5 Startling Ways Humans Are Completely Phone-Dependent

Smartphones have become a crutch–a portable hub–for many users in our permanently plugged-in society. Although they can make our lives infinitely easier, the control and influence they exert over our habits can be alarming. The limitations of current technology (battery life, for examples) impacts us in an exaggerated fashion.

I’m often put out when I see people checking their phones during dinner, for example; it’s as if basic etiquette has been erased by a base desire for connection. It’s true that smartphones have some great qualities improving society and humanity, but they are also driving mass dependence.

Here are five surprising ways in which people rely on their smart phones.

1. Information Directory

Many people use their phone as a kind of external hard drive for the storage of vital information, like phone numbers and other contact information. Your phone may also store passwords and house other critical access information, as phones are often used in money management and health monitoring.

Even something as simple and powerful as your location can be monitored by your phone and used to personalize directions for your convenience. If your phone dies while out and about, you could lose directions to where you’re going and not know what number to call to let your friends know.

According to research by Canadian psychologists published in Computers in Human Behavior, “those who think more intuitively and less analytically when given reasoning problems were more likely to rely on their Smartphones (i.e., extended mind) for information in their everyday lives.” In other words, offloading information to technology erodes our ability to think intuitively, effortfully, and analytically.

2. Internet Access

Some people rely on their phone for internet access, choosing to forgo service from internet providers like Fios, Comcast, or Time Warner in favor of a simple cellular data plan. In this case, your phone serves as a conduit to the vast and increasingly vital data stream that is the internet. Like an umbilical cord, this option makes it almost impossible to disconnect.

Separation from phones, then, can lead to a perceived loss of information. According to Psychology Today, “having virtually any fact available at our fingertips creates an enriched environment that may make it more difficult to process information when we’re cut off.”

Our realities have been so changed by access to the Internet — whether it’s Google or SnapChat — that loss of Internet has become akin to loss of a sense like taste or smell, without which the world is totally different.

3. Communication

For all that smart phones now offer a dizzying array of ways to connect–via phone, video conference, text, email, social media and do on–they also seem to serve as a buffer for face-to-face communication. People rely on their phones more and more to communicate virtually, in many cases minimizing in person interaction. And people are handling increasingly intimate and delicate via these digital channels.

The inevitable impact of this effect is evident but the extent remains to be seen, as does the root cause. Maybe phones offer too many communication options. Or maybe people opt to connect with more people via these channels than they could reasonably do in person. Maybe people prefer these channels because they offer more superficial or deeper connections than in-person meetings.

Whatever the case, the ability to communicate digitally has had a measurable effect on people. The way we talk has changed, and studies have found that mobile communication correlates with an increase in face-to-face social anxiety among school-age children.

4. Digital rather than Physical

Just as virtual interaction has increased with the presence of smart phones, so have the online alternatives to physical chores, like shopping. The convenience of the smartphone makes it easier to order something online than to visit the actual store. Thus, the burgeoning digital network is reducing humans’ physical footprint.

The impact of this is manifold. It may seem like an oversimplification to claim it’s made us lazy, but the sheer amount of mobile services available supports this assumption: people can use their phones to delegate errands, order food, buy groceries, tour houses, acquire movies, music, and entertainment, all without leaving their couch.

That doesn’t mean we’re literally dependent on our phones for these things, but it does make physical shopping feel like an inconvenience.

5. Camera

Although virtual reality is now possible with your phone, looking at everything through the camera lens is its own kind of virtual reality. As phones became an increasingly essential part of everyday life, the camera came along for the ride. Now built into almost every smartphone, the camera creates a filter for reality, a Pokémon Go-like overlay, a digital portal.

With a camera accessible at almost all times, pictures, videos, and live streams became an increasingly important stand-in for real life, fueling the immediacy of social networks. When you go about daily life with a camera in hand, you end up looking through a certain kind of lens that can prevent you from fully partaking in the moment. You may even end up conflating your memories of an event with the media context of event records.

Altogether, it’s clear that mobile technology has become a phantom-like limb with new senses that we’ve become very accustomed to. While in some contexts this may seem like a superpower, we’d all do best to keep in mind that there is more to life than tech — and if our dependence level is high enough, we might be missing it.

By |2018-10-31T18:07:53+00:00March 13th, 2017|Culture, Philanthropy, Technology|

NYC Youth Taking the Reins of Civics, Culture and Community

This generation and the next have large shoes to fill–and extra work to do–when it comes to maintaining the culture, history, and integrity of cities like New York. As time goes by, any community’s essence can be eroded if it isn’t preserved and enhanced. That doesn’t seem to be the case in New York City, where public initiatives, institutions, and charity projects are encouraging young people to take an active interest in their communities.

