Charity Disruption: How technology impacts the way charity is done - Manifest Communications
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Charity Disruption: How technology impacts the way charity is done

Technology is altering the way charities communicate internally, engage with their supporters, and collect donations for the better. The impact of technology on charity marketing go far beyond the ability to go viral; technology is providing new ways to collect donations that make raising funds easier than ever before. We have compiled a list of some of the ways charities are implementing these innovations into their business models, as well as a few of the lessons that can be learned from these efforts.

1. New methods of payment require new methods of giving

In 2017, the world moves faster than ever before, and the following examples illustrate the charity sector’s effort to keep up. It is rare to find a charity technology that is born entirely of independent inspiration. More often then not, they are responses to large impact innovations that have changed the way that the public acts outside of charitable giving.

A great example of this would be the emergence of cashless payment methods like debit and credit cards. This innovation has changed the way a majority of people make the majority of their transactions, and in turn forced charities to evaluate the way they were reaching out for donations from the general public. People are simply not carrying cash the same way they used to. Let’s get into some of the different ways charities have responded to this problem.

Tapping into a cashless world

Instead of trying to target the few remaining cash dollars in the everyday pocket, some charities have seen and capitalized on the opportunity of people walking around with cards that carry their whole account balance. How? By developing electronic donation boxes that accept credit and debit card taps. One of the first, and to this point most successful, was the tap box developed by the United Kingdom credit card provider Barclaycard. In a contained three-month trial, Barclaycard set up multiple employees with the portable donation boxes and placed them on busy street corners in London. Despite the short time span the boxes performed well, pulling in £20,000. Although they were originally designed to replace street corner donation collecting, they saw a great deal of success when placed outside fundraising events. Bringing a way for people to make medium to large-scale donations only moments after having engaged with fundraisers that in theory should inspire activism. This was very successful with multiple instances of people donating sums upward of $1000 through the boxes. Well the intuitive functionality of the boxes is undeniable; there is room for the technology to have a more interactive aspect that draws people in.

This can be demonstrated in Social Swipe, an interactive ad that allows people to swipe their credit card to slice a piece of bread or cut through a rope tying a child’s hands together. This concept incorporates a human aspect and an immediate representation of where the money is going that Barclaycard lacks. On the other hand, Social Swipe has no way to customize donation amounts and the mobile tap boxes are more versatile than stationary posters.

Another successful, yet similar technology was “Lunch Box” by Earnest Labs, a contactless donation box placed beside point of sales in restaurants and coffee shops around London. Over the three months that these were live, the developers claim the product led to approximately 25,000 lunches for underfed youth around

the world. Obviously, this approach is more targeted than the general public ones above. However, the fact that all three iterations of these similar technologies were successful demonstrates how vital it is to fully explore all possibilities that an innovation can offer.

Turn giving into a habit

All donations are good donations. However, charities prefer habitual small-scale giving to one large annual sum. The reason is because it results in consistent giving that they can plan initiatives around, and it gathers a lot more willing parties due to the minimal effort and financial sum required. Additionally, charities can align their strategy to fit a habit that connects directly to the cause and forces the consumer to relate their actions; the lunch box example above demonstrates this idea nicely.

Another example by Barclaycard was a series of electronic wristbands and key-chains that could be loaded with money and then used to make payments like a credit card. When using the wristband or keychain to make a transaction, the user is provided with an option to round the purchase up by a fraction and donate the difference to a charity of choice. On the plus side, giving the consumer the autonomy to pick the cause and the amount they want to donate is more effective than shop clerks asking for donations at the end of purchases. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get people to change their habits and wear a wristband or have them remember to use the key chain when making a purchase. The heart of the concept however, where the roundup is on the user’s terms, is solid, and charities might want to look at applying this concept to apps that already have an individual’s credit card information stored such as Uber.

2. New media platforms also require new methods for donating

In the same way that new payment technologies forced charities to create new methods of collecting donations, new forms of media have forced charities to create new methods of generating money and engagement on the media front. These innovations are particularly interesting as they target millennials, a demographic that gives for different reasons than previous generations, and are looking for different ways to engage in giving. Charities have only scratched the surface of identifying what does and does not work when it comes to the millennial generation and giving, and part of what makes online and social media based charity technologies so exciting is that they appear to be heading in the right direction.

Don’t attack slacktivism, utilize it

For those who aren’t familiar with the term slacktivism, it is the practice of participating in public activism with minimal effort, which has an equally minimal impact on the cause. Think of the friend who posted an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video but never actually donated or who tweeted #bringbackourgirls without really knowing who Joeseph Kony was. Sorry to tell you, but that friend is a classic slacktivist. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing as there are many conflicting ideas around the impact of slacktivism. Some have argued that due to psychological nuances in human behaviour, slacktivism reduces participation. This is based on the idea that people’s altruistic sense will be triggered and satisfied by an act of slacktivism, discouraging them from participating in more worthwhile charity related endeavours. The other theory, and the one that we’re more inclined to lend our support to, is that slacktivism does not discourage people who are typically active to reduce their support, but brings an avenue for activity to groups who would otherwise do nothing.

Either way, tapping into slacktivism poses immense potential returns for charities everywhere, as doing so would speak to the massive unreached market of youth on social media. Proof of this is Johnson and Johnson’s project Donate a Photo, a mobile app that created a platform for people to upload a photo a day in return for a $1 donation on the behalf of Johnson and Johnson to a cause of the user’s choice, that has generated upwards of 2.2 million dollars since being released in 2013.

Encouraging people to do what they already do, post pictures, while giving them a way to publicly demonstrate their involvement is not a difficult ask. The only thing that could be improved is the scale of the project. Even though it made sizeable profits, if corporate sponsorship was anywhere near the consumer feedback, and didn’t cap individual earning at $365 a year, the intake would be accordingly inflated.

Keep online donation paths simple and concise

The online and social media environments are very exciting places for non-profits who see them as the avenues that will connect them with tomorrow’s donors. However, these new environments present new challenges like the reality that the average Internet user has both an extremely short attention span combined with an ocean of content tempting them to click away at all moments. According to NpEngage, there’s an average 55% donation form abandonment rate in charity sites.

If this figure tells us one thing, it’s that online giving needs to be faster, simpler, and sleeker in order to capture the modern day donor. Goodworld’s project #Donate successfully attempted doing just this. This service effectively allows Facebook and Twitter users to open a donation form by typing #Donate, and then complete the transaction without even leaving their social media page. This service bridged the moment of inspiration and actual donation by shortening it considerably. However, the project is far from a perfect solution. In order to use the service, users have to sign up an account with #Donate beforehand.

This means that before the average user can make a donation, they have to first track down #Donate, which has low awareness, and then create an account. The concept is smart, but it does seem counterintuitive for a project that aims to remove the steps in making online donations, as it adds two of their own.