The Connected Donor: How IoT Enables Charities

Even before Covid-19, charities were struggling to embrace digital technology. The global pandemic, though, has made it abundantly clear that digital technology will be crucial to the sector’s efforts going forward. The impact of Covid on the charity sector has been two-fold: there has been a sharp increase in demand for charitable services such as food banks, support services, and animal charities, while at the same time there has been a notable drop in donations. Covid-19 restrictions have limited face-to-face fundraising or canceled them altogether, while countertop fundraising in shops has also taken a significant hit, due to both Covid restrictions and people being encouraged to pay with card.

The good news is that while the ongoing challenges facing society in the wake of Covid will continue to impact charities, many are seeing the opportunity to take advantage of advances in technology. IoT has made its way into nearly every industry and for the non-profit sector, IoT is enabling charities to offer better services while also changing how they fundraise.  Here’s how:

Cashless donations

A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore, with some countries such as Sweden teetering on the edge of becoming a truly cashless society. While some charities have already adopted wireless card donation terminals, cash-only boxes continue to outnumber those able to take card payments. This is changing, though, with an increasing number of charities, clubs, houses of worship, and others in the non-profit sector adopting wireless donation points.

An IoT-enabled donation box can be either static or mobile – or both – and opens up new and connected ways of fundraising. In fact, in the Netherlands, when WhyDonate introduced connected donation boxes, the charity saw a 200% increase in the average amount of donations in the first months of testing. And with more and more people using mobile wallets, a donor can simply tap their phone or watch against a smart tag or scan a QR code to make a donation. Charities who engage in street corner donations can collect funds from pedestrians simply by having them tap their card or their phone. The data collected from these devices allows charities to build digital profiles of the typical donor, which can assist them in pinpointing their efforts in the future.

Fitness trackers

A lot of charities raise money through organized events, such as sponsored runs or walks. In the old days, if you needed sponsors, you may have solicited friends, family, co-workers, and others. In the wake of Covid, a number of solutions have emerged that allow people to take part in charity runs or walks without congregating in large groups. Apps track a person’s chosen location and money is raised as they make their way along a ‘virtual racetrack’. Because sponsors can follow the progress being made, everyone stays motivated and invested in the outcome. Some solutions include features that allow organizations to create customized milestones and most work as well on a smart phone as they do on a fitness tracker.


Nearly three out of four Millennials donate to charity annually and more than half of Gen Z are actively considering a career in non-profits. For the younger generations, it’s no longer good enough to throw a charity ball and watch the money roll in, though. Instead, younger donors want to know where their money is going, and they want to see the results.

IoT allows charities to track results through connected sensors and other smart devices, and with the data that is generated non-profits are able to capture and communicate the impact their work is having with concrete results. If a charity is providing clean water to children in developing nations, sensors in a water well could, for example, collect data indicating everything from maintenance to water usage, showing donors exactly what their donation is supporting.

Virtual giving

After months and months of virtual work meetings, virtual conferences, and virtual life, it’s no surprise that you can now give virtually – and connected devices are making it as easy as asking Alexa what time the next train leaves. According to a survey from National Public Radio (NPR) in the US, 57% of individuals who own a smart assistant have used it to order something, so it’s not a big leap to go from paying for a product to supporting your favorite charity.

Non-profits can also take advantage of smart assistant technology by encouraging behavior that aligns with their mission. If the mission is to reduce food waste, smart assistants can give tips on how to achieve this. Smart assistants can also connect non-profits with both individual donors and companies. The British Heart Foundation already uses smart speakers to take donations using voice recognition through a devices’ IoT-connected microphones.

Digital screens continue to grow in public spaces, giving charities a new way of sharing their message with potential supporters and hopefully soliciting donations.

Virtual reality

Many non-profit organizations have relied on expensive, long-distance trips to show investors where their donations are going. Virtual reality (VR) allows investors to experience projects in far-flung locations without ever leaving home. This not only allows more potential donors to see the work of the charity, it also allows money that would formerly have been used to pay travel expenses to go directly towards serving people.

VR technologies don’t come cheap (yet) but by carefully matching technology with use case, organizations will likely gain stronger support and therefore offset initial costs with long-term relationships with donors.

There are myriad other ways IoT is enabling charity, including connected cameras at rescue stations and using the real-time footage at fundraising events to show people exactly how their money is used.  Brooklyn-based HabitatMap launched AirBean a few years ago – the low-cost, compact sensor measures hyperlocal concentrations of harmful microscopic particles in the air, as well as humidity and temperature. The data is then used to create a global map of air quality, which in turn enhances efforts to reduce pollution. This is just one more example of how the charity sector is evolving with the help of IoT.

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your organization, please get in touch.

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