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Swipe for charity: How mobile apps are enabling a future of giving

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Swipe for charity: How mobile apps are enabling a future of giving

Perhaps the most astounding facet of the global mobile technology market is the sheer speed with which it continues to grow. Whereas a century ago it took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users, and later it took 14 years for television to reach the same sized audience, the mobile phone industry has reached more than 2 billion people in less than 10 years. Mobile internet use has grown from 50 million global users in 2010 to 4.4 billion today, a number that is expected to hit 6.4 billion by the end of the decade (of which 5.6 billion are expected to be smart phones and other mobile technologies).

According to the 2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report, published jointly by the Public Interest Registry and nonprofit Tech for Good organization, online donations continue to lead the philanthropy industry, with 77 percent of millennials, 66 percent of GenXers and 54 percent of Baby Boomers prefer to donate to charity online. And although the report also says that just eight percent of donors would currently prefer to use mobile donation apps, that number is certain to rise as millennial users – individuals who often have no email addresses and have no recollection of a pre-mobile era – mature and enter the workforce in the coming years.

Of course, the expansion of mobile technologies such as PayPal and microfinance loan platforms such as Kiva presents new challenges to traditional financial institutions, but they also present opportunities for individuals and non-profit organizations trying to capitalize on existing micro-finance and P2P platforms to streamline donations. As far back as 2013, mobile donations represented about a quarter of charity given in the United Kingdom, a number that is certain to have grown  Last August, Facebook introduced a Donate Now button for non-profit organizations; websites like microgiving.com provides a Kickstarter-like platform for private individuals and small organizations to raise cash from a large number of small donors.

The ability to appeal to small donors has also led a slew of philanthropic-minded entrepreneurs to focus on for-profit business models for the benefit of non-profit organizations. One, Charity Miles, is a simple mobile exercise app that uses GPS technology to track the user’s exercise, and the company makes a donation (25 cents a mile for walkers and runners, 10 cents for bikers) to a charity of the user’s choice. Donations are made by companies like Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Timex Sports and Kenneth Cole, and there are several dozen organizations to support.

For instance, Britain’s Commonpence is a donation platform using the London Oyster Card, contactless credit cards and NFC (near-field communication) smart phones to allow commuters to donate spare change left over from train and bus travel in the United Kingdom. The model is simple: Using the touch payment technology of credit cards and devices that use RFID (radio frequency identification), Commonpence will create donation panels, to be placed in Underground stations and at bus stops around the UK, advertising the charity or non-profit organization they support. Commuters can tap or swipe the panels with any supported payment method, and the the spare change that is left on their transportation cards will be donated to the advertised charity. In the initial stage, the company has created a prototype panel to benefit Prostate Cancer UK; future beneficiaries include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Research and Lifeboats organizations.

More traditional charities are also making use of technology to expand their ability to help. In Israel,  Colel Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish organization provides pre-paid debit cards to poverty-stricken families. In order to maximize effectiveness, the organization partnered with local supermarket chains and with IsraCard, the local operator of MasterCard, to create a smart card that is only valid to pay for “legitimate” purchases of food and household necessities, but not for “frivolous” items such as tobacco or alcohol.

“Our goal here is to ensure that people who have fallen into poverty will be treated with dignity, and given the tools to escape from their predicaments,” said Rabbi Mendy Blau, Israel Director of Colel Chabad.  “A credit card allows them to make their purchases without any sense of shame or being different and also gives us the proper way to channel charity and monitor that it is being used in ways that will really help the beneficiary.”

Chabad officials say a mobile app is “on the way”, but have not specified a release date as of yet.

Photo credit: OnlineTradingAcademy

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