A Killer App for Philanthropy

A killer app (application) is a piece of software that is so fantastic that it drives uptake of the hardware needed to run the software. For many people email was the killer app that drove regular computer use in the 90’s.

So what’s the killer app for engaged philanthropy?

What is the activity that will drive uptake of the “operating system” of engaged philanthropy? Email was a killer app because it was hugely useful and it got people to log onto their computer multiple times a day. It spurred the need for a home computer (or more than one once a family of four all had their own email accounts) for purely personal use. Email was a killer app because by itself it made people want and need a computer. But the real impact of email wasn’t just that it let people communicate easily. It also got them on the computer where they quickly picked up all sorts of other activities that they never would have bought a computer for on their own.

In my recent post about Kiva.org, I called the organization a “gateway drug to social investing”. My point is that Kiva.org is hooking people who do not participate in engaged philanthropy. But once exposed to microfinance, Kiva users suddenly become much easier to convert to other social investing activities. Kiva or more generally, well designed microfinance, may be emerging as a killer app.

So my question today is what program, activity or entity has the potential to be a killer app that drives a larger uptake of engaged philanthropy?

Here’s one idea.

Donor advised funds: With the minimum to open a donor advised fund falling to just $5,000, many, many Americans now have the ability to financially structure their philanthropy. Just like the emergence of IRAs and 401ks in the early 1980’s drove the explosion of individual investors in the stock market, DAFs have the potential to do something similar for philanthropy. But it seems to me that for DAFs to become a killer app, someone needs to launched a better designed DAF that provides a more tangible “story” that connects donors to grantees much the way Kiva’s “journals” connect lenders and borrowers.

How else might DAFs be redesigned so that they become a killer app for philanthropy? What other ideas do you have for potential killer apps?


  1. Jeffrey Berlin says:

    As usual, compelling stuff Sean. I can’t wait until your questions becomes answered at the bottom of this post.

  2. I guess it is a hard question, huh? Any ideas Jeffrey?

  3. Mazarine says:

    Here’s the killer app for Kiva!

    It’s, as usual, a mix of different elements.
    1, A nonprofit blog.
    2. A dedicated team of nonprofit storytellers,
    3. A donation thermometer
    4. An optimized nonprofit website/social media campaign.

    Get a nonprofit to make a donation thermometer for each program, and write a compelling description for each program.

    Blog about each program and its story consistently. Each program should have a new story once a month, at least. Post this on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    See the results! Mercycorps has been doing this for some time and it really works for them.


  4. Bill Hewitt says:

    As CMO for a technology company delivering turnkey private-labeled charitable solutions to our clients, I can tell you that the vision you have is not a futuristic one but in fact a reality today.

    Directly to your point, the DonorFirst platform is the first DAF solution in the market that facilitates the direct online acknowledgement of gifts by the grantees to the donors. A grantee can now express immediate appreciation for, and provide use-of-funds information (including photos or video) to a donor or family – even if they have chosen to remain anonymous – through the donors personal online ‘donor dashboard.’

    We have also taken major steps toward making the DAF accessible to a much broader charitable audience by supporting the reduction of initial minimum contributions down to a level that a recent Fortune 500 client is now capable of supporting payroll deductions as a funding source for their individual employee DAF accounts.

    As far as other ‘killer-app’ ideas, what about a platform that supports visibility into a families multiple charitable accounts, not just DAF – such as the family foundation assets, trusts, or CGAs? Add to that the ability for a multi-generational family to communicate and collaborate online with each-other and with each of their charitable advisors (financial, tax, legal), and all within their secure personal philanthropic dashboard. Those capabilities and more, are available today.

    We firmly believe in the potential for DAF programs to achieve the recognition and adoption rates that other financial instruments have achieved, and the ability of these programs to deliver the levels of grantee transparency and engagement that have been lacking for decades is a crucial step in that direction.

    Keep up the great and thought provoking posts – excellent work!

  5. Bill, I thought about your platform as I was writing this post. Just might be a killer app!

  6. Soji Elias says:

    How do I subscribe shouldI want to be kept posted by you? Pls reply to soji@olusojieliascounsel.com