Mobile phones and giving to charity: unclaimed minutes

There’s a whole lot of innovation going on in relation to new technology and giving, in part prompted by green/white papers on giving, but more likely due to the ubuiqity of technology to our daily lives. And by technology, I think we increasingly mean the computer we carry around in our pockets formerly known as the mobile phone. This is a device that I email, tweet and call from. By way of example, have a look at what David Erasmus has just built with Givey, or read about how some mobile phone companies have just made text giving easier.

My phone also knows my geographical location (Foursquare users: should the Mayor of NCVO get to nominate an organisation for free membership at the end of the year?). And within a few years, it will probably contain a chip similar to that found in your Oyster card so that it is also a wallet for small purchases or donations In fact, why dont charities in London have Oyster card readers that let you donate? Or could we give readers to face to face fundraisers? The only thing I can find is this.

Unclaimed assets minutes

There are a number of people out there with mobile phones on monthly contracts. Ofcom estimates there are 10 million more mobile phone connections than there are people in the UK. If the experience of family/friends is anything to go by, people dont use all these minutes. This article suggests the population is wasting £800m a year on contracts where the minutes, texts and data aren’t used. Apparently, that’s £62/yr each. £5 a month. The median monthly gift to charity is £12.  (The Guardian reports unclaimed minutes are worth closer to £5bn by the way, but hey, I’ll settle for £800m).

Why cant we give these unused minutes, texts and data to charity?


So, here’s an idea: a mobile phone company would enable its users to donate these minutes to charities, thereby enhancing their corporate responsibility. Users would be giving…except that the gift is embedded in their monthly payment, so there is no extra cash cost. The mobile companies aggregate these unused minutes/texts/data…and give them to charities that use the aforementioned company for their mobile phones – ie it might drive charity business to said mobile phone company. Charities hopefully reduce their telecoms costs. Depending upon your perspective, ‘if’ the systems can be set up to do this, after the initial development cost this doesnt cost the mobile anything because the minutes have been paid for. (And I am not naive enough to know what the response to that one will be). And that’s, er, it.

So, who out there knows how to do this? I guess we need someone who understands if the billing systems can do it. And someone out there will know how we could use text messaging to campaign to get the companies to do something (just imagine – the more successful our campaign, the more they earn!). It turns out some people have thought about a similar kind of idea already – so it might be worth developing.

Looking forward to your ideas, critiques and encouragement…though after reading this, which is worth a look, I am now a bit nervous!)

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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