Change the World

Note to millennials: Charity now begins on Twitter

Dry cleaning, car service and pet food delivery is just a tap away thanks to the Internet and smartphones. But when it comes to charity, the world of technology start-ups hasn't given enough.

Charles Huang learned this the hard way when he tried donating to Wikipedia during his senior year at MIT. Like many millennials, Huang was accustomed to using his smartphone. But when he looked up the Wikipedia donation site, he noticed it wasn't optimized for mobile access.

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"I tried rerouting a bunch of ways. The credit card site was not mobile-friendly either," Huang said. After spending several minutes trying to navigate the site, Huang gave up. A few minutes later, Huang used his smartphone to find a vacuum cleaner. He looked up several brands on Amazon and purchased one.

"I've been a loyal Wikipedia donor since I was 16 years old. But even if people want to donate, charities get in their own way so donors are put off from making donations," Huang said. "And with Amazon, I had a half-formed thought and it took 60 seconds to get a vacuum."

This tech disparity may be costing contributions and alienating younger donor bases. In its 2013 "Next Generation of American Giving" report, nonprofit software developer Blackbaud found that 62 percent of millennials identified the mobile phone as the most preferred method for charity donations.

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"Every couple of weeks you get an article on how bad millennials are as people," Huang said. "It's not like we don't care about things—tech has just made it so easy to do things, except donating to charity."

Huang is hoping to change that. After graduating, he eventually quit his job at a major tech firm in Silicon Valley and partnered with two college friends to develop Charitweet, a socially conscious tech start-up that simplifies the donation process to just one tweet.

The concept of philanthropy and social good is inherently social. None of this gets solved in isolation. We're moving philanthropy away from a few rich old men to everyday action and civic duty.
Charles Huang
co-founder of Charitweet

Most donations are typically made on charity websites and then people share about the cause or the organization separately on social media (such as in #ALS #IceBucketChallenge). This process is in and of itself a broken experience, Huang said.

With Charitweet, donors write a tweet with any combination of the charity's handle, Charitweet's handle and the donation amount. For instance:

"I'm giving $5 to @charitywater through @chrtwt because #water is a #humanright"

Without leaving Twitter, someone can donate money, spread awareness about the cause and share efforts with friends, who can retweet a message to also donate.

If it's your first tweeted donation, you'll receive a Twitter notification with a link where you can enter your credit card info. Stripe, a third party payment processor (another MIT start-up), will securely store the payment data and process it. After that, there's no need to enter the info again for future donation tweets.

Funds are automatically approved for charities with 3 or 4 star ratings on watchdog Charity Navigator. Donations to groups with only 1 or 2 stars are automatically denied and organizations that do not have ratings are vetted by Charitweet staff using a Charity Navigator evaluation guideline. (A 2-star rating implies that a charity "needs improvement" and there are charities with similar missions receiving higher star ratings.)

Giving new meaning to socially conscious

After several beta runs, Charitweet officially launched early December on Giving Tuesday and has raised $4,000 for charities so far. There's no dollar limit on donations but the product is geared toward millennials who may donate smaller amounts but more frequently.

"The concept of philanthropy and social good is inherently social. None of this gets solved in isolation," Huang said. "We're moving philanthropy away from a few rich old men to everyday action and civic duty."

Although social media has been successful in saturating likes and retweets about social causes, those actions don't necessarily help the real world. "If you 'like' a photo, it doesn't actually help disaster relief in another part of world. Charitweet puts money where your mouth is," Huang said.

Another start-up that emphasizes the collaborative, social aspect of charity is Givelocity, which offers a platform where groups of people can pool their money and vote each month on which charity will receive the lump sum.

Corporations and employers have used Givelocity to provide employees a voice in deciding where their company donates. Some firms have pledged to match the amount raised by employees on Givelocity.

Blackbaud's report found 59 percent of millennials gave through their workplace.

"Let's take the start-up mentality and change how we give back," said Givelocity co-founder Jennifer Theaker. "Charities generally can't take small donations because the transaction costs are too much," she said. By pooling the funds, the impact is greater and it's easier on charities.

Since Givelocity launched last year, the numerous communities of donors on the site have raised $35,000.

Charity in daily life

Similar to the way social media has permeated everyday life, Promise or Pay wants charity to become a part of the daily routine, helping people achieve their life goals.

Promise or Pay is a social motivation platform that holds you accountable to your goals or you pay the price in acts of philanthropy—donate money to charity if you don't follow through, but if you do succeed, get your friends and family to donate on your behalf. The goal can be anything—promise to call your mom everyday, jog in the mornings, or steer clear of chocolate.

"Charities are reporting that it is increasingly difficult to secure new donors," founder Jay Boolkin said. He said Promise or Pay expands the donation base by taking advantage of the natural human instinct to set goals, have dreams and make resolutions.

"I'm constantly inspired and excited to see the way that start-ups are using technology to create a more customized and personalized giving experience," Boolkin said.