Thursday, August 18, 2011

Morals and Money - Part Three

(Everyone else is talking about Jumo and GOOD. You can read about that here, here, here, and here.)

Less than twenty four hours after @jonathanscard closed up shop I was alerted to two other similar "money sharing," pay-it-forward efforts. I've posted about this online experiment in money and morals here and here, and those posts include lots of links to the online conversations and commentary about the issue.

The two other efforts brought to my attention include Talk About Design's Pay-it-Forward card, about which I've been unable to get any information (emails have gone unanswered) and the Toledo-based Pay-it Forward Card.

Talk about Design's card is basically @jonathanscard without an API showing the card balance, which they seem to think was the cause, or at least the opportunity, for Sam Odio to "repurpose" the original @jonathanscard from coffee purchases to charitable giving, and which precipitated Starbucks shutting down the experiment.

The Toledo Pay-it-Forward card appears to be a mashup of several trends - embedded giving, localism, fundraising, alternative currencies, and mobile money. It uses a dedicated frequent buyer's card that encourages local merchants and consumers to support local causes by putting the whole transactional loop on a single bar code and provides "cash back" discounts from small businesses that are then passed on to charities.

These are both experiments in morals and money - but the variables are quite different from the @jonathanscard experiment. The "coffee/charity cards" are about sharing among strangers; the "Toledo" card is about encouraging communities to support themselves. The experimental elements of all this that I am particularly interested in, and that I think bear watching from a social economy/philanthropy perspective are:
  • How does our behavior about money change as it becomes more and more virtual? (Ask yourself - do you handle cash and credit card purchases differently? Is one more "real" than the other? If the act of paying for something becomes even more "frictionless" than credit cards - how will your behavior change?)
  • All things being equal, do we "shop" (give coffee) the same way as we "give" (donate to charity)? If not, how are these act different and how do the countless efforts in expanding online giving need to be different from other online transactions. If you want to, you may know ask yourself - why didn't Jumo take off? Is it because our giving behaviors are somehow different enough from our other social behaviors (including shopping) that we can't simply export the tools from one sphere to another and expect them to work?
  • If giving becomes even more embedded in other financial transactions, what is gained and what is lost?
  • What other experiments that use these kinds of mobile, frictionless currency might be undertaken specifically with regard to shared social goods? What about sharing electronic books? Paying forward the price of museum admissions? For those lucky enough to have health insurance (US relevant only), what if your doctor visit co-pay was used to help pay for your uninsured neighbor to get preventive care, keeping them out of the ER and lowering tax burden of public health costs?
  • Where does "really virtual money" fit into all this? What about Linden dollars in Second Life, BitCoin, FarmVille, and Facebook Credits?
  • Will money ever be the same?


Sharif Youssef said...

Jumo along with hand fulls of other social ventures suffer from the age old problem of chicken and egg. Empowering people to make a difference when a story just breaks to worthwhile causes is an important step for philanthropy. The acquisition of Jumo by GOOD is a step in the right direction.

James said...

The cards you list are nonbranded show and save cards that cost the merhant an upfront cost they don't need to pay. To really work in what we refer to as a macrofundraising transaction, everybody has to see an immediate reward. Because new access to branded, networked spending platforms are now available that can be picked up profitably by local banks and credit unions the issuing of new cards isn't necessary. Using debit cards as the vehicle, is proving this to be completely workable and beneficial with community npos, merchants and cardholders in their beta test in Iowa. Soon, seamless giving will be dovetailed with seamless spending and getting from people who only need to elect to participate.