It takes a passion for civic engagement, culture, and history to ensure a brighter future and a remembered past. It can be a challenge to light such ambitions in young people, and while many older millennials are already on board, teenagers remain especially difficult to reach.

Getting young people involved and dedicated to their city early on is key. Luckily, it seems we’re already nurturing an active and informed youth that will eventually take the reigns when it comes to the betterment of NYC.

Civic engagement

When we think of who is involved on community boards, it’s often an older crowd that comes to mind, and for good reason—one community board in the Bronx, for example, is comprised half of members over age 50. Recently there has been a push for diversity on NYC community boards, and a bill passed to bring down the age limit to 16. Since this bill, five 16- and 17-year olds were appointed in the Bronx, six in Manhattan, and eight in Brooklyn.

Teens bring a unique perspective to the table when it comes to community betterment. They have insight into issues older board members may not, and can bring fresh solutions to the table as well. The hope is that such involvement will not only add depth to the boards, but kickstart young careers in public service.

The problem is that while young people are idealistic and want to change the world, few want to do so through public service. Young people are disenchanted by the political system, and it’s not hard to see why given today’s political climate. Polarization is rampant and hostility high during an election between two historically disliked candidates. Local politics may be slightly better, but numbers indicate that youth would prefer to get involved elsewhere.

We’ll see if the encouragement of groups like Generation Citizen will empower more students to become engaged and effective citizens with bright futures in the political realm.

Cultural institutions

Beyond politics, young people developing interest in cultural institutions will help keep art and culture in New York City at the forefront of its evolution. As the cultural capital of the country, New York City is defined by its many museums and cultural hubs.

In September, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs began an initiative to improve the involvement and diversity at the city’s cultural institutions by financing paid internships for students. Many of these kids will be lower-income or minority students, adding even greater sense of diversity into the equation. According to Cultural Affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, “The idea is not to just expose people in the short term, but encourage the institutions to stay in touch with these young people, foster their growth, and maybe hire them in the long run.”

Cultural institutions and periphery organizations and businesses have been doing their part to get young people involved as well. For example, the National AfterSchool Association partnered with 19 institutions across all five boroughs to sponsor experiential, educational events through a program called Adventures in Innovation. Activities that stimulate curiosity in young minds are good for the future of these institutions and the youth they inspire.

Museums like the Guggenheim are also increasingly courting the Millennial generation as future trustees and donors. By hosting events like the Young Collectors Party, cultural institutions can get young people involved early in a path toward board membership. Says Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums, “The generational shift is something a lot of museums are talking about….The traditional donors are either dying, stepping back or turning it over to their children or grandchildren.”

Charities & Volunteering

Lastly, cities like New York will always thrive when its citizens, old and young, involve themselves in charity work. Unfortunately, volunteering rates have been dropping over the years and it’s not clear exactly why.

There are several hypotheses on white might be keeping younger generations from charity work. For one, youth are often financially constrained, which would certainly hold them back from making donations. This is especially true in NYC where cost of living and education high.  Secondly, technology and social media have become the new normal, potentially rendering in-person volunteering obsolete and uncomfortable.

How do we overcome these potential issues? Charity has changed, becoming increasingly mobile, so nonprofits that can make digital donations easy will have better luck reaching Millennials. Programs that provide educational and career incentives for volunteer work are also key.

Because younger generations are idealists, they want their contributions to count. As a result, nonprofits are courting young startups, many of which are run by millennials, with partnerships. In New York City, businesses that align themselves with causes attract young talent, allowing young people “give back” in a way that doesn’t interfere with busy work schedules.

All things considered, it appears that New York City’s youth have the ability to step up with the help of some great initiatives. It’s clear that New Yorkers of every generation love their city and want to see it thrive beyond our time–if we all work together to preserve and enhance our communities, there is no doubt NYC will continue to be as rich in culture as it is influential and unique. But youngsters, take note: the city won’t maintain itself.

By |2018-10-31T18:02:07+00:00February 21st, 2017|Culture, Philanthropy|

5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Enhance Local Communities

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com

Your entrepreneurial venture can’t be successful in a vacuum. Whether you are a web-based company without local ties, a small business rooted in one neighborhood or a real estate company in the thick of many regions, you can take the lead on contributing to local communities in a number of ways.

Doing so will increase your visibility among potential customers and will also promote social good to enhance the community you are involved in. Investing some of your time and resources into improving the local quality of life can have a ripple effect and be a valuable part of your business mission as your company evolves.

