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Digital trends in giving: apps, access and experiences

Fidelity Charitable CTO Katherine Lagana shares how technology has changed philanthropy—and where it will take us next.

Hands typing on mobile phones

Technology is transforming charitable giving. More than one-quarter of donors in Fidelity Charitable’s recent report, The Future of Philanthropy, revealed that they give differently due to the evolution of digital services. No one is more plugged into these trends than Fidelity Charitable’s Chief Technology Officer, Katherine Lagana. “The digital world changes quickly and has grown in complexity with each innovation,” Lagana said. “We have to make smart choices about which of these provide the biggest benefit to our donors.” A veteran tech leader with experience at both Apple and Microsoft, Lagana heads the team responsible for increasing digital access with solutions such as Fidelity Charitable’s responsive design and iPhone® app, allowing donors to recommend grants on the go. Below, she shares insight on the trends that shape digital giving.

Q: How have tech-savvy millennials influenced trends in giving?

A: They demand changes based upon their last best consumer experience. Think of how people use Uber, Amazon, Apple products or Netflix. The same level of service is expected from charitable organizations. People want access to their donor-advised funds with the same ease experienced with the digital organizations they most frequent. Choices should be at your fingertips, with the option to take action, instantly. Philanthropy has to keep pace with the millennial experience forged in for-profit sectors.

We also know that millennials want not only to contribute money to charities, they want to physically participate. Social networks allow them to say to peers, “Hey, we’re going to go do a build with Habitat for Humanity.” And in the same moment that they’re working together to bring a posse of friends to install a roof, they can raise money for the cause by saying, “Give us $10 to sponsor the team roofing competition.”

Katherine Lagana, Fidelity Charitable chief technology officer

“We’re seeing a demand for transparency and, with that, access. Donors want to know as much as they can about the causes they care about.”
—Katherine Lagana, Fidelity Charitable CTO

Q: What are some of the other significant trends with giving and technology?

A: We’re seeing a demand for transparency and, with that, access. Donors want to know as much as they can about the causes they care about. They want easy access to nonprofit information and to consult ratings systems like Charity Navigator and GuideStar. They want this in conjunction with the ability to give in the moment, not when they return to their desks or when they have time to make a call.

This means enabling information-gathering, contributions and grant recommendations—from any browser on any device. The challenge is to take that very complex task and make it feel easy for donors. When I worked at Apple, (Steve) Jobs and Steve Wozniak used the metaphor of the artist, the paintbrush and the canvas. A great experience is when the paintbrush disappears in the artist’s hands—their vision is realized on the canvas as if by magic.

Q: How has Fidelity Charitable responded to these trends?

A: Our responsive design and mobile app enable the giving-on-the-go experience to our donors. Recently, I witnessed a heartbreaking commercial about dogs left out in the freezing cold this winter. My husband will tell you those types of images render me to both tears and action. With my phone in hand, I was able to recommend a grant immediately from the Fidelity Charitable app.

This type of expediency is key to donor expectations around access and transparency. We work diligently to reduce the number of online and mobile clicks so that our donors can join and return to their Giving Accounts quickly. Fidelity Charitable’s search data and search methods have also improved dramatically, making it easier to find nonprofits and research further. I should point out, many of these enhancements are guided directly by our donors’ feedback. We can’t reinforce enough how grateful we are for their insight and ideas. They keep us on track!

Download the Fidelity Charitable app for your iPhone and start giving on the go.

Q: What’s next on the horizon for philanthropy and technology?

A: A key member of my organization, Rebecca Anderson, VP of Digital Platforms, keenly follows the trends that are taking shape. For example, there are new payment methods that will make giving almost instantaneous. There are opportunities to tie giving with GPS, allowing donors to receive alerts when causes they care about are holding events nearby or their headquarters are around the corner. Other intriguing tools out there include SnapDonate, developed in the United Kingdom, which enables giving by taking a picture of a charity’s logo with your phone.

Rebecca also points out that we see more storytelling in the charitable space. The nonprofit Charity: Water produced a virtual reality video that follows the life of a girl in a village without water through the building of a well in her community. That immersive experience connects donors to a cause in a way that can’t be achieved through numbers and data alone.

And who can ignore voice control? Think Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri—Gartner predicts that 30% of interactions with technology will happen through conversations with smart machines in 2018.1 Fidelity Charitable is working to do all that it can to bring these types of conveniences to its donors—and do so securely. We exist at the intersection of technology and philanthropy to assure our donors’ hearts can take action.

Download the full report on The Future of Philanthropy to read more about technology and giving.

1Gartner, "Market Trends: Voice as a UI on Consumer Devices — What Do Users Want?" 2015.

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