Charity Develops Innovative Donation Model

A new Irish charity hopes to marry the internet’s ability to connect people half a world apart with a donation model that uses money they don’t even realise they have.

“For us, €5 is the magic number. With that amount, you can change a life by keeping a child in school for a month..."

 
Customer loyalty schemes rely on people signing up in return for a future reward that frequently ends up forgotten or never redeemed. The new charity, Mygoodpoints.org, owes its name to these schemes. Co-founder and chief executive Killian Stokes is relying on people having both unclaimed loyalty points and the goodwill to see them put to better use. “It’s like money down the back of the couch,” he reasons.
 
His aim is to strike a deal with brands and then negotiate a monetary value relative to each retailer’s points scheme. Anyone signing up for Mygoodpoints will be given an online account credited with that money, which they can donate directly to a charitable project of their choosing.
 
This isn’t about large sums, adds Stokes. “For us, €5 is the magic number. With that amount, you can change a life by keeping a child in school for a month, or paying for inoculations, or covering most of the cost of an eye operation; €5 is a lot of money if it’s going where it’s needed.”
 
The Haiti earthquake this year showed how quickly charities can mobilise support through the internet. Usually, online donations account for just 4 per cent of annual income for Concern, but in the week following the disaster it received more than €1.3 million online, or 70 per cent of the total.
 
Stokes believes the charity sector has yet to grasp fully the possibilities of the web by showing how their money is allocated. While donors to certain charities receive letters from a child they have sponsored, this model hasn’t yet been widely replicated.
 
Mygoodpoints.org has vetted several charities on the ground in Ethiopia, Uganda and Haiti. The site will display a wall for every project, and volunteers in those places can send thank-you notes, file video blogs or upload photos to the site. Donors then receive an e-mail alert with a link telling them the part of the site relating to their project has been updated.
 
Getting information to the site is the easy part, Stokes claims. “Every aid worker I’ve ever met has a laptop and broadband access, if not out in the field then back at their headquarters. Almost every community leader has a mobile phone – for status reasons – and most of those have cameras on them,” he says.
 
A self-described social entrepreneur, Stokes has spent roughly equal parts of his career in the technology sector and working for charities. He says he wants to translate the “return on investment” mindset of a business to the non-profit sector.
 
Last week, Mygoodpoints began a pilot scheme with Vodafone Ireland. Instead of making a single donation to a designated charity, the mobile phone company has divided €10,000 between 100 members of staff, who can go to the site and make donations to projects of their own choosing. Mygoodpoints is in discussions with Irish charities about adding some projects in this country that subscribers can support.
 
Stokes says future versions of the site will accept donations from sources including directly from employee payroll, tax refunds, shares, credit card donations, corporate donations or text message.
 
People could choose to allocate 1 per cent of their mobile phone bill to Mygoodpoints, while those running marathons for a good cause will be able to set up a donation page on the site.
 
The site has been in development since early 2009 and much of the software development, graphic design and consulting was provided on a pro bono basis. A full launch is planned for September. Stokes claims it can operate on a low-cost model that will keep administration costs to 10 per cent or less. The transparency extends to publishing all expenses and salaries on the site.
 
The charity is seeking investment from philanthropists to add new features to the site and to cover the running costs until it becomes self-sustaining, which Stokes anticipates could happen by 2012. Any surplus the charity generates will be put back into one of the projects.
 
Social networking will play a major part in promoting the site, which aims to have a million donors by 2014.
 
“We do everything online – we shop and pay bills, we date and find jobs but as yet we don’t donate to charities. With this, you won’t necessarily look at the charity itself but you will see what other people say about it,” he says. “We want people to be engaged and to choose. When people are connected with where their money is going, they’ll stay loyal.”
 
 
(source: Irish Times)