Pennies From Heaven

Kara Davis, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

There are loads of people out there who want to help charities but don't have a lot of extra cash lying around. Since we've all heard the hype of what social networks and pennies at a time can do, I figured I'd check it out. I spent some time over the last few weeks using several Facebook apps that donate to various charities. I clicked my heart out. I sent plants to friends, I tended fish, I tested my vocab skills, I even sold my (old Hotmail) address to a marketing survey company for 5,000 extra grains of rice. What I've discovered is that it can be quite a workout to raise money this way. As an example, here's the breakdown for an app that sends money to The Nature Conservancy -- note that this is NOT a Nature Conservancy project; They are just the designated beneficiary.

Li'l Green Patch

Premise: Send plants to your friends, water their yards, give dogs bones, etc. Save one square foot of rainforest for every 10 plants you send to your friends (and they accept). Charity: The Nature Conservancy Conversion: 92 clicks = ~87 plants sent and received = 8.712 sq ft of rainforest saved = $.01 (calculated at $50/acre)
Since you can only send out 20 plants each day, it takes 5 days and a total of 92 page views (5 by you, 87 by your friends) to raise a penny for this cause. Total donated: $15,650 through March 2008 Daily users: 329,568 This app is tedious, I find the graphics annoying, and it takes a whole lot of time and effort to raise a penny for The Nature Conservancy. So what could it possibly have going for it?
  1. A gazillion users.
  2. Some momentum as a top Nature Conservancy Cause donor.
  3. I like The Nature Conservancy and so do a lot of my friends. We like to do nice things for them.
Because they have donated a sizable chunk of cash to The Nature Conservancy, I'm going to give this app the benefit of the doubt and speculate that it isn't necessarily preying on well-meaning Facebook users. It all depends on the revenue that's being generated by the ad service that it uses (in this case it appears to be To feel better about the app, I'd really like to know what percentage of that revenue on average is actually going to The Nature Conservancy (I asked one of the developers two weeks ago and haven't heard back). Understandably, some amount is reserved to cover hosting fees and maintenance costs, but I think that a greater degree of transparency is required of any app that claims to be cause-focused. As far as effort goes, Li'l Green Patch is not alone in requiring some serious dedication from its users. I've found that it takes a lot of work to raise money using most of the "charity apps" I tried (Donate Rice, Save the Rainforest, and H2Opia among them). The one clear exception to this was iRipple.


Premise: Click on one of four buttons to view an ad and the sponsor will donate to one of four charities. Charities: WaterAid, Oxfam Australia, Oaktree Foundation and Grameen Foundation Conversion: Each click generates somewhere between $.01 and $.20 - very high compared to the other Facebook apps. 100 percent of revenue is donated. Total donated: $10,500 in March, 2008. I believe it's more than $37,000 total, but I can't find a solid number on their site anymore. Daily users: 546 on Facebook (they also have a website, searchbar, and widgets that contribute to their overall donation amounts). While my time might be better spent selling lemonade to raise money for these charities, I still really love this app. What's it got going for it?
  1. Each click raises significantly more money than other apps.
  2. It's speedy and you don't leave the page when you take an action.
  3. I am allowed to click on all four links again every 20 minutes or so.
  4. Design is clean and unobtrusive.

In Conclusion

I feel bad about this post because I hate being a hater, and I know that the charities that receive donations from these apps appreciate them immensely. And, honestly, I can't believe that I wasted enough time to discover how little I was really raising for some of those causes. BUT, I want something more than a thin veneer of social responsibility from this self-proclaimed new breed of facebook apps. I want transparency. I also want a positive user experience overall. If you are considering building any app to raise money through social networks, take some cues from iRipple. Keep things very simple and focus on making actions more valuable. If you're building a cause-focused app, you don't have to donate 100 percent of your ad revenue. Just be clear about how much you're reserving for overhead and why.

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