I have always liked to raise money for charity through sport and physical activity. I have memories from my school days of going round with a sponsorship form for a swim or walk and I am sure most people have done that at some time or other. Of course,today the sponsored event has now reached a new level with the likes of the London Marathon and other similar events being industrial scale money raising machines. Surely this is a good thing and indeed, I have sought sponsorship for marathons, half marathons, stair races and goodness knows what else. However, in some ways I am a little bit uneasy about all this because at the end of the day, my “fundraising” is all about the generosity of my friends, family and work colleagues; all I am doing is something I enjoy. Of course there is nothing wrong with drawing attention to good causes but I have always striven not to let my participation in sponsored events be a substitute for my own giving. I also don’t like to overstretch things and have over several years rationed myself to one event per year.
Is there a better way of converting my activity into money for charity? Is there some means by which I can raise money for say, the British Heart Foundation without having to rely on the sponsorship of my friends? Recently I have noticed a number of smartphone apps emerge, which promise various types of rewards linked to physical activity, could I use this to raise money?
The first of these I downloaded is Bounts, presumably a clever play on the words Bounty and Bounce. You get points for steps and activity logged by other apps on your smartphone like Strava. Points are also added if you visit certain fitness related locations such as gyms. When you have accumulated points you can spend them on various offers and the promise is that these are more than superficial discounts and include real cash equivalent vouchers you can spend in major high-street names including M&S. The reality however, is that it feels very much like a “daily deals” service; the big name offers like M&S always seem be “sold out” which tells me that these are available to the system in very small numbers. My guess is that this is because either the “big names” are using it as a promotional vehicle or Bounts itself is funding a small number of “real deals” out of its revenue. What revenue? you ask and this is where some of Bount’s business model gets exposed. With the free service you can collect only up to 15 points per day whereas if you take the ‘premium’ service at £1.49 per month you can collect up to 180!
Now for the charity deal – one of the ways you can earn Bounts points is from raising money for charity – specifically Cancer Research UK which has a partnership with Bounts. You can also donate Bounts points to CRUK and I was curious as to what they would do with such a gift and what value they would gain. What Bounts told me is that gifted Bounts points would be used by the charity to incentivise others to give and fundraise. The problem I have here is that it implies that the Bounts points given out by the charity as an incentive aren’t “new Bounts” but those recycled by givers. I can’t see the “donate your points” to CRUK being popular enough to sustain that and so I am afraid I smell a rat. The bottom line is that I am not convinced that a donation of say, 100 Bounts points to Cancer Research UK is valuable enough to bother!
The second app I looked at was Sweatcoin, a play on the word “Bitcoin” (which is a real live viable digital currency). You get .95 of a Sweatcoin for every 1,000 “outdoor” steps you take and this is capped at 5,000 steps per day. Again there is a premium service but this time you can pay in Sweatcoins so for example you can increase your earning power to 10,000 steps per day for 4.75 Sweatcoins per month. This is quite a good deal because with this first premium level, the whole monthly fee would be covered by the additional earning power exploited on just one day! The “deals” are similar to those available using Bounts – daily deals and things like “free months gym membership” which is a pretty standard promotion you expect from gyms (for free). Because Sweatcoin isn’t collecting hard cash from members, it won’t have a revenue stream to subsidise deals and presumably therefore it is relying on the promotional attraction to get sellers to offer deals.
The Charity offer with Sweatcoin is more interesting. An company in india (Aarti Industries) will convert Sweatcoins to 7.5 Indian Rupees (worth about 10p) and give it to a charity dealing with the needs of drought stricken agricultural communities in India (the Naam Foundation). Presumably this comes from the company’s “corporate social responsibility” budget so its not clear to what extent the Sweatcoins actually generate new giving but hay, if I generate 10 Sweatcoins in a day, that translates to £1 going to help a troubled community in India. This is a more tangiable donation than the Bounts deal. I can’t control which charity my donation goes to but it’s better than nothing.
I have left the most interesting scheme to last. I heard about this a year ago and registered an interest. Bitwalking is a company that aims to create a fully-fledged digital currency that can be “mined” by walking or running. Bitwalking comes with high ideals, they cite equality and have a principal “a step is worth the same value for everyone – no matter who you are, or where you are”. The aim also is high, to end up with a real currency, something that can be freely converted into things like GB Pounds and US Dollars or used for payment for “hard” goods and services (not just special deals). This might sound like a pipe dream but its modelled on Bitcoin, a real virtual currency that is “mined” (i.e. created) using heavyweight computer power. Bitwalking seems to be happening at walking pace; people in the UK had to wait a year for availability and even now, its only available on Android. At the moment in the UK you can only generate Bitwalking Dollars (W$), you can’t spend or exchange them; they are for the time being locked in your electronic wallet. In Latin America there is a charity partnership with Nokia (now part of Microsoft) which is converting W$ into US dollars for educational projects so there is obviously some traction in other parts of the world. There is a maximum accumulation rate of 3 W$ per person per day which isn’t really a hardship because you need to run about 10 miles to get 1 W$. Will this take-off, will it get real? I have no idea but I am accumulating W$ just in case. Fortunately I have access to an Android phone but I expect it will need to be on iOS as well to get UK acceptance.
If Bitwalking succeeds then generating or “mining” the currency will be doing the same as a central bank when it “prints” currency (e.g. Quantitative Easing) only on a micro-scale. This doesn’t actually create wealth (you need to create value by making/selling something or delivering a service to do that) but does stimulate economic activity. Printing money actually dilutes wealth or you could say redistributes it and so giving individuals the means to print limited amounts is a progressive concept.
So, where does that leave me in my search for a better way of raising money from my running exploits? The jury is still out on the long term viability of these points and currency apps. However, for the time being I shall carry on collecting Sweatcoins and Bitwalking Dollars in the hope that by doing so I can create more opportunities for doing good things. If I can find a really good scheme then it might be worth starting a team fundraising event; if you have say 100 runners running 100 miles in a month then using the Sweatcoin model that could be equivalent to raising £1,000 and no-one has to raise a penny of sponsorship from their friends!
“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” Proverbs 13:11 NIV