As roommates living on New York’s Upper East Side, Sanford Kunkel, Mike Marian, and Brian Belardi often spent Sunday nights eating pizza and watching saved TV-shows about the world’s problems. A typical binge session included 60 Minutes, Bill Maher, John Oliver, and Vice. Afterward, they’d feel outraged but powerless. “We wanted an immediate outlet where people could do something with their frustration and inspiration,” says Belardi.
So they launched Spotfund, a micro-donation app to fix injustice at a price point everyone can afford. The platform features a newsfeed about ongoing issues in animal welfare, the environment, and human health and services. If you see a cause that you’d like to support, you can tap a virtual token to contribute $1, $2, or $3, and then share that action on Facebook or Twitter to encourage others to join in. The goal is to make sharing “crisp, fun, fresh, and impulsive,” Marian says. And also viral. “It’s not about the size of your wallet, it’s about the power of your social network,” adds Kunkel.
Each cause also receives a “spottag”—basically like a hashtag except you replace the # with an asterisk. In the app, that’s a search-based shortcut. On social media, billboards, and TV-screen crawls it’s a quick signal for where and how to donate. For instance, *TragedyInOrlando provides details about the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida and directs funds to Orlando Health Foundation, the nonprofit hospital system providing assistance to some victims. In fact, some spottags have already become shocking or heartbreaking little art forms: *96KilledToday is about elephants that need World Wildlife Fund protection; *EndALSforSarah is about a woman who is suffering from the disease and the need to direct donations toward the ALS Therapy Development Institute. Spotfund is working with 360 nonprofits, each of which is vetted through Charity Navigator and Honeycomb, a social-cause software company.
At a time when philanthropists appear to be re-thinking the different ways that technology can be leveraged to teach donors about issues or keep them engaged, Spotfund offers an obvious continued-use enticement: direct competition. Inside the app, there’s a leaderboard to track your so-called “Impact Score” on various issues. Users gain points one of three ways: when you make a donation, when others donate based off a story you’ve shared, or when others donate based on a spottagged page you’ve created. The idea is that sharing itself should be an impact multiplier, so no one can just buy up the scoreboard.
Spotfund is a private company, in part because the team thinks that’s the best way to provide services to the nonprofits they’re working with. For now, the business collects 5% of all donations. The goal is to find enough companies to sponsor cause-related content that it’s eventually a free service. Or hit a game changing moment that might allow them to start offering discounts. Like, say, if someone taught Bono to spottag.