How to use software to bring transparency to the act of donating

To donate is to basically cast a vote in favor of a better future. In much the same way as voting, the current method of donating pretty much everywhere is highly based on trust. Trust that the donation funds will be used wisely, effectively and produce tangible benefits for the communities that they are intended for. However, there is absolutely no mechanism in place that guarantees that. This fact — added to the frequent media coverage on corruption cases, embezzlement and misuse of funds — creates a scenario where most potential donors shy away from donating. But there are ways we can help change that that scenario.

Let’s work on a solution that brings full accountability and transparency to the flow of donated funds. It needs to be a simple idea and it needs to be easy for all stakeholders to adhere to: donors, NGOs and community representatives.

I would like to share the concept of a ‘Donation Tracking API’:

“It’s a free, open-sourced global accountability Application Programming Interface for metadata assignment and tracking of donation funds”.


How does it work?

It’s basically a piece of middleware software that sits in between the user’s donation and the destination NGO’s fund system, through which all donations are automatically tagged with relevant metadata (unique id, origin, amount, project, GPS location, etc) that allows the donation to be fully tracked from its origin to its final destination, be it communities in need, NGO operations, etc. Much like web data packets and shipment boxes, donations will now be assigned unique traceable codes that will show the donors where they have been used and to what purpose they were assigned for.


Why would the involved stakeholders adhere to it?

• For the donor, it won’t require any additional effort, and they will be rewarded the added security of tracking their donations at any point they would like, in the same way you can when tracking a parcel through a logistics company’s website;

• For the NGO, adhering to this new standard will grant them a seal of approval from a global community that is bound to attract more donors because of its enhanced accountability;

• For the local community representatives, it will ensure that funds earmarked by NGOs operating in their areas reach their agreed final destination. Currently, without the transparency that this system will now provide, the communities are not part of the process of accountability for the projects that they have a crucial stake in.


Why do we expect to succeed?

It would be the first time the idea of an application programming interface is applied to the issue of donation (we think), and we feel that a community-owned, open sourced approach would guarantee that all stakeholders feel like they are part of the solution. By applying code and software expertise to this problem, we might be close to shifting the sector to a complete new paradigm of transparency and accountability.


How do we expect to make this happen?

First, a public-facing website;

This deliverable will make the donation tracking API available and explains the overall concept behind it, who are the stakeholders and companies behind the effort and what are the measures to consider this project a success; This website will also be the main awareness element of the campaign, to which all people will be directed to for more information, updated content, sign up and engagement;

Second, the code development of the application programming interface solution itself;

This part will demand most of the development team’s effort: we will need to first research how NGOs are commonly using accounting methods and mold a solution that doesn’t create a huge disruption from their current methods, which is critical for the success of the idea.

Third, we need to prototype and test the web tool;

Conceptually it works in a similar fashion to a web payment gateway like PayPal, Stripe or Google Checkout, with the additional element of marking and tracking the path of the donation fund throughout its entire lifecycle. This can be done by assigning unique metadata to each system input, and making sure that the funds can only be outputted by the NGOs if proper objectives are assigned. The community representatives will play the role of auditors in this process.


What kind of feedback are we looking for?

• We’d like to map out detailed scenarios on how different NGOs manipulate, receive, extract and keep track of their available funds;

• We’d like to create a database of international NGOs (and their representatives) that might be interested in testing out the donation tracking application first hand;

• We’d like to have the donation tracking application tested by a selection of donors and measure their response to this new approach in comparison to donors who have relied on current donation systems.


What would be the next steps?

• To fully build the donation tracking system and make it available to a larger audience through the website;

• To scope and plan for launch in additional languages;

• To generate and execute a communication awareness plan for this new application and its website;

• To enlist a handful of large, high-visibility NGOs to sign up for the system and vouch for it;

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This essay was originally published on November 8th on Medium


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