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Simple ways to give back this holiday season with your phone
Some Brigham Young University AdLab students produced a video about charitable giving. - photo by Amy Iverson

December is a crazy busy time of shopping, parties and dance recitals. But in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, Americans still find the means to give to those less fortunate.

People in the U.S. have given more and more each year in recent memory, setting a record in 2015 for charitable giving. The National Philanthropic Trust reports Americans gave $373.25 billion to charities last year. And chalk another one up for cellphones, because Blackbaud a company that serves 35,000 nonprofits reports donations by phone are making a showing at 17 percent.

Many of us are looking for a way to give back, to make the world a better place, but we feel our time is so limited. Some people manage to set aside enough time to serve meals at a homeless shelter, or to make quilts for a childrens hospital.

But what if you didnt? What if you only have an extra $2? Can you still make a difference?


It has never been easier to give to organizations that benefit those who need it. With the tap of a button on our devices, we can steer funds to charities we hold dear to our hearts. Digital options make it simple to get the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping others within seconds.

Venmo: We use Venmo to pay back our friend for lunch or concert tickets, but did you ever think of using it to give to charity? Thats exactly the idea some Brigham Young University AdLab students had when thinking of how young people who never carry cash could help the homeless. AdLab is a student-run, professionally mentored ad agency that came up with the idea that we can be #CashlessNotHeartless.

The students put an ad together it has more than 50,000 views already with people holding cardboard signs along Center Street in Provo. BYU advertising professor Jeff Sheets says the messages represent the inner monologue of thoughts weve all had when seeing homeless people: I have no cash or Where would the money go? Sheets says the message is clear: Instead of giving to the homeless directly, give to the community-based group that can help everyone directly.

The answer is to search for @FoodandCare on Venmo and send digital funds to the Food and Care Coalition. In the 20 minutes it took to film the ad, people driving by donated more than $200. After the video went live, the Food and Care Coalition saw the number of individual donations immediately go up. It received $2,000 in one day, when there were zero donations in the days prior.

Charity Miles: Heres a way to give back while getting rid of a little of your backside. Choose an organization on the GPS-enabled app and corporate sponsors will give cash to that organization for every mile you run, bike or walk. Choose from charities like Stand Up to Cancer or the Wounded Warrior Project to receive the donations. Its not a ton of cash 25 cents per mile run and 10 cents per mile biked but if youre exercising anyway, why not let big businesses like Chobani and Humana give to charity on your behalf?

Coin up: I know several families that collect all their spare change in a jar and then put it toward something they care about. This secure app is a digital way of doing just that. It lets you choose a charity like the Family Justice Center or Boys and Girls Clubs of America. After you connect a debit or credit card, itll round up every purchase you make to the nearest dollar and give the extra change to that charity. Coin up takes a minimal fee for operating costs, and you can set a monthly donation limit.

Cell Phones for Soldiers: Instead of using your phone to donate, you can also simply donate your phone. Cell Phones for Soldiers will recycle that phone and use the money along with other donations to provide international calling cards to military members and veterans. Two young people started Cell Phones for Soldiers in 2004. Robbie and Brittany Bergquist were just 12 and 13 years old when they decided to find a way to give cost-free communication services to the troops. You can mail your smartphone or tablet or simply drop them off at an official location. For every $5 donated, a service member will receive 2.5 hours of talk time, a free way to connect with home.

Sometimes we feel we are too busy or dont have enough money to give to others during the holidays. Nonsense. We can all give back, and our phones make it simpler than ever.