Directly inspired by Scott Smith's excellent brainstorming game at #M4ChangeUK.
A team consisting of myself, Luke Razzell, Improbulus, Karina Brisby, Priya Prakash, and a few other lovely people whose names have slipped my mind were tasked with finding a way to raise money for clean water. Specifically targeting families and using mobile payments.
- The ability to donate your unused minutes to charity. Text "10" to NNNNN to donate 10 minutes to help dig a well.
- Feedback from the project. "Since digging the well, 500 people have got access to clean water".
- Rewards for donating. Free ringtone, a wallpaper of your project, mobile videos. Possibly even extending to tax benefits.
- Social Network. "@edent just donated 15 minutes to build a water sanitation plant. Donate by texting ....."
- Ensuring local people are employed to staff the project - giving training in building, maintaining and IT skills
Here's how it looked when we were done with it.
There are two end goals
- You see a poster which says "It takes 6 hours to drill a well. Donate 10 minutes - text 10 to [SHORTCODE]".
- You text "Unused" to [SHORTCODE], any unused minutes at the end of the month get donated to charity.
I was really excited with what we'd come up with in just 30 minutes. However, it's not all plain sailing.
What constitutes "unused" minutes, what are they worth, how are they donated?
With pre-pay, you may only have a set time period in which you can use your credit. If your credit expires after, say, 30 days, that amount is donated to the charity.
The "donation" question is quite easy. If you have £9.37 on your account and you donate £1.00, you're left with £8.37 to spend.
The "minutes" question is quite tricky. On some plans, the first few minutes are charged at a high rate, subsequent minutes at a lower one. Minutes to mobile phones are often cost more than to landlines. How do we get a standard definition of what a minute is in order that donors understand how much they're spending?
The "minutes" question is easy. You have a plan which gives you 600 minutes, you donate 10 minutes, you're left with 590 minutes until the end of the month. If you go over 590 minutes you're charged your out of bundle rate (making a nice little earner for the operator).
The "worth" question is trickier. If you have a £35 plan which gives you 500 minutes domestic calls, 100 minutes international calls, 700 text, 500MB data, and insurance - how much is one minute worth? To you it's simple - fewer minutes on your plan. But how much is given to the charity?
The "donation" question is also tricky. If your plan includes different types of minutes - domestic, mobile, international, video calling - from which class is the donation taken?
[Disclaimer: I work for Vodafone Group - this is my personal blog. All opinions are my own and represent no one other than myself. I really have very little idea how operators plan their airtime budgets]
MNOs (Mobile Network Operator) get some great benefits from a scheme like this. The good PR that comes with highly visible CSR is one - the fact that charitable donations can be tax deductible is another.
Again, there are some downsides.
The main problem comes with unused credit. I am sure (but I don't categorically know) that MNOs budget for the average user only utilising 80% of their inclusive minutes. Most people err on the side of caution and will take more minutes than they'll actually use to ensure they don't get bill-shock.
(No doubt there are some customers who regularly exceed their inclusive allowance - but they can't donate what they've already used!)
So the customer thinks they're paying £30 for 600 minutes (5p per minute) whereas the operator knows that they'll probable only use 480 minutes (so they're being charged 6.25ppm). Is an operator really going to be happy donating £6 (5p * 120 unused minutes) from their profit margin every month? Probably not. Even the tax breaks won't help there.
For that reason, I think donating "unused" minutes as cash idea is probably a non-starter. It's the most attractive - you literally do nothing and you get to make a donation - but it directly attacks the MNOs business model.
We've already discussed how much a minute is worth. Perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to charge customers - pre-pay and contract for the donation. If a contract customer donated 10 minutes, she find an extra £1.50 charge on her phone bill that month?
Perhaps the "unused" minutes could be donated to the charity in the form of minutes. Literally. You donate 10 minutes, the charity has 10 minutes worth of calls wiped from its monthly phone bill. The MNO gets to write off the bill to charity, the charity has money freed up for good causes.
I'm going to be thinking more about this issue throughout the week - I really want to take this idea further. I'd welcome any thoughts, feedback or criticism.