18 April 2014

Africa: APP Takes Aim At Big Firms' Cut of Charitable Donations

A Mexican mobile app, described as "the simplest and fastest way to make charity donations", could transform aid fundraising, its designers say.

AidApp, which was a finalist earlier this year in the Mobile Premier Awards 2014 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, enables people to donate to charities directly from their smartphone in three simple steps, says Roberto Ibarra, AidApp's creator.

After opening the app, users select a charity, enter how much to give and tap the donate icon. It works in more than 80 countries, says Ibarra.

"It's like text-to-donate, but simpler," Ibarra says. "It's the only mechanism that allows you to donate on the spot, superfast, even if you don't have any cash or a bank card on you."

The first NGO to run a fundraising campaign using the app was Desafío Levantemos Chile (Let's Raise Chile), which has been using it since February. The Children's Rehabilitation Center Integral AC (CIRIAC), a Mexican NGO, will start fundraising using the app this month, and several Brazilian NGOs have signed up to start using it in June. Once that's happened "we will skyrocket for sure," says Ibarra.

Matt Jerwood, digital fundraising lead at Oxfam, says that Apple and Google currently take a 30 per cent commission charge from all payments made through apps - and there is no exception for donations. SciDev.Net requested a comment from both companies but received no response.

Jerwood says this situation is similar to the one that seen before 2009, when United Kingdom based mobile operators charged around 50 per cent commission on all text payments, including charity gifts. This made charities reluctant to use them for fundraising.

Then, in 2009, charity short codes were introduced in the United Kingdom. These allow mobile phone users to automatically make a preconfigured donation by sending a text to a five-digit number. The entire donation, including tax, goes to the charity, and the mobile operator bills a much smaller service charge for the text.

Since the codes were brought in, fundraising by text message has massively expanded, says Jerwood. For example, last year Oxfam received six times more text donations than the previous year.

Ibarra says that AidApp avoids the commission problem by billing users via their mobile phone operator. "This is our innovation," he says. "We don't use Apple's or Google's billing mechanism."

Another hurdle was that numerous NGOs wanted to be listed on the app, but this involves AidApp registering their banking details with mobile operators - a time consuming process which Ibarra says the operators do not relish. Yet he says he solved this problem by bringing several charities to the operators in one go, so they only have to set up the system once.

He says that a mix-up involving a text message donation campaign last month led some people in the United Kingdom to inadvertently donate to UNICEF (the UN Children's Fund) rather than the intended recipient, Cancer Research UK.

"If you donate using this app through a smartphone, this kind of mistake can never happen," Ibarra adds.

Jerwood says that emergency appeals are one of the most successful ways of fundraising with text messaging because the response is immediate and easy, and apps could be used in a similar way.

"Apps are definitely interesting. Charity donors are currently spending a considerable amount of time in apps. Hopefully, as happened with SMS five or so years ago, the revenue cuts for in-app payments will be removed and open up the possibility of true in-app donation," Jerwood says.

The app can be downloaded in Windows Phone, Apple App and Google Play stores.

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