I know you’re lazy, but could a little altruism help get you off the couch? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about signing up for a marathon or to do the March of Dimes. This is still pro-lazy, and so there’s no rigorous training or begging people to sponsor your walk. Here are three different apps that track physical activity and make donations on your behalf.
If you ever get the motivation to go for a jog or to ride a bike, or even an extended walk, that can turn into donations to your favorite charities. Charity Miles is an app that will record the distance of your activity, and will make a donation based on how far you traveled.
It’s a very simple process where all you have to do is sign up, and select which charity you would like to support (they have over 40 to choose from). Once you finally decide to go for walk, you just select that given activity on the app and off you go. The app will display how long you’ve been on your walk and how far you’ve traveled. Once you’re done, it will lead you to a sharing page that allows you to post onto social media of your activity and the charity you supported.
Based on articles as recently as last year, it was reported that every mile traveled on foot generated $0.25 in donations, while every mile on bike generated $0.10. I do not know if that is still the case since those numbers are no longer displayed on the website, nor was my financial impact displayed after my first two walks. My impact may not be determined until the end of the month when the donations to the various charities have been distributed.
How Charity Miles generates money to donate is through advertisement revenue, much like other free donations services. When you start an activity through the app, that activity is sponsored by a given advertiser. The background will have a custom display provided by that sponsor, and usually will have a link to a deal or to their site. Also when you share your activity online, the sponsor’s name will be displayed on that post as well. Charity Miles gives the sponsor a prominent display within its services for a good reason, they are trying to provide a legitimate destination for advertisers to invest in.
Many of these free donation sites have ads that provide the funding for those donations, but the advertisers aren’t really advertising as much as they are just donating with an excuse of some return. These advertisers are mostly funding these ads from a budget allocated towards donations rather from their marketing budget. So instead of junk ads that clutter your screen which you mostly ignore, Charity Miles provides a high quality advertising experience so that advertisers can better rationalize the cost as proper marketing.
Charity Miles donates half its revenue to their connected charities, and in the 5 years that the app has been in use, Charity Miles has donated over $2.5 Million. I have selected Charity: Water as my supporting charity, and so far this app has generated over $50,000 towards Charity: Water specifically.
On the surface, Atlas GO is quite similar to Charity Miles: you create a profile, select who you want to support, and get out and run (or casually walk. Remember this is a safe space for lazy people). The app keeps a live update of your activity, but it also has a rolling meter showing how much of a donation you’ve generated. When you’ve completed your activity, you get a report of how long your activity was, how far you traveled, and the total amount your activity generated in donations.
One notable difference is that AtlasGO doesn’t just have a blanket set of charities to choose from, but rather a list of projects with defined end goals to choose from. These goals vary in trying to raise $500 towards an organization fighting breast cancer, to $18,000 project to providing housing to the homeless in Brussels. With AtlasGO, you work to fund projects and see specific impact of your contribution.
Other than a more transparent report of your financial impact and goal-based funding, there isn’t much of a difference between these two apps on the surface to observe, but behind the scenes Atlas GO operates from a completely different approach than Charity Miles on how to get to that end point.
AtlasGO bucks the trend of using advertising revenue to generate donations and doubles down on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. AtlasGO sees its service as an answer to multiple issues within a corporation. CSR has continued to gain importance in modern society as technology has allowed consumers to know more about the products they use and the companies that produce them. This added knowledge has raised the standards for businesses in their place in society, and thus corporations have sought various means to display their positive impact on society. Not to turn this into a full course on CSR, but it has now become profitable to invest in ethical outputs as customers buy into the mission of the organization and move from transactional consumers to advocates (but watch out for businesses who “greenwash” to gain a positive perception without following through with that mission).
Instead of treating corporations as advertising clients, AtlasGO treats them as sponsors. This means they seek sponsors who are willing to donate money towards their initiatives and not making a sales pitch. For each project that AtlasGO releases on its app, it seeks a sponsor of that project who will donate to cover that project. This allows for clear demonstration of a company’s CSR when the organization Courage & Feu can report that currently over 650 users are working to raise $9,000 to help cover educational expenses for 3 students in DR Congo. They not only get the social impact report, but also 650 users collaborated with that organization to unlock that donation. This goes further in that AtlasGO has a private feature so that corporations can have a donation goal specifically for its employees and they can boost employee morale and buy-in with a shared goal towards social impact.
