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Innovation Boosts Charitable Giving, Organizing, Volunteering

19 Aug 2015 by Susie Steckner

Technology is constantly evolving — not unlike a living organism. It isn’t static. It isn’t constant. Which makes it disruptive. Businesses, even niche businesses, often forget to, or choose not to, evolve with technology and are turned upside down — because their products, their policies, their customer interface becomes, simply put, outdated. We live in a consumer-driven world, and we are often drawn to technology everything — from convenience to novelty. This is Insight’s Disruptive Technology series. We will be addressing how technology enters an industry and does exactly that — disrupts.

At Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Phoenix, partners invest their own funds to strengthen nonprofits and support collaborative solutions in the community. When the organization decided to raise money to help low-income students in The Balsz School District, it tried out a new approach: appealing to the public through crowdfunding site YouCaring.com.

“We thought it was an interesting idea to raise a smaller amount of money very quickly, trying to reach an audience other than our typical audience,” said executive director Terri Wogan Calderon.

SVP produced a short video for its YouCaring page, explaining the effort to purchase much-needed lice shampoo to combat an epidemic among students at Crockett Elementary in Phoenix.

In a few short weeks, online donors contributed about $2,000 toward the campaign. SVP leveraged those donations through a two-for-one deal with a shampoo company and supplied shampoo for an entire school year. In the process, SVP helped educate people about head lice and the importance of treating it so kids stay in school.

At the same time, SVP engaged a new group of donors who could be potential partners in the future. Embracing innovations and opportunities to target younger, tech-savvy donors is vital, Wogan Calderson said. “These are our future donors. We have to stay in that loop and be part of it.”

The millennial effect

Tech innovations like YouCaring are dramatically changing the world of philanthropy, making giving, organizing and volunteering more accessible than ever. Not surprisingly, millennials are driving much of the change in philanthropy today, whether making spur-of-the moment donations using their mobile phones or promoting a cause on social media or running nonprofit startups focused on causes.

Experts expect that innovations in philanthropy will — and should — follow this generation. A recent report by the Case Foundation shows millennials’ wide-ranging impact. Among the findings:

  • Connecting with technology. Millennials use websites and search engines to gather information, find volunteer opportunities and donate online. They use social media and email to connect with their networks. They rely on mobile technology for instant access to all these channels.
  • Sharing in micro ways. When inspired, they will act quickly to help nonprofits with small donations or short volunteer stints, provided that opportunities are available and easy to access.
  • Peer influence. Peers motivate millennials to volunteer, attend events, participate in programs and give.
  • Hands on. Millennials are most likely to get involved with causes they care about when organizations offer a range of volunteer opportunities. They want to lend their knowledge, expertise and time to help nonprofits.
  • Looking ahead. When this generation forms long-term volunteer relationships, they tend to give larger gifts, as well as encourage their friends and family to contribute, too.
  • Helping hand. Millennials are consistent in their desire to see how dollars translate into people helped. They want their contributions, no matter the type or amount, to help achieve tangible results for a cause.

“Like a ripple through still water, they (millenials) are brand ambassadors and fundraisers that energize groups and individuals encountered in the virtual and face-to-face worlds,” writes Steven N. Pyser in Nonprofit Quarterly.

In April 2014, Stephanie Daniels started shopping site PopNod with millennials in mind. The startup mixes fashion with saving and philanthropy, giving access and discounts to hundreds of popular stores online, including big brands like Nordstrom and Ann Taylor as well as small boutiques. Once you sign up on the site, select a store and start shopping, PopNod rewards you with cash back. Then you donate all or a portion of the cash-back savings to a cause of your choice. 

Centscere is another that fosters a frictionless donation pathway that caters to the millennial lifestyle. “We give users the choice of who to give to, when to give, and how much to give, and we allow that through the social media behaviors that are deeply engrained in their lives,” said founder Ian Dickerson in an interview last year. “Centscere makes the time spent on social media more meaningful.” You just exchange a few pennies for your Tweets, and Facebook posts and likes. Each time you perform one of these actions, you give your specified amount to the charity you choose. 

In honor of World Humanitarian Day, which is Aug. 19, 2015, people can donate their Facebook and Twitter feeds to drive awareness, posting about the issues that need to take action and make a difference to the world we live in.

Movement for all ages

Just as millennials are causing huge shifts in the traditional world of philanthropy, crowdfunding is bringing seismic change. Consider charity crowdfunding star Crowdrise. Nonprofits, organizations, individuals and families are using the platform to raise money for everything from charitable causes and volunteer projects to medical expenses.

Roughly 1.5 million charities are connected to the platform. Users will find big names like the American Red Cross, UNICEF and Stand Up to Cancer, and also small nonprofits like school PTAs seeking donations and promoting fundraising events.

Givelocity goes a step further, encouraging people to pool their money with other like-minded donors and vote on which causes receive the collective support.

Organizations and nonprofits — and those seeking to help them — have a range of choices today in the crowdfunding arena, and the importance of this innovation will continue to grow.

“Used strategically, crowdfunding helps nonprofits build meaningful engagement, inform their work, spread their messages, and expand their donor base to increase their overall funding and impact,” according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “…it is an increasingly critical component of the fundraising toolkit; allowing nonprofits to connect with and solicit support more efficiently than ever before.”

Giving on the go

The growing mobile world is giving rise to a whole host of charity-focused apps. Users can give a dollar or two in lieu of ordering their regular latte, shop with retailers who will give back, or even take to the road with an app like Charity Miles that allows them to raise money for charity by running, walking or biking.

Donate a Photo offers a little different twist. When users share a photo through the app, Johnson & Johnson gives $1 to a cause the user wants to help. With Feedie, users visit a participating restaurant, snap a pic of their food and post it on social media, and then those restaurants donate to The Lunchbox Fund to feed children in need.

Google’s One Today app encourages users to do “one good deed a day’’ with a $1 donation each day to a charitable cause. The app highlights new nonprofit projects every day.

Startup services

Startups are bringing change is a number of ways, whether boosting giving and rallying supporters or streamlining operations. 

SVP relies on tech startup PitchBurner to help manage its annual Fast Pitch program in which nonprofits are mentored by volunteer business professionals and then compete with other nonprofits to give the best three-minute pitch about their organization.

PitchBurner, which manages competitions, contests and awards around the country, streamlines the multi-layered Fast Pitch program. “It absolutely has made us much more efficient,” Wogan Calderon said.

Tech innovations will continue to disrupt the philanthropy world, says Philanthropy News Digest.

“Empowered by technology, philanthropy is in the nascent stages of what could be a significant transformation — moving from relying on good intentions to achieving greater scale and measurable impact.”

“As online platforms democratize giving and pressure mounts to find new, measurable models of change, harnessing technology could dramatically increase our ability to develop scalable solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. All the technology tools we need are in our hands right now.”