Thursday, June 6, 2013

Donating Daily – Good for Charities and Good for You

Like a loyal dog, this new Survivor Startup idea would not leave my side. At times, I wanted it to. It violated my startup criteria and is in a space I had no experience. But for some strange reason I just couldn’t get it out of my head. After a month trying every technique to suppress it, I finally gave in and embraced it. I had to give this persistent idea my full attention. It was that or get a lobotomy.

Kari, my cherished wife, and I have noticed through the years that we are happier and feel better about ourselves when we do something for others. Kari is better than I am about frequent acts of kindness and often does small acts like hand written cards. I take more of the lump sum approach – donating annually or volunteering selectively. These infrequent acts do improve my happiness and mood, but tend to be fleeting. If I could just find a way of consciously giving to others in a more systematic and frequent manner, then I could get that great feeling more frequently. This is when the idea for a daily donation mobile application first popped into my head.

The idea is simple. The smart phone application opens at a predetermined time each day. The user sees five charities on his screen and then swipes to the right on the charity to which he would like to donate. A confirmation screen appears that displays how many consecutive days the user has donated and gives him the option to share his achievement. The entire process takes no more than ten seconds. The user feels better and a deserving charity is just a tad better off.

Sketches of the home screen (left) and the confirmation screen (right) of the proposed daily donation application

Simple ideas like this had to be already created. I searched the web and iTunes store and couldn’t find an app that made donating frequently so fun and easy. While searching I did come across research to confirm what Kari and I observed. Mike Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, has studied giving and happiness. He has found through multiple experiments that giving does improve the happiness of the giver. In fact, he found that the amount of money given doesn’t seem to matter, but rather it is just the act of giving. This finding dovetails nicely into the central thesis of the app. [To learn more about Mike’s research see Mike’s TED Talk (also displayed below) or read his new book Happy Money with coauthor Liz Dunn]

Mike Norton's Ted Talk

This is not a million dollar idea. In fact, to maximize the impact I am convinced that has to be a $0 idea. Put another way, the startup must be a nonprofit. The nonprofit structure is important as users will actually be donating to this newly formed nonprofit directly. The nonprofit will then aggregate all donations and then transfer the allocated amounts to the assigned charities. For the user to get a tax deduction on the donations made through the application, the startup must be structured as a nonprofit. Furthermore, operating as a nonprofit should keep expenses to a minimum assuring that the maximum amount of donated money will ultimately reach the charities’ coffers.

As I have written previously, I am a big believer in open communication. For this idea, I can take it to an extreme as I have no opportunity to gain financially. This is solely for the public good. I will publicly share everything I can as I go through this journey. I have started by sharing publicly the product requirements document (PRD). It expands on the product vision far greater than the few paragraphs contained in this post. A link to the Google document can be found here. Comments are welcome on this and all future documents.

My goal is to crowd source every aspect of this project. Have feedback? Please share it. Better yet, join me. You can help out by doing a small task like design a logo or code a section of the app. You don’t have to be located in Silicon Valley. We got the interwebs. If you want to do even more, I welcome additional founders. This isn’t going to be your or my full-time job. However, if enough people volunteer a small portion of their time, I am convinced we can create a meaningful application.

While I was out pursuing my and potential co-founder’s grand ideas, this simple mobile app idea was pursuing me. I am now giving this persistent idea a chance to flourish. I am not sure quite how it will turn out, but I am looking forward to learning more about mobile app development, social entrepreneurship, crowd sourcing and micro-finance. Instead of thinking about a big exit, I am getting my energy thinking about just ever so slightly improving the happiness of others and assisting a group of charities.

Photo Source: Flickr @Pimthida

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