Benefit Corporations & B Corp Certifications
AtlasGO is also registered as a Benefit Corporation and is also a Certified B Corporation (they’re two different things).
I described in my last post what a B Corp was when I wrote about Ecosia, which in short means it’s like the USDA Organic label: a third-party has audited the organization against multiple social aspects and confirm that it follows through on its social objective.
A Benefit Corporation however, is an actual legal structure. It’s just like an LLC or Sole Proprietorship, but it has added levels of standards in that it legally needs to demonstrate a public benefit. Benefit Corporations need to report to not only their shareholders, but to stakeholders as well. This is important for organizations whose primary goal is to create a positive impact over profit, since under general corporation requirements, the organization has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders first. Under general corporation regulations, socially-minded CEOs can be fired for not achieving the most profit even if social benefit was generated as a result. A Benefit Corporation provides legal protection of that social mission and makes that a legal requirement that the organization stays with its mission and is transparent about achieving its social objectives.
Thus AtlasGO is not only legally binded to its social mission, but it also is being audited by B Lab against a standardized metric of social impact as well, and recently scored a 116 out of 200.
AtlasGO is still relatively new, and has only had an app on the market since March of 2017, but has currently raised over $175,000 from over 350,000 recorded miles.
This is a brand new app that is designed to generate funding for cataract surgeries. Instead of logging distance, this app focuses on workouts, where every calorie burned during an active workout leads to raising money towards surgeries. $1 is earned for every 120 calories burned, but that caveat is that it has to come from active calories burned and not just calories burned in general. This means that you have to be using a fitness app that is measuring the calories burned during the actual workout in order for it to count. On average it takes $25 to sponsor a cataract surgery, and so for every 3,000 calories burned, you will have contributed towards one surgery.
The idea is very appealing in that it allows an individual user to very quickly make a tangible impact: 3,000 calories to better my own health, and contribute towards someone regaining sight. In contrast to the other projects, this is a much more personal project that allows you to see individual impact (also, if it only costs $25, why not match your own personal effort and donate $25 in addition to your 3,000 calories?).
Since this app is new, there are a lot of question marks on how this nonprofit achieves its reported ends. It doesn’t use the advertiser model, but seeks sponsorships from donor organizations. I do not know how that structure is put in place and if the calories burned truly does generate an additional donations, or if the money has already been donated and this is just a front for community involvement. I am concerned that this model is more designed to create awareness rather than producing additional funding towards projects. Not that it is wrong, but it would render the individual action useless and only makes the user feel better about themselves. Also I don’t know how $25 is enough to cover a cataract surgery. The only site I was able to find that quoted a price for individual sponsors to cover a surgery in a less-developed country was $100 (https://www.embracerelief.org/sponsor-a-cataract-surgery/). Give Sight Global is partnered with Physicians Thrive, a financial services firm specializing in working with physicians. The extent of their relationship isn’t well detailed, and so it’s possible that Physicians Thrive subsidizes the cost so that individual’s contribution only has to be the equivalent of $25.
So while I don’t have much assurance of how Give Sight is achieving its goals, it still is a fun app to encourage better fitness. In time, once the app gains traction, more information should be presented that will help better understand the impact of your efforts.
While these options require physical activity, the degree of dedication is minimal. But this post is a critical point of transition in that the previous posts were geared towards passive positive acts that could be considered the core of lazy altruism. But now we’re now taking baby steps towards how we can integrate altruistic acts into our daily lives and how we can become more ethical consumers and leverage the power of markets towards holistic societal impact.
This post starts that transition by taking a self-interested desire to better health and fitting a social objective around it. Maybe we don’t have the willpower to go to the gym because the results seem too far away, but if going to the gym raises $2 towards cataract eye surgery, then maybe that’s the kind of motivation we need. Our personal benefit then becomes a beautiful byproduct of that altruistic act.
Once we see that our actions don’t have a singular purpose, and that we don’t have to choose between altruism or self-interest, we can start to see all the other ways the relationship can be applied into our daily lives. But it’s beyond recognizing that there doesn’t have to be a trade off, but also that these two dynamics can feed into each other; our self-interest can guide us towards altruism that benefits others, and altruism can lead us to improving our own lives.