Here are some of the most impactful ways to stay engaged with the local community and enhance the community as a whole.

1. Sponsor non-profit organizations in the community.

Whether you are affiliated with a non-profit organization through your own personal efforts as an entrepreneur, or are simply looking for new ways to give back, consider sponsoring a worthy organization as a company. You could join events, like Startups Give Back, to connect with businesses that need your company’s help.

Many local organizations are looking for company sponsors to cover the costs of major events and some administrative expenses. They will do their part to promote your generosity through their marketing efforts, which can help you get more visibility in the community. You can also promote the organization in your own marketing collateral as a major sponsor.

2. Incorporate volunteering in the company mission.

Make a passion for social good part of your company’s mission so you and your employees can give back to the community together. Whether you are organizing food drives, volunteering at a soup kitchen or building houses, volunteering can create a sense of kinship and also serve as a team-building activity.

Consider organizing group volunteer sessions with your employees and encouraging team members to share their volunteer contributions with the rest of the staff. Encouraging a spirit of volunteerism and giving back within your mission statement – and through ways you operate as a company — can be beneficial to both team members and the community at large.

3. Design a business model that gives back.

If you are in retail or any other type of product sales business, consider donating a portion of the profits of each sale automatically.

If you are in the service business, you could design a business model that gives a portion of the proceeds to a charity or other non-profit organization. The goal is to automate the donation to a non-profit so that all customers and clients are aware that a portion of their purchase ends up with a good cause.

If your business can organically incorporate community enhancement into its ethos, that’s even better. The real estate industry is a natural candidate for such efforts, as developers have hands-on experience with neighborhood development projects and can take input from community representatives.

As your business gains momentum, you should consider branching out to more than one charitable organization or community project to serve as a philanthropist. As writer Annie Pilon explains in this article, “When you give to your community, the community tends to give back to you.”

4. Contribute to the local economy.

Make a commitment to buy supplies and raw materials from local vendors and partner with local businesses for any services and other business-related purchases.

Your purchases and investments will contribute to the local economy and may prompt business owners you work with to recommend you to other contacts or customers. Establish strong relationships with these vendors and partners as you develop and build your company to develop a solid reputation.

Opening new businesses or building new properties or even green spaces, like parks, can enhance a community by drawing in foot traffic and tourism. New visitors will patronize local businesses, stimulating the economy.

5. Promote local businesses.

In addition to being an active participant of the local economy’s ecosystem, you can take the lead on promoting other local businesses through co-marketing efforts or simply through referrals.

Encourage your customers to patronize local businesses that complement your’s, and they may even do the same in kind. The goal is to create a sense of community and camaraderie among other business owners since you are all invested in selling and marketing to the same customers.

Whether you work in technology, real estate or food service, there are various ways you can connect with the local community through your entrepreneurial venture. Showing your support for non-profits and community organizations can help you build value, both within the organization as you encourage a spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy, and with your customers as you show you are invested in your local community’s quality of life and future.

By |2018-10-31T18:00:26+00:00February 3rd, 2017|Philanthropy|

Why You Should Volunteer Before Launching Your Career

Volunteering can prepare young people for the world, both career-wise and on a personal level.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com

With the weight of the world’s future resting on modern students, young people are bombarded with advice from the get-go on college majors, internships, salaries and beyond. On some level, it’s understandable: this world is a competitive one and we all want success for ourselves, our families, our economy. But what if instead of entering the workforce with money and power as the only goal posts, our careers were informed by developing our more selfless interests, too?

For me, volunteering was not so much a choice I made than it was something I felt compelled to do, partly due to my Jewish heritage and partly due to my urge to make a difference. After joining Dartmouth College Hillel’s Project Preservation, I led two separate trips to Eastern Europe — Belarus and the Ukraine, respectively — where my classmates and I worked to rebuild Jewish cemeteries destroyed under Nazi occupation.

These trips were incredibly formative for me, perhaps more so than any classes I took during my college career. By the time I graduated and moved to New York to start my career in real estate, I better understood my abilities and instincts not only as a businessman but as a human.

Some people are so eager to get out there and start working their way up the corporate ladder that they forget to develop their sense of self. I think volunteering is one way to prepare young people for the world to come, both career-wise and on personal level. Here’s why:

Volunteering gives you a sense of perspective.

It’s easy to have an inflated sense of self-worth as a young person; some may even say it’s natural. But the last thing you want entering the workforce is to preserve this state of invincibility — you are not and never will be invincible. On a similar note, your problems are not the only ones that matter; the world can be your oyster if you want it to be, but it isn’t yours alone.

