The Ever-Increasing Role of Technology in the World of Philanthropy

By Drew Hendricks February 18, 2016

At its most basic level, the purpose of technology is to improve some aspect of the human experience. For example, wearable tech was developed with the goal of helping people better monitor their health. Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the leaders of the technology industry have made a concentrated effort to combine their skills with an interest in philanthropy. For example, Mark Zuckerberg recently made headlines by pledging to give away most of his Facebook stock, and more than 500 companies have agreed to join the 1 percent Movement.

What Do Tech Businesses Get From Being Philanthropic? 

All of these recent charitable strides are commendable, even if they are also a shrewd way for technology businesses and leaders to improve their reputation, acquire juicy tax write-offs, and increase employee loyalty.

In fact, surveys have shown that 87 percent of employees who work for a philanthropic company are more loyal as a result, and this impacts their overall job satisfaction and performance. In other words, technology based businesses that are not involved in at least one charity are missing an important ingredient that could help take them to the next level.

Innovative Methods for Harnessing a Philanthropic Approach

The world of technology is revered for its many innovative ideas and creative personalities, so it is no wonder that tech businesses have created some of the most groundbreaking ways to give back to society. In this spirit, Whirlpool understands that most consumers want to help others while also gaining something for themselves, so they combined philanthropy with the task of doing laundry. Individuals who purchase the brand-new Smart Top Load Washer and Dryer will generate donations for low-income families each time they wash their clothes.

Several mobile apps have also been launched with the primary purpose of rewarding users by providing donations to their favorite charities. Apps such as Walk for a Dog and Charity Miles allow people to designate a charity or animal shelter, and their chosen group accrues donations each time they walk, run, or go for a bike ride while the app is running.

This is a particularly useful concept because it encourages people to exercise, and each app is able to display advertisements for sponsors. In other words, consumers get to feel good about themselves, and the apps are able to generate revenue.

How Will Digital Currency Help Charitable Organizations?

Cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, is widely regarded as a potential game changer for everything from banking to making online purchases, but it could also change the way that charities receive donations. Industry experts predict that block-chain technology and cryptocurrencies have the potential to greatly increase each charity’s access to donations. As a result, these organizations are currently being encouraged to look for ways to harness this technology.

There are a few major challenges, though, including the fact that no cryptocurrency has a long enough history to be fully trusted by companies that quite simply cannot afford to take any financial gambles. On the other hand, digital assets are poised to become a very viable revenue source in the future. With this in mind, it may be prudent for charities to begin exploring their cryptocurrency options, even though this does currently involve some risks.

Microsoft’s Plan to Increase Access to Technology

Microsoft, just like any other large tech company, is in business to make money. However, Microsoft’s executive team is clearly taking some inspiration from co-founder Bill Gates’ philanthropic approach to technology.

The company has entered 2016 with the introduction of Microsoft Philanthropies, which is dedicated to creating digital inclusion solutions for a wide variety of people. This charitable division of Microsoft will offer a diverse list of options to individuals and families in need, including digital skills training, accessibility to the cloud and youth-oriented computer science education.

It remains to be seen exactly how beneficial Microsoft Philanthropies will actually be for lower-income families, but the reality is that there are very few career opportunities left that do not require at least basic computer skills. Additionally, getting a quality education without regular online access has become practically impossible. Therefore, any steps that major companies can take to make this type of technology and education more readily available should have a positive effect on the lives of many.

Can Philanthropy Be Disruptive in a Positive Way?

The word disrupt can have negative connotations, but technology leaders view it in a positive light. It has become a major focal point for companies that want to push the envelope and find new ways of harnessing technology. This has led to a very bold approach, which in turn helped spawn ideas such as Facebook, Napster, and PayPal. But can the world of philanthropy be changed for the better by disrupting conventional fundraising methods?

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and many other great tech minds are firmly committed to using the same unconventional methods in their philanthropic lives as they are in the business world. Unfortunately, their dedication to charity may be just as misunderstood as their technological ideas once were.

Zuckerberg has attracted a lot of controversy by dedicating 99 percent of his Facebook stock toward charitable causes, and the root of the discomfort that some people feel with this action appears to be based in concerns around the type of money that has been pledged. After all, it is much more common to offer cash in hand as opposed to relying on the unstable stock market to fund long-term philanthropic giving.

Interestingly, the thing that causes discomfort may be exactly what will enable Zuckerberg to make the most notable difference in the world. Although Facebook’s stock has its ups and downs just like any other company, it has also shown steady annual growth during the past five years. By the time all of the stock has been cashed in and given to charities, it may be worth much more than it is right now. Additionally, the boldness of innovators such as Gates and Zuckerberg has created a culture of technological philanthropy.

In a mere three year time period, the number of large contributions from technology leaders has soared by 29 percent and now represents 49 percent of all major philanthropic donations. WhatsApp founder Jan Kroum, Napster founder Sean Parker, and GoPro founders Nicolas and Jill Woodman gave more than $500 million each in 2015. Bill and Melinda Gates donated a combined $1.9 billion to charity last year, which makes them the world’s leading philanthropists. 

Ultimately, the spirited approach of wealthy innovators far outweighs the risks involved with their occasionally unconventional giving methods. Even if some of their plans fail, the world of technology is still in a solid position to make a major difference in the world.

Between involving consumers with technology and allowing tech leaders to utilize the same type of behavior that rocketed them and their inventions into the stratosphere, there has never been a better time for nonprofits to seek funding from previously untapped or unusual sources. If nothing else, today’s biggest names in technology have clearly embraced the concept that tech’s primary purpose should be focused on making lives better. With each new donation and creative solution to existing problems, the tech industry makes greater strides toward achieving this goal.    




Edited by Maurice Nagle
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