Technology that Inspires Generosity

August 23, 2016

Intentionality in creating a giving strategy is a significant way to make your generosity more transformative—for the people and organizations you give to and for yourself as a spiritual practice. For many, taking the time to write out a check and send it (rather than automate everything in order to remember to give) is a valuable expression of the discipline of generosity.

At the same time, technology can also facilitate and inspire generosity. There are a number of newer apps and websites that open up new giving opportunities and create alternative giving methods, and these can play a role in any strategy. I outline some of these below in three categories (**I’ve included a range of websites and mobile apps as some of us may not use a smartphone in order to reduce spending/live more simply**).

Category 1: Impulse Giving Apps

Spontaneous giving has a place in intentional generosity, whether we are meeting an imminent need or we are moved to give at a specific moment. Setting aside a designated amount for impulse gifts allows us to easily respond to requests that connect to our spirits while maintaining an overarching giving strategy. (Because impulse giving is more suited to smartphone activity, the following are mobile apps):

Share the meal is an app created by the United Nations World Food Programme to provide food for children, often in areas hit by disasters or in refugee camps and settlements. With one tap on your phone, you can provide $0.50 to feed a hungry child for a day, an amount that covers all the costs of providing food. The website and app give details about where meals are distributed.

SnapDonate: The next time an ad or billboard reminds you of an organization you’d like to donate to, you can give right away with SnapDonate. Just pull up the app and point your phone at the logo of the organization. The app’s “magic lens” feature will recognize the charity and offer you a secure way of quickly sending your donation. SnapDonate does not take a fee.

I Can Go Without: I’ve been thinking for at least a year that BFJN should create an app that allows people to give money away rather than making impulse purchases. You’re out and you’re hit with the desire to buy a coffee or a pastry, and you’re in line by the time you realize you don’t really need either one. You step out of line, grab your phone and donate that $3 quickly instead, so that your impulse goes to meet someone else’s needs. Apparently this app, I Can Go Without, exists, but it isn’t available in the U.S.

There is a workaround, though – you can use Urge ($1.99 to enable bank transfers), an app that allows you to select a “trade off” item (coffee, a restaurant meal, etc) and save the amount you were going to spend on that item in a linked account. If you set up a giving account (see the third category below) that impulse buying money would be deposited instead of spent to be given later.

Category 2: Where to give?

Perhaps you’re researching organizations for your giving plan and you need some inspiration. These websites/apps provide different local and international options for your donations and include a wide variety of needs and causes.

Just Give is the most comprehensive charitable donation site on the internet—it brings together information on and allows you to directly donate to almost 1.8 million organizations. You can search, browse by category, and even enter your zip code to find tons of local organizations. In addition, Just Give recently partnered with Just Giving, the largest international social giving (crowdfunding) platform, bringing a wealth of grassroots projects to the site as well.

One today, created by Google, features a range of projects to fund under different categories each day. The projects and organizations running them are in the U.S. and across the globe, and you can give as little as $1 through the website or the app (Global Giving is another interesting project-based site).

Generosity by Indiegogo: Another social giving platform based on the crowdfunding model. Browsing the site shows a wide range of requests from individuals and non-profits. You can sort by category, and a basic search for Boston area projects brought up a number of interesting hits. Through Kiva, you can give microloans as small as $25 to individual borrowers in 80 countries starting businesses, pursuing education, and improving energy efficiency. When borrowers pay you back (Kiva has a 97% repayment rate), you can reinvest the money to fund other loans. All money given by individual lenders goes to fund loans—admin costs are covered by grants and specific donations. A third-party app is also available.

Give directly is based on the premise that poor people should receive direct cash transfers rather than aid from service organizations. Believing that poor individuals and families know best what they need (and using evidence from randomized controlled experiments to support that belief), the folks at Give Directly seek out some of the poorest communities in Kenya and Uganda and give households about one year’s income. They then track changes over time in the households and the communities.

Category 3: Setting up a giving account

One way to make sure you don’t spend the the money you want to give away, without automating the actual donating process, is to set up a giving account and have transfers made regularly from your central account. In this way, substantial amounts of money earmarked for generosity can build up, and you can choose certain times for the practice of determining where you will give.

Once you set up a separate giving account, automatic saving sites and apps can help to easily divert portions of your income.

SmartyPig is a free service that allows you to set up multiple savings accounts toward different savings goals (pre-defined by you), linking to your established checking and savings accounts to allow regular transfers. These accounts earn interest at 0.75% APY through SmartyPig’s partner, BBVA Compass Bank. An app is available as well (Android).

Digit: Connect your checking account to Digit, and every two to three days the program will analyze your income and expenses to determine a reasonable amount of money to transfer into a Digit savings account. This amount varies depending on your spending, but Digit provides a guarantee that it will never over-draft your account. Digit also has an app.

Urge: As noted above, the Urge app allows you to save an amount that you were considering spending on coffee, takeout, and other impulse purchases to a linked account (app only).


That’s the roundup of some interesting technological innovations that can motivate generosity—but I’m sure there are many others! Have you used an app or a website to expand your giving? Tell us about it!




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