Volunteering knocked me down a couple of pegs. Knowing — and witnessing, via the destruction of their cemeteries — how the Jewish people suffered under Nazi occupation, my perspective on life was altered. It didn’t matter as much if a teacher, friend, or colleague didn’t like me. I could handle my personal and professional issues with a level head.

Most forms of volunteering involve providing aid to those in need. When you have the privilege to be on the helping side and not the needy side, you realize how blessed you are. This attitude goes a long way when you start your career without a chip on your shoulder.

It helps with time management.

Juggling volunteering with academics, family, and a social life was not an easy feat for me; nor I imagine would it be for anyone. One major reason people don’t volunteer is because they think they don’t have the time.

You could really make this excuse for anything: “I don’t have time to go to the gym,” some say, or “I don’t have time to cook.” True, some people may not have the time for volunteering, let alone other activities, but the truth is most of us can make time if we want to. This takes time management, and a lot of it.

Being able to juggle school with volunteering and an active personal life is good preparation for the workforce. Young professionals often get a grunt of the workload and are expected to handle it if they want to advance. Volunteering teaches you to manage your time in an organized way so that you can balance your priorities and still squeeze in the occasional happy hour.

You develop new skills and passions.

Few people choose organizations to volunteer for arbitrarily. Finding a philanthropy that fits your personality and values can be just as important as finding a career that does and I would make the case that finding the former first helps with the latter.

Through volunteering, I learned how to be a leader; I learned to value teamwork and collaboration. Looking back, I can also see the parallels between my volunteer work and the career I’ve built since then. In Eastern Europe I restored and rebuilt cemeteries to preserve their histories; today, I oversee real estate development and restorations in historic NYC neighborhoods. It’s not the same, but there are overlapping themes about preserving history and community I’d be foolish to deny.

People who volunteer with animals from a young age may find that they want to go into veterinary sciences, or they may simply develop a strong compassion for underdogs. People who help the homeless may pursue careers in government, or they may learn not to judge colleagues by their appearance or income level. Whether a big or small, the impact on your career is almost certain to be positive.

It looks great on a resume.

There’s no denying that for all of volunteering’s personal benefits, it’s also something that can boost your resume by adding experience and depth. Philanthropy helps candidates stand out to employers in a positive way, especially if the company is a socially-minded one looking for a cultural fit.

For me, volunteering was key to defining my professional and personal identity, a link without which the whole of my persona would not stay strong. Whether I knew it or not at the time, my experience became a critical foundation for my success today, defining both who I am and who I want to be.

By |2020-05-07T19:25:41+00:00January 26th, 2017|Philanthropy|

How Big Data Can Make Philanthropy More Effective

Corporations across America are already tapping into big data to analyze customer behavior, conduct market research at a whole new level, and seek out new revenue opportunities. There is no reason why philanthropic organizations — and donors — can’t do the same.

From reviewing an organization’s performance to determining where fundraising dollars are coming from, big data-based strategies could be a powerful addition to the nonprofit sector in upcoming years. With a wealth of data readily available in the digital space and the ease in which more can be collected from supporters, sponsors and other contacts in their network, many can formulate plans and initiatives that are largely data-driven.

Here are some insights about how big data can make philanthropy more effective:

Tracking Fund Allocation

Many philanthropic organizations and charities publish annual reports about their usage of funds and other financial information. While these financial reports are valuable to stakeholders and donors, it’s not always easy for the average donor to find this data when deciding which charity to donate to or when comparing worthy organizations.

With big data, we would be able to access a smartphone app or online dashboard to review this information in real-time. Imagine how much easier it would be to compare performance and review activities of a certain organization so that you could verify how funds are being allocated.

Marketing Planned Giving Programs

Attracting donors interested in planning giving initiatives can be easier and streamlined with big data. Organizations able to tap into market segments in a position to join a planned giving program  — based on certain conditions or factors, such as age, occupation, retirement status, donation history, or similar — would have more information at their disposal for their marketing database.

Such organizations could coordinate more targeted marketing efforts to appeal to these potential donors, reaching out at just the right time and creating campaigns that resonate with their audience. This way donors would receive more valuable and impactful marketing materials from philanthropic organizations.

Identifying Supportive Markets

No matter what the organization’s cause, recruiting supporters is critical to success. Marketing teams may be able to identify the most responsive or supportive markets using big data analysis. For example, an organization could track the total number of dollars donated to the organization from every single state to see if there are any noticeable trends or patterns. Analyzing what may be causing these disparities can help the organization fine-tune their marketing and fundraising efforts so they are not wasting marketing dollars. This type of data analysis can also help unveil untapped markets or opportunities.

