Smartphone apps Smartphone apps These apps can turn fiddling around on your smartphone into an exercise in philanthropy. (Photo: Twin Design / Shutterstock)

9 apps that help make the world a better place

Transform your smartphone into an instrument of positive change.

From finding a decent place to eat to browsing for a potential partner to navigating rush-hour traffic, smartphone apps have enabled us to do pretty much anything imaginable all while staying mobile. But can apps be used to change the world for the better? You bet. We’ve rounded up nine of our favorite smartphone apps that enable on-the-go acts of generosity, goodwill and social responsibility.


1. Budge

A screenshot of the Budge Challenge app for iphoneScreenshot: Budge Challenge/iTunes Store

Currently available in beta mode for the iPhone, Budge is geared toward active and hyper-competitive Millennials with philanthropic streaks. The app serves as a platform for users to hold a challenge – the “Budge" – of any sort with their compadres, co-workers or closest frenemies: a speedwalk-off in a suburban shopping mall, a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit, a who-can-go-on-that-roller-coaster-the-most-times-without-regurgitating-their-lunch contest. Truly anything – provided that no one is hurt, bullied or forced to break any laws – goes. The Budge participant who loses the challenge is required to make a donation to a predetermined charitable organization while the winner gets to gloat freely for a couple of hours. That being said, failing a Budge challenge is one of those rare occasions where losing can actually feel pretty darn good – sure, you might be out a few bucks, but at least the money didn’t go to your brother just because he ate more Rocky Mountain oysters in the span of 10 minutes than you did.


2. Charity Miles

A screenshot of the Charity Miles app for iPhoneScreenshot: Charity Miles/iTunes Store

Available for both iPhone and Android,  Charity Miles – motto: “Hit the Streets. Change the World” – is a free app that adds a dash of altruism to your normal exercise routine. Your smartphone measures how far you’ve walked – or biked, jogged, skipped, sauntered, roller skated or hopped on a pogo stick – and you earn money from the site's corporate sponsors to donate to the charity of your choice. Runners can earn a quarter for each mile traveled while those propelling themselves on bikes or other (non-motorized) means of transportation earn 10 cents per mile. Sure, it may not seem like much, but the cash can add up quick while you’re training for a half-marathon or embarking on a scenic bike adventure.


3. Waze

A screenshot of the Waze app for iPhoneScreenshot: Waze/iTunes Store 

Waze, a GPS-based navigation app founded in 2008 by Israeli tech startup Waze Mobile and acquired by Google in 2013, is the world’s largest community-centric navigation app. Functioning somewhat like a CB radio for the smartphone generation, Waze allows users to warn one another about roadside hazards, crashes, traffic jams and other delays and even recommend the cheapest spots for gasoline. Designed so that motorists can look out for each other's safety, Waze can also help keep drivers' stress levels down, meaning a Waze user might feel a touch more motivated to make his or her unique mark on the world after saving valuable time and money on the road.


4. Donate a Photo

A screenshot of Johnson & Johnson's Donate a Photo appScreenshot: Donate a Photo/iTunes Store

Donate a Photo, Johnson & Johnson’s photo-sharing app for iPhone and Android, allows users to flex their philanthropic muscle simply by uploading and sharing a photo. And it needn’t necessarily be a selfie – any type of photo, so long as it is family-friendly, is fair game: a glamour shot of your cat, a stirring landscape portrait taken on vacation, a quick shot of something intriguing or unusual that you stumbled across during the day. With each photographic contribution added to the Donate a Photo gallery (there’s a limit of one per day), Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 to a rotating selection of nonprofits and humanitarian organizations – you choose which you'd like to support. Current participants include the United Way, the Family Equality Council and DoSomething.org.


5. Feedie

A screenshot of the Feedie appScreenshot: Feedie/iTunes Store

Sure, dining out with someone who insists on photographing his/her entree and sharing it on social media can be awkward. But the iPhone app Feedie promotes this behavior for a massively good cause. Launched by the Lunchbox Fund, a nonprofit that helps to feed hungry schoolchildren in rural South Africa, and boasting both Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver as app ambassadors, Feedie transforms food photography into an opportunity for good. With each food photo taken at a Feedie-friendly restaurant (currently, most participating restaurants are in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and South Africa, but the list is rapidly growing), the eatery in question will make a donation equivalent to one meal to the Lunchbox Fund.


6. GoodGuide

A screenshot of the GoodGuide app for iPhoneScreenshot: GoodGuide/iTunes Store

Whether you’re concerned about the ingredients in a certain type of baby shampoo, shopping around for a plug-in air freshener that won’t trigger allergies or on the prowl for a Fair Trade organic chocolate bar, you’ll find all the pertinent deets on GoodGuide. Founded in 2007 by Dara O’ Rourke,  a University of California at Berkeley professor, it grew from a website to an app and remains a highly reliable resource for conscious consumers looking to make safer, smarter and more sustainable purchasing decisions. The app allows users to search across a range of more than 20,000 products – including apparel, food, personal care and even cars – that are individually ranked on a scale from 1 to 10 in three categories: Health, Environment and Social. The combined score reflects a product’s overall GoodGuide rating.


7. Instead

A screenshot of the Instead app for iPhoneScreenshot: Instead/iTunes Store

What do you do with the cash you save by biking instead of driving to work, or by making coffee at home instead of buying it at your local hipster joint? A micro-philanthropy app aptly called Instead encourages you to consider the cash you’ve saved through all of these "insteads" and make a small donation, usually in the amount of $3 or $5, to a charitable nonprofit partner. While this may seem like mere pocket change, your contribution is enough to make a difference in someone's life. The amount taken out of each donation to help keep Instead up and running is a modest 5 percent, so in turn, users of the app can feel confident that a bulk of their daily/weekly/monthly contributions will go to the charity of their choice, and not toward company overhead.


8. Recyclebank

A screenshot of the Recyclebank app for iPhoneScreenshot: Recyclebank/iTunes Store

The concept behind Recyclebank, which operates as both a website and an app for Android and iOS, is simple: do your part by diverting recyclable waste from landfills and be rewarded. You earn rewards by completing one of Recyclebank's “interactive features,” which are assigned a set number of points. Many of these features involve completing planet-improving tasks and pledges that go well beyond simple recycling. The more features you can complete, the more points you earn. Once you’ve amassed a decent amount of points, you can redeem for loot at Recyclebank’s online marketplace, OneTwine, or other rewards partners. And if you don’t really want or need more stuff, you can always turn your points into a monetary donation to a local nonprofit.


9. VolunteerMatch

A screenshot of the VolunteerMatch app for iPhoneScreenshot: VolunteerMatch/iTunes Store

For many, the most daunting aspect of volunteering isn’t the act itself but what comes before it – successfully connecting with a local organization that speaks to your own beliefs, goals and interests. Although a relative newbie on the nonprofit scene, San Francisco-based VolunteerMatch, a matchmaking service of sorts that connects “good people with good causes,” has garnered numerous accolades and been name-checked by not one but three U.S. presidents. VolunteerMatch’s smartphone app spin-off functions in much the same way as the organization’s website: It connects potential volunteers with local opportunities across an array of “cause” categories including Animals, Hunger, Education and Literacy, Disaster Relief and LGBT. More than 98,000 nonprofits have used VolunteerMatch as an invaluable recruiting tool since the organization launched in 1998.

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