Calgary app-makers pioneering the new wave of online giving

Charitable giving is big business and it's moving online. Giving on the go is growing in popularity, and many of the innovative companies pioneering it are based in Calgary.

Looking for a way to give on the go this holiday season? There's an app for that

Goodpin is an app developed in Calgary that allows donors to give to charities on the go. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Looking for a way to give on the go this holiday season? Well, there just might be an app for that.

Charitable giving is on the rise in Canada, reaching almost $13 billion in 2014, with much of that being donated around the holiday season.

But how people give is changing, and facilitating that change is big business for an emerging group of social entrepreneurs like Bryan de Lottinville, the founder of Calgary based Benevity. 

Benevity has found success marketing its software, which helps employers and employees donate time and money more effectively, to some of of the biggest corporations in the world. 

De Lottinville says that increasingly people want to give where and when they want, often using their smartphones or tablets.

"With young people it's 'I want transparency, I want accountability, I want interactivity,'" said de Lottinville.

Benevity now helps about two million employees at companies like Apple, Google, Coca-Cola and Nike give to charities in real time using the companies' software. 

Bryan de Lottinville, who founded Benevity seven years ago in Calgary, expects it could facilitate half a billion dollars in charitable giving in 2016, (Benevity)

To date, those employees have used Benevity's platform to donate close to $400 million to 60,000 global charities over the last seven years. The company expects to handle nearly half a billion dollars in donations next year alone. 

Largest online donation platform in the world

"It's a small drop in the total bucket, but even at those numbers, we are likely the largest online donation platform in the world and we're based in little old Calgary," de Lottinville said.

And Benevity isn't the only Calgary company pioneering new ways of giving.

Jay Baydala co-founded Goodpin, an app that allows people to give to charities using their smartphones, a big draw for millennials who will soon make up half of the country's workforce.

"Catch them in a moment, remove the barriers, make it fun and easy and give them stuff, because they are changing the world and making a difference," Baydala said.

Baydala adds the keys to Goodpin are its immediacy and its ability to create incentives to potential donors immediately.

"I would be walking down the street with my Goodpin app on my phone  ... and it would tell me that there is $10 of free money to give to charity from Starbucks, if I then go in and donate my own money as well, then that same institution can give me ... a free coffee or some sort of an offer," he said.

Calgarian Jay Baydala co-founded Goodpin, an app that allows people to give to charities by using smartphones. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Goodpin then makes its money by accepting tips from the brands they represent and the people who use the app.

Baydala sees mutually beneficial interactions like these as the future of charitable giving, and he believes smartphones are the key to making them happen, 

"The move towards mobile, the move towards visual and the move towards social, it's just a natural that it would finally make a move into the social-good space," Baydala said.

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Calgary has become a hub for companies involved in charitable giving. Donations in Alberta have doubled from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion per year over the last decade.

"Something really special is taking place in Calgary these days ... people are really creating new and interesting ways to do social entrepreneurship, to help make a difference in the world, while also doing business," said Baydala. 

Enabling easier giving

Gena Rotstein is another of those entrepreneurs.

Rotstein just launched this holiday season, a twist on the traditional gift card where the giver loads the card with cash, that the recipient can donate to one of more than 1.5 million charities in North America.

Rotstein's company then charges a small fee to activate the card.

"We are actually enabling easier giving ... why not make it super simple and empower people to buy stuff that can actually do other good things?"

Rotstein believes that making giving easier will mean more people will donate to charities, "making the pie bigger."

She says her card will also make charities more efficient. "We take over the reporting and the documentation so the charities don't have to worry about ... finding the volunteers to manage the donation flow or pay for the administration costs associated with the transactions."

Business of giving booming

Rotstein says there is a simple reason so many social entrepreneurs are springing up in Calgary, "Alberta and Calgary have this kind of entrepreneurial spirit where anybody will still take a phone call from us."

Gena Rotstein launched this holiday season. It allows the recipient to donate the card's contents to a charity. (David Dean)

That spirit, and a concentration of wealth, make Calgary the perfect place for the business of giving to boom, she says.

James Stauch, the director of Mount Royal University's Institute for Community Prosperity, agrees. He says the real growth in charitable giving will take place online.

"Absolutely you have to have a website as a charity, but beyond that it really should be mobile-optimized, that is a really critical piece."

Stauch says one advantage of having charities working online is that it is easy for potential donors to check whether they are legitimate.

One way to check is by visiting Revenue Canada's website and searching for the charity.

The quickest way to make sure a charity is above board is to ask for their business registration number, which will always have an RR0001 in it, says Stauch.


Erin Collins

Senior reporter

Erin Collins is an award-winning senior reporter with CBC National News based in Calgary.