Increasing Reach via Digital Platforms

Another element of marketing that almost all nonprofits have already moved forward with is social media. While any organization can set up a Facebook Page or Twitter account to promote their cause and engage donors and related organizations, it takes some analytical muscle to dig through the data and determine what types of activities are most effective on social media, and who exactly the organization can reach through its efforts.

Whether they are coordinating online giving programs or simply making announcements about the latest activities, increasing reach to the ever-growing audience on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram, can be a valuable addition to an organization’s marketing efforts. Big data can tell us what this audience looks like, what their interests are and how likely they may be in a position to give. Nonprofits can explore a variety of social media marketing initiatives based on this data, making those advertisements and updates that much more impactful when connecting with potential supporters.

Maybe you’re a board member of your favorite charity or are thinking about joining forces with a philanthropic organization in some other capacity. No matter what your role may be, executing an effective fundraising strategy will be a high priority. In today’s data-driven world, there are numerous opportunities for fine-tuning fundraising strategy using big data. From accurately tracking fund usage in real-time to benefiting from planned giving programs, big data is opening new doors in the nonprofit sector — it will change things for good, both literally and figuratively.

By |2018-10-31T17:46:00+00:00August 15th, 2016|Philanthropy, Technology|

ULI’s UrbanPlan: Creating Informed Citizens, In and Out of Classrooms

As a real estate industry insider, I’ve felt compelled and delighted to follow the Urban Land Institute and its endeavors closely. An independent, global nonprofit, ULI dedicates time and resources to supporting the entire spectrum of real estate development and land use disciplines in order to strengthen communities across America.

The real estate industry as of late has been striving for sustainability and local empowerment; ULI is representative of the space where the real estate business meets private and public community betterment. One ULI initiative I feel has a unique potential is UrbanPlan, which brings hands-on curriculum into high school and college classrooms to help students learn about — and participate in — the forces that shape community development.

UrbanPlan has been servicing youth for over a decade in schools across the country, and recently even further. Since its founding in partnership with the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley in 2003, it’s reached over 27,000 high school and university students in about 140 classrooms every academic year. This latest year, UrbanPlan operated in 36 high schools, ten universities, and even a pilot program for 90 pupils in the United Kingdom.

UrbanPlan is run by 13 ULI District Councils, which deliver the ULI mission at a local level to provide industry expertise to community leaders.

In 2010, UrbanPlan was selected by the George Lucas Educational Foundation (yes, that George Lucas) as one of 20 programs running in the US to spread awareness on innovative and effective educational programs, emphasis mine. Since kids are the future of our cities and communities, this is exactly the type of program that influences future leaders to care about intelligent land use.

How it works

What I find most interesting about UrbanPlan is that it’s not your everyday lecture; there are no textbooks, powerpoints or pop quizzes. Instead, the curriculum is immersive, allowing students to fill various roles and negotiate to solve problems — and turn profit — in fictional communities.

I think most of us can agree that the most fun and interesting classes back in the day were the ones that let us learn in the act of doing, rather than simple note-taking. What better way to get students interested in real estate development than to let them experience it for themselves?

Here’s a description of the program, from ULI’s website:

Student development teams respond to a “request for proposals” for the redevelopment of a blighted site in a hypothetical community. Each team member assumes one of five roles: finance director, marketing director, city liaison, neighborhood liaison, or site planner. Through these roles, students develop a visceral understanding of the various market and nonmarket forces and stakeholders in the development process. They must reconcile the often-competing agendas to create a well-designed, market-responsive, and sustainable project.

Once again, the emphasis is mine. With students taking on different roles, conflict, collaboration, and creativity can organically unfold. All the while, team members work together to design a project that fits the needs of the community and the market.

Teams present their final projects to “city council” of ULI members, who question teammates, deliberate, and award a “contract” to the winning proposal as a council would in reality.

The course is typically six weeks and a total of 15 hours long. And while it’s not designed to create a future generation of real estate developers — the skills go far beyond that, into general teamwork, marketing and economics — for those that may choose professions in this area, a robust understanding of the industry will be instilled.

Real results

While this sounds pretty interesting in theory, you may be wondering how it comes together in reality. The press has covered several cases, which report on how the UrbanPlan curriculum operated in real classrooms.

According to Paula Blasier director of San Francisco-based UrbanPlan, the program allows students that may not be top performers under traditional education models to excel. “All of a sudden, a kid discovers a whole new world, maybe even a possible profession, that requires a skill set they thought had no value,” Blasier said. This is because the activities require human skills that aren’t always used in classrooms.

