Reflections on Charity Hack 2011 – charities and technology

 This year’s Charityhack brought together 50 web developers and designers at the PayPal office in West London. The brief was to come up with an idea that could benefit charities through web or mobile technology, and then build a working version of it, all in 24 hours. MissionFish, as eBay’s charity partner, helped to shape and deliver the event alongside Justgiving.


I’ve been keen to support any activity that brings charities together with the technical experts who could end up shaping the way we interact over the next 5-10 years. That’s why I’ve been excited to get involved in Spring Giving, a new initiative to help realise the potential of technology to enable giving of time and money.


The barriers are significant: charities are already disadvantaged in two crucial ways, as a result of (largely reasonable) efforts by government bodies to identify genuine donations for the purposes of tax relief.


First, charitable giving takes place within nations, partly due to local loyalties, and partly because of tax laws. In practice, a UK donor can only claim Gift Aid on a donation to a UK charity. HMRC has said it will include other European charities in this, but any change looks a long way off. Meanwhile all the major online platforms are global, and few have the patience to spend time enabling national charitable giving. Apple for instance, simply bans charitable donations through its own payment system.


Second, charitable gifts must be “pure” in order to attract Gift Aid – the donor can receive very little in return. The thresholds for this are absurdly complicated, and need to be simplified. These issues make it less attractive to embed or incorporate charitable giving in other forms of activity, such as ecommerce. We had to do a huge amount of hard work (and take significant professional advice) to make eBay for Charity fully compliant with Gift Aid, for example. Blue Dot World is a new and interesting attempt.


With the pace of technical innovation becoming ever more rapid, the risk is that messages from charities slip to the bottom of the pile without active support from the platforms, or the major content providers within them. We already know that charities’ donor bases are skewing increasingly to older demographics and becoming less inclusive. For instance, people over 45 account for 72% of donations to charity, while the percentage of households participating in giving has dropped from 33% to nearer a quarter.


At Charityhack, we ended up with 19 really good ideas, and three main winners, as judged by Sophie Cox (Worldeka), John Lunn and Oktay Dogramaci (PayPal), and Jonathan Waddingham (JustGiving).


  • 1st Prize: Charity Auction: an auction integration with Twitter to enable rapid-fire online charity auctions at live events.
  • 2nd Prize: Give Stuff: a mobile application for rapidly uploading eBay listings in support of your favourite charity.
  • 3rd Prize: a charity “site in a box” for small organisations to develop a website with zero resource, and very little work!


In the build-up to the event, we had a number of great ideas from charities, particularly Comic Relief and the Red Cross, that didn’t make it through to development. If you’re interested in working on them, do drop me a note through the contact form.


Bump to sponsor (mobile)

PayPal Mobile Apps support bump technology, through which people can transfer money (or information) between phones. Could this be incorporated into event fundraising, so that you could make a donation via someone’s JustGiving page (or similar) by bumping phones with them?


Sponsored Training

Currently the focus for event sponsorship is on the event itself (e.g. the London Marathon), rather than the gruelling and tedious training process that comes before! You could integrate PayPal and/or Justgiving with a run-tracking service such as Friends could promise to donate £1 for every 5 mile training run, spreading their donations over time and keeping the runner motivated.


National giving game

A mass participation (national) game which can raise funds by taking advantage of smartphone technology to enable tracking and donations. For example, people could sign up to run a virtual relay race, agreeing to pass on a virtual baton at a certain meeting place, making a donation when they receive it.


Give as you gamble

People placing bets online want to feel “luckier”, and sometimes have unexpected windfalls from their bets. Could they be asked to donate when they place a bet (for luck), or share future winnings with a chosen charity? One challenge here is that many charities will be reluctant to associate their brands with gambling activity.

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