Ideas for change: Promise or Pay

promisecampignAs charitable giving declines, can technology inspire a new generation to donate?

While the UK has long been one of the most generous countries in the world, competition for public donations is intense with individual giving falling by 0.6% in 2013 and fewer people in the 15 – 29 age group donating to charity. Charities increasingly find their support from the 9% of the population responsible for two thirds of all charitable activity.

Clearly, the shift from more sober fundraising approaches to something splashier can pay off. As a strong advocate for using digital tools to engage potential donors, I support efforts like the viral sensation that was the Ice Bucket Challenge. As a marketing gimmick, the challenge was fantastic: It was short, immediately understandable, and easy to do. The Ice Bucket Challenge, the global trend which took off in the US to raise money and awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Motor Neurone Disease, is reported to have raised over $100m to date, with one in six Britons (17%) having taken part.

So, is this the future of fundraising? Or are simply glimpsing the potential of momentary collective engagement?

Predictably, the sector became abuzz with Ice Bucket fever, as charities scrambled to figure out how to create their own version of it despite the fact that the declining numbers of videos being posted online showed that this kind of spike in giving is fleeting.

Despite the improvement in digital donations, online giving platforms have not adapted to changes in daily life. It is crucial to start tapping into the huge potential of social media and online digital technology to maximise public benevolence. One way to make charitable giving more sustainable is to ensure people are motivated to donate not only by flashy stunts, but by taking advantage of the ways that technology can create a more customised and personalised giving experience.

What if charities could help improve not only the lives of their beneficiaries but the lives of their donors as well?

For example, we all know that sticking to self-improvement goals is really difficult – whether it is to get fit, get organised or get health – it’s tough to make these positive changes. However, research shows the chance of achieving a goal increases 33% if it is shared with others and by 72% if money is put on the line. So what if we combined these two approaches to help people stick to their personal goals by making them public and using charitable giving as an incentive.

The future of fundraising is about understanding personal motivations

for charitable giving and responding creatively to them.

Promise or Pay is one social startup that is doing just this.

The process is simple. I make a promise (which can be anything – to quit smoking or simply to call my mum more often), select an amount to donate if I break my promise and an affiliated charity who will receive my donation. I then share my promise with all my friends who further motivate me by becoming my supporters and promising to make a donation if, and only if, I keep my promise. What makes this great is that regardless of the outcome money is donated to charity. If I keep my promise, my supporters donate. If I break my promise, I donate. Promise or Pay ensures a win-win outcome and that I am left feeling good no matter what happens.

To paraphrase Ghandi, ‘If you want to change the world, start with yourself.’ Promise or Pay is about just this – using the power of technology to implement personalisation through accountability, not only to our own goals, but to our benevolence as well. And the concept fits very nicely with the direction that technology is going. The most recent example of this being the release of the Apple Watch, which will make monitoring and measuring personal health a 24/7 reality.

I think the future of fundraising is about understanding personal motivations beyond charitable giving and responding creatively to them in a way that incorporates charitable giving. By appealing to the natural human instinct to set goals, to have dreams and to make resolutions and by leveraging off the social trend to share experiences with others – Promise or Pay is just one example of how this can be done.

We need alternatives to hard sale fundraising tactics or the chase to come up with the next viral marketing sensation. There is a concern about perceptions that Ice Bucket-like fundraising challenges can alienate older more established donors. Ice melts, whereas the quest for self-improvement never-ends.

To engage and encourage more people to donate, especially young people, we need to implant charitable giving into daily life in simple ways that truly connect with their needs and transforms their interest into practical action. To increase contribution and reinvigorate giving, we need to use technology to create tailor-made processes that engage the individual and personalise the giving process in a way that can be repeated and sustained.

  • Jay Boolkin is the founder of Promise or Pay


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