Berkeley High School student Sofia Haas noted that the program helped her understand the complexity of development and the political trade-offs involved. “It was definitely challenging to have to make a profit on our product and try to keep true to our beliefs,” she said. “But those are the problems that face people who do this in the real world.”

Now, Haas is careful to take note of the little things in neighborhoods that were likely implemented carefully behind the scenes.

In Colorado, high school students found UrbanPlan was helpful for team building. It was also a great fit for Littleton High School’s curriculum, because it fit into the economic portion of students’ social studies requirements.

“When we first started, none of us really liked each other, but as time went on, we all stepped up and took on our roles,” student Ashley Winters said of the experience. “Everyone helped everyone else know what they were doing and what they were supposed to be talking about.”

Why it’s important

Since the US population is forecasted to grow by 60 million people in the next two decades, programs like UrbanPlan are critical in educating the next generation to be informed citizens able to handle population and community demands.

Blasier admits that one of the key benefits of UrbanPlan is preparing young people to be called upon for active roles in their communities — and that the forces that come into play in these decisions aren’t often taught in schools. “We wanted to provide the most realistic experience possible, but we also wanted a model that could be embraced by public schools nationwide,” she said. “We knew we had to make it not only engaging for the kids but teacher friendly as well.”

Ultimately, I believe that UrbanPlan is an innovative and highly useful educational approach that helps students understand the reality of the public, private, and political aspects of real estate and land development. The town in question may indeed by hypothetical, but the lessons are not. At the end of the day, immersive projects like this are the ones that stick and teach kids some of the most important responsibilities of adulthood.

Featured image: Sony Abesamis via Flickr


By |2020-05-07T19:52:58+00:00May 11th, 2016|Culture, Philanthropy, Urban Planning|

Have Smartphones Made Us More or Less Charitable?

In the minds of many, smartphones and narcissism go hand in hand, in pocket. From selfies to social media, mobile technology has become a digital extension of the physical self, or a means through which to carefully curate one’s personality and values. For some, this means mirror shots at the gym, brunch photographs, or vaguely political articles and memes. For others, it’s photos of missionary work, Kickstarter campaigns and philanthropy apps. Almost always, the aim is the same: to promote and enable an identity to be admired. Whether that identity is generous or conceited is up to the choices we make with the power of a million apps at our fingertips.

Where does charity fit into the smartphone experience, and does mobile technology actually encourage people to be more giving? It would be easy to assume that smartphones promote vanity above all else, an argument many have made while sneering at Snapchatting youngsters. Just consider the breadth of tools dedicated to selfies, the weight of likes and upvotes, and the shallow mentality of viral news trends.

At the same time, smartphones make donating easier than ever, to more causes than ever. This ability has been wildly impactful, if not only because the availability and simplicity of the tools that enable it.

The truth is complex — a little of this, a little of that, and a lot of speculation. It may just be that humans are both more charitable and more self-absorbed, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It may just be that the effects of smartphone ubiquity can steer us toward a greater good.

Cell phones and selfishness

We all can picture the stereotype of a grumpy teenager texting at the dinner table, oblivious to both conversation and food. This negative image isn’t completely without warrant: studies have shown that those that spent more time with smartphones were less socially minded. They are also less inclined to volunteer for community service compared to those without their noses in screens. The feeling of connectivity a phone provides, in theory, may in the moment feel like enough to replace physical connection. And so, when we’re digitally connected to our closest friends and family, the impulse to engage with or help outsiders diminishes. We remain glued to Instagram, instead of donating gifts to homeless shelters or building schools for kids.

This effect is called “virtual distance” by some analysts, and it has measurable impacts. The greater the distance, researchers have found, the more separated we become from those around us. We are less inclined to share our ideas, especially in the workplace. Smartphone usage also may prevent us from engaging with and helping others, whether out of distrust or isolation.


Photo: Brandon Warren via Flickr.

The point is, when technology is used as a default for human relations, it can be harmful to their ability to produce real-world benefits. The key is to step back from the digital distance and re-engage with the world, including strangers. For children growing up in the golden age of smartphones, this may be more difficult task than it is for today’s adults, who grew up in a less tech-driven era.

Because mobile apps let users create their own worlds with like-minded individuals and friends, people have a tendency to become more insular in their beliefs and interests. Within a carefully curated social group, there is little room for discovery or new ideas. This can make people less empathetic, and block access to new social causes. While the availability to expand our minds and hearts is greater with smartphones, there’s also just enough information to reinforce complacency.

That’s not to mention the instant gratification of smartphones, which can breed mindsets unwilling to embark on new and potentially difficult journeys without immediate returns. The ease of mobile technology makes delaying gratification harder; the gratification of charity, in comparison to a tangibility of a Seamless delivery, appears more abstract in value.

