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This app is designed to get millennials addicted to giving

Millie lets you donate to nonprofits with just a swipe.

This app is designed to get millennials addicted to giving
[Image: courtesy Millie]

When you open the new charity app Millie, you’ll see the profiles of three organizations that need funding. Each has a picture and quick description to court your interest. If you feel drawn to one, simply click to learn more, and then swipe right to make a donation. You can pick how much you want to spend and seal the deal automatically, thanks to whatever money you preloaded into your account.

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That might feel like a familiar dating app, but wait, there’s more: An on-screen timer counts down the days and minutes until those offerings will be replaced by others (you’ll see a fresh batch weekly). A social feed allows you to view when others are giving in real-time, and a profile page records and displays your own interactions. Donors can share money within the app, and earn badges for things like giving streaks and other good behaviors.

Rachel Klausner [Image: courtesy Millie]
As the name suggests, the app targets millennials. It blends many of the mechanics that have already proven popular in other apps, online payment services, and social networks. Millie founder and CEO Rachel Klausner, who is both a millennial and a product designer, came up with the idea after realizing that many these online ecosystems were sucking up time and money from her own life, but not necessarily in a ways that dramatically improved the world.

“The way that millennials tend to give is through these random one-off, peer-to-peer asks,” she says. That might include, say, a fundraiser that’s promoted on Facebook. She personally found that the money she’d set aside to give to charity each year was being spent in ways that didn’t actually teach her more about the charity world. “It’s very reactive giving. And I was wondering, ‘Can we make people more proactive and thoughtful about giving?'”

Klausner thought so, but only if the giving process gets reimagined. “I just looked at all the apps that millennials were most addicted to and what features kind of pull people in the most,” she says. Here’s a bit more about how it works: On Millie, users who preload cash can then specify how much each swipe is worth. (The default amount per swipe is five dollars.)

That back-end process is hidden from users but fairly revolutionary: The Boston-based company works with Infinity Benefit Foundation, a nonprofit that provides each user access to separate donor-advised fund. Donor-advised funds, or DAFs, are philanthropic vehicles that people typically use to set aside money for charity and receive an immediate tax benefit, even though they can then wait to spend the money. Many DAFs require a large minimum balance to get started–often at least $10,000–but IBF is structured to make the service more readily available. It works with corporations that want to create lower-threshold accounts to their own employees.

“We’re basically just making an easy-to-use platform that sits on top of their donor-advised fund,” Klausner says. For tax purposes, Millie provides users with a charitable receipt at the time that the money is preloaded. The for-profit company takes 5% of each transaction, which is typical of many online donation services.

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Millie accepts nonprofits of any size. Organizations simply apply online, and the company then vets them, a process that involved scrutinizing tax filings for signs of stability, impact, and conflicts of interest. During an app beta test, the matchmaking screen was populated with The Adventure Project, Direct Relief, and Pursuit International. Each profile offered testimonials about real people (which Millie will anonymize when necessary) who were helped by the organization, and a success statistic, for example, like how much beneficiary salaries increase after job training.

So far, 45 groups have joined the service. The actual matchmaking suggestions will vary based on users’ in-app behavior. That solves one major problem that Klausner first encountered. Early on, she considered using a checklist to hone in people’s favorite causes from the outset, except most testers checked nearly everything. “Who is going to say ‘no’ to hunger and kids and cancer?” she asks.

So the company looked at a more actionable way to gather intel. “When they see a nonprofit, are they swiping?” she says. “Because that’s the way more important factor to consider around who they’re going to give to next.” Within the next couple months, the company plans to refine that process to enable users to at least share if they’re religious and their zip code, which could obviously inform the promotion of faith-based and local charities.

Klausner estimates that most millennials donate just under $500 to charity, but that could change when (and if) they become more financially stable. Her initial goal is to capture about half that sum, per person, but more importantly create a process that expands the pot for everyone. “Donating to charity is not a one-sided transaction,” she says, echoing the refrain she’s heard from numerous nonprofits. “[Donors are] getting something in return. They’re getting this really good feeling of giving back to the world.”

That’s a feeling that she hopes can be repeated weekly. The idea is to maintain interactivity, so each contribution still happens through the physical action of swiping. “I do think that over time we’re going to actually change the way people feel about giving, which is really what we’re trying to do here.”

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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