Here's a way to make your charitable giving easier – and more personal
A new app ties your donations to your values, social media, everyday purchases or whatever you choose.
When you donate to a charity, do you ever wonder where your money is actually going, and who it's helping? Do you worry that the organization isn't accurately reflecting your values, or isn't totally transparent?
A new app, called Sparrow, promises to take the guesswork out of giving and ensure that donors make a meaningful impact. They're doing this by allowing donors to choose a specific "rule" and tie it to their giving. For example, you can set it up so that every time you fill up your gas tank, a small portion of the sale goes to an environmental nonprofit of your choice. Or, every time Beyoncé posts a photo on Instagram, 50 cents automatically goes to a women's empowerment group. You can set a cap on your donation and choose how long you want the app to track it. And, the app doesn't take a cut of your donation, meaning that every dollar you give is passed through to the charities you want to support.
Before launching Sparrow, its founders – Nick Fitz, Ari Kagan and Ivan Dimitrov – were students at Duke University's Center for Advanced Hindsight under the tutelage of Dan Ariely, an Israeli-born behavioral economist and New York Times bestselling author. The trio moved to Oakland, Calif., from North Carolina to roll out the app in 2018.
Their professor, Ariely, has become one of the world's leading experts in decision-making, analyzing everything from income inequality and pizza delivery to dating advice and IKEA furniture. He's developed apps and invented card games. He's appeared on podcasts, pens a column for the Wall Street Journal and has made numerous TED talks. CEOs of major corporations – Amazon, American Express, McDonald's – have Ariely on speed dial, hoping to pick his brain about human behavior and what motivates consumers.
Among other topics, his students researched the psychology of effective giving, and became frustrated that there was no existing solution that makes donating simple and enjoyable.
"We started Sparrow because we’ve seen that the best way to help people align their intentions with their behavior is to design an environment that makes it incredibly easy to do so," two of its founders, Fitz and Kagan, wrote in a blog post.
To use Sparrow, users first set up "giving rules" – choosing things you do or events happening in the world and pairing them with an automatic donation to one of the company's curated collections of evidence-based charities. Sparrow uses charity evaluators like GiveWell, The Open Philanthropy Project, The Founder’s Pledge, Animal Charity Evaluators and The Life You Can Save to vet its nonprofits.
Then, as you go about your life, some of your activities will trigger the rules, and the donations are automatically debited from your bank account.
New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs has already jumped aboard the Sparrow bandwagon. "I'm a huge fan," he told From The Grapevine. "I think it's a good way to make unpleasant things less painful (like giving to a pro-democracy charity every time Trump tweets) and also a way to celebrate the good things (like, say, new episodes of 'Fleabag,' whenever that may be). I hope it takes off and floods evidence-based charities with funds."
Fitz and Kagan added: "By embracing evidence-based approaches to building the evidence-based altruism movement, we can do even more good with our resources."
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