Whatever the cause, interest in volunteering and charity has seen a precipitous decline in America. Volunteering hit its lowest rate in a decade in 2013.

The case for mobile charity

Every factor that might contribute to a perceived selfishness and detachment among smartphone users can also be used to the benefit of charities worldwide. The trick is in the delivery and expression.

Giving is a social act. Mobile technology can fuel anti-social behavior, as detailed above, but in the digital realm it begets a whole new type of social behavior: social media. Online networks can have enormous reach, and facilitate the constant sharing of thoughts, ideas, and content. When this content is philanthropic in nature, the reach alone can prompt awareness and drive donation.


Researchers say there are three reasons people give: one, because they want to; two, because they think it’s valuable to do so; and three, as a form of showing off. The third reason is a significant one when it comes to mobile donation, which has in many ways become a form of social performance. Think of the ALS Icebox Challenge, which had participants pour icy water on their heads, or the no-makeup selfies for cancer awareness. Neither explicitly required donation, but both raised huge funds along with stroking the egos of the people that jumped on the bandwagon.

Instant gratification works in the favor of charity, too — mobile technology makes donating as easy as one or two taps. When Facebook implemented a “Donate Now” button for nonprofit pages, they positioned themselves to become a hub for online fundraising. Mobile-responsive crowd-funding also lets users get involved in peer-to-peer donation projects. These easy social options have been hugely successful so far on all digital platforms, including mobile.

Text message donations can also be made by smartphone owners — for example, in 2012, the Red Cross launched a donate-by-text initiative, generating $46 million in relief funds after a deadly earthquake in Haiti. Now, there are various SMS processes and campaigns people can use to text pre-set micro-donations to different causes.

Lastly, mobile technology opens completely innovative ways for people to donate to causes that catch their interest. Mobile app Instead let users make small donations in lieu of daily expenses like coffee; One Today showcases a different cause every day; and Tinbox donates money from corporate sponsors in exchange for ad placement on your phone.

What’s the verdict?  

By numbers alone, people are more charitable than ever. As the planet’s overall wealth amasses and spending increases, statistically more of this money goes to charitable causes (every year, more of these are made on mobile phones.) Americans give about 3 percent of their income to charity, and this figure has not changed in the decades before or after the smartphone’s rise.

Generally speaking, then, it’s rather dubious to claim that smartphones have changed our charitable virtues for better or worse. More accurately, they have changed not what we do, but how we do it. It just so happens that smartphones have the ability to amplify our actions ad infinitum.

That’s not to say that mobile technology doesn’t have its pitfalls in terms of the behavior it can bring out in users. It sometimes seems as if people have traded in working to help their actual communities in favor of their digital ones, at a loss to psychical spaces in need of extra hands. I think that we should all be careful to engage more with real people and their needs than we do with front-facing camera phones — this said, there is a lot of value behind screens in terms of reach and convenience.

Nonprofits should definitely lean into mobile donations and campaigns that jive with what’s shown to drive progress. It’s simple: Make it a selfie. Make it instant. Make it social. Heck, make it a game. These are the new vehicles of charity — and though may never replace soup kitchen style volunteering, they do work. We can only keep faith that the desire to give back remains part of the human DNA, not to be overwritten by iPhone coding.

Featured image: Jon Fingas via Flickr

By |2020-11-05T19:57:47+00:00January 28th, 2016|Philanthropy, Technology|

The Massive Impact of Effective Altruism Programs

The nonprofit industry has been growing exponentially over recent years but Effective Altruism programs have found a way to add an element to the historic practice of charitable giving.

The movement focuses on charitable giving guided by data meaning they measure where the most impactful organizations are and what causes need the most attention from a statistical standpoint.

The effect altruism approach has reached a handful of peaks that have amounted in bettered lives and helped established communities globally. Accomplishments like raising over $10 million dollars in funds for direct cash transfers to individuals living in impoverished countries are just an example of this movement’s collective impact Effective Altruist programs work in coherence to deliver amongst the values of this movement through their philanthropy. All programs that support this vision practice core beliefs like open-mindedness, critical thinking and global empathy in route to scale change to a larger level and measure the difference being made. A few organizations under the effective altruism movement include:


Started in 2007, GiveWell specializes is on identifying the most promising causes and charities to donate to. GiveWell is a part of the effective altruism movement and it’s been majorly effective in putting finances and useful attention towards notable causes with productive organizations. In August 2014, GiveWell announced “Open Philanthropy Project” for exploration of more speculative causes. The Open Philanthropy Project is the collaborative bridge between GiveWell and Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation founded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife.

