have a standard package we offer associations that want to partner with us.
1) Hosting + Tons of Email space
2) A version of Mambo or Nuke which allows them to update their own site and post articles, calendar events, photos and downloads (PDFs etc)
3) Training and support via email
In return we get prominent exposure on their site AND a free advertisement every quarter in their magazines.
Don't forget offline advantages when working with charities and non-profits.
Also, I tied in all my sites by creating a "Green Widget Network", with links to all the sites, background information, screenshots etc.
I don't think either could be construed to be a link farm, because (1) has many participants who are unrelated to me, and provides a legitimate service and (2) has real content about the Green Widget Network.