• Lucy Bennett-Baggs

The Role of Technology in Shaping the Future of Philanthropy

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in November 2019 at the first meeting of the Group of Friends on Digital Technologies in New York, "new technologies, and particularly digital technologies, are already having a major impact on the world, affecting all our work on international peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.” He pointed out that while it took 50 years for electricity to reach the first 50 million users worldwide, it has taken half that time for digital technologies to reach three billion across the planet. Furthermore, he made it clear that harnessing this technology is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

A few months later, in early 2020, COVID-19 upended the world and the non-profit sector took a massive hit as the pandemic put a hold on many fundraising activities and initiatives. On the positive side, these disruptions have pushed organisations over the technology tipping point - and transformed business forever - spurring rapid progress and advances that are transforming philanthropy in fundamental ways and making it easier to support worthy causes around the world, via digital technologies. Indeed, digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at many levels and people have increasingly turned to online giving to support the causes they care deeply about.

Mobile Phones the Gateway to Giving

The number of mobile devices operating worldwide is expected to reach 17.72 billion by 2024, an increase of 3.7 billion devices compared to 2020 levels. Mobile users make up nearly half of all traffic to non-profit websites, with mobile traffic continuing to outpace desktop and tablet traffic, there’s no denying that phones are the future and that mobile giving should keep increasing year on year from here on.

Furthermore in 2019, 26% of online donations were made using a mobile device - up from only 9% in 2014. In 2020, that number jumped to 30%. The data continues to point to the fact online and mobile giving will continue to shift upwards in 2021 - with millennials driving this trend. In fact, research has shown that 44% of millennials prefer to use their mobile phones then use cash to pay for small items.

This is why mobile transactions, especially when it comes to donations, need to be made transparent and seamless because when people see a story they want to support, the easiest way to do that is to pull out their phones at that very moment and donate. Indeed, the old models of fundraising are rapidly giving way to a new paradigm for donor engagement with mobile phones at the core of how people connect with their favourite causes.

Digital Philanthropy is the Way Forward for Non-Profits

While many charities are still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent survey found that those that made the pivot to virtual fundraising are finding success and are 10% more likely to be raising at or above their original goals. In fact, 70% of those that held virtual events in 2020 describe them as successful, with only 3% feeling their virtual event was not successful at all. As non-profits continue to fundraise in 2021, there is no doubt that the focus remains on digital evolution and finding seamless ways to raise funds online. Technology will make it possible for charities to expand their reach, thereby increasing their capacity to serve their intended population and secure their own revenue.

Tapping into Crowd Funding and Social Networks

The virtual world also brings opportunity for non-profits to amplify their fundraising efforts by tapping into the power of social networks. As the lines between traditional events, peer-to-peer, and online fundraising are blurring, more organisations have incorporated peer-to-peer strategies into their signature events and annual campaigns with challenges, matching gifts and team-based fundraising competitions. It is vital that non-profits continue to diversify their fundraising streams, even as they return to in-person events. Adding a new and compelling peer-to-peer fundraising element gives an organisation the ability to scale their reach quickly and more efficiently.

Overall, the pivot to peer-to-peer endurance events has been successful for many non-profits, with 64% reporting their run/walk/ride in 2020 as either very or somewhat successful. Only 8% said their peer-to-peer events were not successful at all. As organisations slowly return to in-person peer-to-peer events, this is an opportunity for them to revaluate the participant experience and incorporate new engagement touchpoints and resources that inspire and incentivise fundraising. The goal should be to create an enjoyable participant experience that keeps them engaged throughout the campaign and helps them meet their fundraising goals – and this is where technology can play an impactful role by making digital giving easy and more social.

Digital Tools Will Make It Easier for Everyone to Contribute

The practice of philanthropy is increasingly tilting towards ordinary citizens making a difference. Thanks to digital technology, it has never been easier for more people to help their own local communities. Greater access to the internet means that even people in the farthest corners of the world are more aware of global problems and opportunities to help and get involved. Today, millions of individuals, no matter their background or location, can make a difference, helping the practice of philanthropy evolve into a mobile-centric, youth-driven and more inclusive phenomenon.

Speaking at the 2021 Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Foundation Giving Summit, Bill shared that “Individual donations represent more than 70% of all giving. That’s never been more needed than it is now,” he added. While governments can deliver stimulus money to individuals and small businesses, they “can’t design these programs to find everyone in need and make sure it’s just.” That’s where donors, and non-profits, step in. One advantage everyday donors bring to philanthropy is their on-the-ground insights into what their communities need and where government programs fall short. “If you could double either big donors or everyday givers, I would double everyday givers because of that deep engagement,” Bill shared.

The digitalisation of philanthropy in the form of fun and collaborative platforms accessible to everyone, could be the bridge that links wealth with actions such as donations and volunteering with non-profits. In truth, there is a growing need for Individuals, Companies and Charities to come together to drive change globally. Companies want to know more about what their employees care about, fundraise for and how they spend their billions of CSR days that are given annually. Charities want to reach a wider audience and can only do that via digital solutions. There is a huge divide between individuals wanting to drive change and charities that need it. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for a new kind of digital solution that can bring all these elements together to enhance philanthropy, make it more connected, accessible, engaging and transparent. This would allow people to see directly how their donations or volunteering create impact in communities around the world.

The Future of Philanthropy is Mobile-Centric and Youth-Driven

Many of the ingredients for scalable philanthropy are already out there, in the form of youthful populations, rising wealth, and growing awareness about the urgency of supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In the hands of the younger generations, digital technology and innovation can be the spur that revolutionises the practice of philanthropy, both at a local and global level.

Clearly, digital giving is here to stay and will only grow as mobile phone adoption becomes universal. Charities can add mobile giving to their assortment of fundraising strategies by using text-to-give and text-to-donate services, maximizing social media fundraising, adopting mobile payment technologies and collaborating with new and innovative social impact network platforms.

So, what is the role of technology in shaping the future of philanthropy? Simply put, it is a crucial and fundamentally imperative one. Without a doubt, technology is probably the single most important tool that will enable charities to survive, thrive and unleash their full power and scale to help drive change and ultimately build a better future for us all.