Giving What We Can

Founded in November 2009, Giving What We Can is a community of people interested in maximizing the good they can do implement in emerging markets specifically for global poverty. GWWC largely banks on the research done by organizations like GiveWell that evaluate the actual effectiveness of nonprofits.

80,000 Hours

80,000 Hours is a UK-based organization that conducts research on careers with positive social impact. The name represents the 80,000 hours a healthy person will work in their career lifetime.

The group emphasizes that the positive impact of choosing a certain occupation should be measured by the amount of additional good that is done as a result of this choice. It considers indirect ways of making a difference, such as donating via your job’s salary, but direct giving is still a focus of theirs as well. 80,000 Hours is run by the charity the Centre for Effective Altruism. There are more effective altruist organizations to fill the roster and each has contributed to the amazing accomplishments that this movement stands by.

It’s hard to believe that such a community of nonprofits only began a few years ago but the positive impact has reached very monumental goals. Over $350 million dollars pledged to evidence based global poverty interventions via GWWC. GWWC, in efforts with SCI, also helped deworm over 4 million school children by way of funding through their platforms. GiveWell and Against Malaria Foundation provided financing for over 1 million bed nets to protect against malaria in needing places.

These causes have been identified by effective altruist supporters as global problems that need positive change and this movement allows such organizations to do said things at a massive level. With such large donations for direct impact, the change being implemented is clearly being scaled to a more macro approach.

These achievements are thanks to the many effective altruism teams across the world. The community includes the founders of Paypal and Skype; over 20 companies and a global network of prestigious educational communities – including students and professors students from institutions such as Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford and Stanford. Effective altruist organizations have done a spectacular job standing behind a vision of impactful giving to the most needing causes and collaboratively they’ve done that at a bigger scale.

By |2022-04-12T19:26:31+00:00October 20th, 2015|Philanthropy|

How Charities Use Data to Save Lives

Philanthropic organizations have been put under the microscope lately as people who actively donate want more transparency into where their donations are going. Direct giving is a practice that approaches philanthropy with that exact purpose and, naturally, more and more foundations are starting to participate.

The premise behind GiveWell and other like organizations is that they provide transparency to the donation process. GiveWell vets charities who may receive their grants through a strict application process. Not only has GiveWell created a library of worthy charities, it also helps donors decide where they’ll contribute based around GiveWell’s analysis.

Effective Altruism doesn’t only create a positive trend just for impoverished communities, it also does so for the entire business of philanthropy.

How GiveWell got started and established

GiveWell is arguably the most prominent nonprofit involved in the development of emerging markets and a notable proponent of effective altruism. GiveWell specializes in giving contributors the best opportunities and details so that they can donate where they see the best fit. Their organization has put a priority on conducting deep research into the impact of programs; measured by the lives they’ve saved and communities they’ve changed per dollar spent. But GiveWell only deals with the most notable charities so that donors give to the best of the best.

GiveWell’s intent is to analyze charities by quantifying their effectiveness so that donors have the most insight when giving. Started as a group of donors, this nonprofit began with giving founders who wanted their charitable efforts to be put towards good use.

The organization’s top charities influence some of the most effective initiatives – Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, and Deworm the World Initiative are just a few under GiveWell’s direction. These charities allow GiveWell donors to contribute towards different causes or through different methods of donation. Take GiveDirectly for example, their charity allows cash transfers to households in developing countries through a mobile phone payment service. But GiveDirectly is only one of the many effective programs under the umbrella.

Although GiveWell is one of the founding fathers of this type of nonprofit, it supports a much bigger cause in effective altruism.

Effective Altruism

The quickly growing social movement, effective altruism, is a household name in the nonprofit community. The ideology focuses on charitable giving guided by data. Effective Altruist organizations & projects have the goal of making a massive and efficient impact, something that GiveWell and other nonprofits perpetuate well.

The effect altruism approach has reached a handful of peaks that have amounted in bettered lives and improved communities worldwide. Over $10M in funds raised for direct cash transfers to individuals living in impoverished countries via GiveWell and GiveDirectly’s services. That accomplishment is matched by five others of that caliber that attend to funding for deworming of school kids, global poverty interventions and more honorable causes.

EA organizations fight to make charitable morality more effective and impactful. Bringing a data analysis approach to charities shows donors where their money is actually impacting the causes at hand. The philanthropic landscape is moving more towards this method as it presents a better use of funds in a more streamlined process.

By |2018-10-31T15:46:06+00:00October 12th, 2015|Philanthropy|
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