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From Cash to Click: How Creative Mobile Apps Are Reinventing Philanthropy

As I look into my wallet I count two $1 bills. Worthless, leftover change I will most likely use to buy a small pack of gum or an unknown brand of water. The fact that I even have cash in my wallet is a rarity – I use my debit card for almost everything I buy, even the smallest of transactions. The reason I don’t carry cash is simple: it’s annoying. I have to walk to my bank, which is ten blocks away, in the heat, just to end up with heavy coins and small bills that are practically worthless in the expensive city of New York.

Well, you need to carry some cash! What about splitting the bill with friends? What about paying road tolls? What about those hip, cash-only restaurants? My answer: Venmo, E-ZPass, and Square. Digital technology and e-commerce is making it easier and quicker to pay with plastic.

My point: cash is dying, fast.

Now, before you say “silly millennial, cards are for kids!” allow me to support my statement. According to LiveMint.com, a business and finance analysis publication, by the end of this decade cash and check, which formed 94% of all transactions in 2003, may fall to 13% (See: http://goo.gl/N6rw7C). Research has also found that people are carrying less cash. According to a report from Bankrate.com, nearly half of Americans carry less than $20 in their wallet, and roughly 80% of Americans carry less than $50 in their wallets on a daily basis (See: http://goo.gl/UjzgQS).

While the rise in digital transactions are beneficial to me in that I no long need to carry around loose change – what about the people who are happy to take the heavy coins and small bills off my hands: the homeless. If cash is dying, what happens to those who survive off the loose change in my pocket? And on the other hand, how do I receive my daily fuzzy-feeling from spontaneous giving?

Soooo, why don’t the homeless use these inexpensive digital payment options? Yes – Venmo, Square, and PayPal are basically free but they still require a smartphone, which is definitely not free. Even if they do own a smartphone (See: http://goo.gl/R9rD8A) commuters don’t have the time to stop-and-swipe and don’t trust random people with their card information.

Yes, digital technology is the creator of this pocket-empty problem, but it is also the solution. There are numerous mobile apps targeting the modern, cashless donator that are working on redefining philanthropic behavior. Here’s a list of my personal favorite:

1) Charity Miles

A mobile app that integrates philanthropy into user’s everyday fitness without users dipping into their own bank accounts. Users earn money each time they exercise, the app measures user’s distance travelled – bikers earn 10 ₵/mile while walkers and runners earn 25 ₵/mile.

2) WeShelter

As the number of homeless skyrocket, WeShelter has created a “see someone, help someone” one-tap button. Every tap of the button sends small donations from the app’s sponsor to homeless service organizations in the city of New York.

3) OneToday

The app’s slogan “give a little and change a lot” says it all. The app encourages users to discover new non-profit organizations. If users like the organization’s mission, they donate $1 within the app. Users can share new organizations and match each other’s donations.

 

The overall theme of these three apps are micro-donations creatively tied into people’s daily routines. These apps allow people to donate the same way as cash: quick, convenient, painless…all while retaining that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from giving. Yes, cash is dying, but I’m confident that with today’s digital technology our city’s homeless and other people in need will receive the help they deserve.

So download these apps and use them proudly, because like me you might only have $2 in your wallet, but you can still make a macro impact on the cause of your choice.