I’d like to live in a world where cancer and HIV are cured, climate change has tapered off and homelessness no longer exists. Before you write me off as naïve, I am well aware of just how far the world is from my idealistic vision of its future. Regardless, charities and NGOs across the UK and around the world are trying to change things, even if it may be just one step at a time. I think that technology and brilliant customer experiences can help them achieve these goals faster and more efficiently.
To continue the important work that they do, all charities need money. Yet only 29% of charities are effectively leveraging technology to increase giving, according to the Charities Aid Foundation’s 2019 Charity Landscape Survey. The survey also revealed that a mere 19% of donations were made through a digital platform, while a whopping 53% of donations were given as cash. With 70% of purchases made in the UK last year being cashless, this cash to tech ratio could be problematic for the future of charities. Why not use the same tools we use to solve business problems, like technology and customer-centred service design, to raise more money? In a society that is becoming increasingly cashless, using tech to raise funds could be crucial to the future survival of the third sector.
Charity pioneers in cashless payments
Many charities don’t have the same resources available to them as a digital agency or tech company. Despite these obstacles, some charities have already used tech to aid their fundraising efforts, particularly in the form of contactless payments. Macmillan, one of Britain’s largest charities, have begun using contactless for their street-based fundraising. So have pet charity Blue Cross, attaching payment devices worn by irresistibly adorable dogs. In December 2018, The Big Issue partnered with iZettle, enabling their magazine vendors to accept contactless payments, combatting the dip the organisation had seen in cash payments. This solution creates a better customer experience for the many people — myself included — who love reading The Big Issue’s magazine but seldom carry cash.
Last December, the Mayor of London launched a city-wide programme using contactless technology in an effort to tackle homelessness. Called TAP London, the initiative has rolled out 92 contactless payment points throughout London in public places, coffeeshops and retailers. TAP has even partnered with Westfield, WeWork, Vodafone and Curzon to offer payment points on their premises. Each payment point allows customers to make a quick £3 donation to the London Homeless Charities Group, a coalition of 22 homeless charities that includes Centre Point, Crisis and The Albert Kennedy Trust. This simple yet brilliant idea makes it virtually effortless for people to donate money. And it seems to be working — TAP London has successfully raised over £84k worth of contactless £3 taps, 100% of which is going towards the fight against homelessness. TAP has also cleverly capitalised on a moment in customers’ journeys when they already have their card to hand. The next time you’re in your favourite coffee shop to buy an oat milk flat white for £3.50 and are tempted to add an impulsive chocolate brownie, give TAP a tap with your bank card at the till instead.
Contactless isn’t the only way to revolutionise donations in the third sector — blockchain is another tool to use. The same technology that backs Bitcoin can also work for charities because it enables the giver to track their donation all the way to its recipient. Social tech company Alice.si uses Ethereum blockchain technology to ‘freeze’ donations until charities have reached their donation goals and provide evidence of doing so. This empowers donors to trace the precise outcome of their gift. This transparency created, be it through blockchain or another means, is key to establishing donors’ trust and emotional investment in the organisation. In 2017, homelessness charity St. Mungo’s was among the first to use Alice, creating transparency around how donations were helping rough sleepers.
The appeal, called Street Impact: 15 Lives, aimed to raise £50k to help lift 15 people out of long-term rough sleeping and into a newly rebuilt version of their lives. Using Alice’s platform as a backbone, the appeal allowed donors to follow the journey of the people they helped — for instance, when a former rough-sleeper acquired a tenancy, received assistance moving or help for their mental health or substance abuse issues. The Street Impact appeal created a new kind of customer experience for donors — one where they are invested in the charity both financially and emotionally. St. Mungo’s use of blockchain is just one example of how technology can help facilitate a more connected customer experience around charitable donations.
Connected experience through omnichannel
Leveraging technology across multiple touchpoints is likely the most powerful way for charities to raise funds. Choose Love, part of the NGO Help Refugees, rolled out an omnichannel fundraising experience in December 2018 which saw them skyrocket their donations to £1.4 million. The pinnacle feature of the experience was a pop-up store just off Carnaby Street, where busy Christmas shoppers could retreat from their consumerism by giving back. Within the pop-up, shoppers could buy real items that refugees need: blankets, a hot shower, food, life jackets and nappies. Each item was displayed with a corresponding donation amount in place of a price, signalling to customers just how much of a difference their donation could make.
When I visited the pop-up, I immediately noticed that the shop was unlike any charity shop I had been in before. The shop design was light and airy, each item was artfully displayed and there were contactless payments points set up throughout the shop. I selected a child’s coat for £10 and a hot shower for £3 then paid for the items with the simple tap of my Monzo card on an iPad. The experience was easy, yet emotionally impactful. For me, seeing physical items on display in the pop-up added a tangible element of reality and created a strong feeling of connection to the cause. Interacting with the “products” helped me to visualise them in use, creating empathy for the people benefiting from them. The thoughtful design of the pop-up demonstrates how customer-centred service design can be brought into charity shop experiences to increase donations.
Choose Love mirrored this uniquely seamless in-store experience with a customer-centred ecommerce platform. The website “sells” the same necessities for refugees featured in the pop-up, with a purchasing journey that is just as easy as its brick-and-mortar counterpart. Choose Love directed traffic to the site using social media — including endorsements from celebrities like Julia Roberts and Alexa Chung. The UI of the website is not too dissimilar from the fashion websites that shoppers would scroll through in search for a new pair of shoes. This design direction is clearly intentional — with clean typography, friendly iconography and beautifully styled photography, the website nudges its visitors to purchase. By removing physical and digital barriers that often keep potential donors from giving, Choose Love was empowered to double donations to Help Refugees from the previous year.
Charities & tech: a future partnership
As our society becomes increasingly cashless, it would be great to see the charity sector continue to adapt its digital, physical and omnichannel fundraising efforts to meet customer needs. I’d like to see challenger banks like Monzo and Revolut offer roundup schemes where customers could choose a charity to donate their “spare change” to with each contactless payment. Perhaps charity shops will create in-store and online experiences with carefully considered service design, allowing them to rely less on volunteers and increase giving. For instance, if self-checkout devices were installed in shops, then volunteers’ time would be freed up to focus on optimising the environment. I’d love for the TAP London programme to expand nationwide, or even globally. Perhaps big supermarkets like Tesco and Asda could employ a digital replacement for their coin collection containers, allowing cashless customers to donate their “spare change” digitally. Regardless of the format or channel, embracing technology will be essential in order for the third sector to continue to raise the funds it needs to make the world a better place.