Stephen Cotterill: With cryptocurrency and other technology, charities can afford to fail

08 Nov 2017 Voices

Large charities have the luxury and the duty to trial new tech.

I’ve been hearing a lot of words recently of which I am not entirely sure of their meaning. Harsher critics may say that’s not too much of a surprise, but really, smart contracts, digital distributed ledgers, cryptography, Merkle trees? Ethereum-based decentralised autonomous organisations anyone?

Even my understanding of blockchain – a technology which appears to be ubiquitous at the moment – is fairly muddled. But I am pretty sure this tech is important and what we need to do now is find out how it can be applied to charity and fundraising.

The onus for that journey into the unknown lies firmly with the larger charities. Yes they have the envious luxury of being able to trial new tech, but they also have a duty to do so. They can afford to fail. If a blockchain funding initiative sinks, then losses can drown in the £600m-odd income stream.

Some tech is already more accessible to smaller charities thanks to the beta efforts of larger organisations. Facebook’s fundraising tools including a donate button, Facebook Fundraisers page and Facebook Live are being rolled out across Europe this month. The Movember Foundation trialled it in the US last year, reaching 4.1m people and raising $500,000 through the fundraiser functions alone. The charity has integrated the new tools into this year’s campaign in the UK.

Save the Children Spain, which has trialled the tools in beta for a period of three weeks, said that the charity saw a 26 per cent increase in digital giving through Facebook.

It is also almost a year since the launch of the My Oxfam app. The app has been downloaded 4,277 times and hosted more than 40,000 active sessions. It could, according to the charity, generate around £2m more in donations, and in the region of 5,000 new regular givers when it is fully rolled out next year. This has to be good tech.

Whether the sector adopts any of it or all of it, remains to be seen. We won’t know what works until we try it. But when it comes to trialling new tech, big charities have the resources to pave the way for the sector.



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