Trust in What You Give

Tehran: donation box

At any time the average urban Iranian is within a few meters of a collection box like the one pictured – the larger model can be found at regular intervals on most pavements and its smaller cousin is frequently found on shop walls. A snap assumption would be that their frequency is indicative of the nature of giving in Iranian society, but is it really so? Does the tangible reminder to give translate into actual giving?

It’s partly an issue of trust – to what extent do you trust that the money that is placed in the collection box ends up in the hands of those for whom it is intended? Street crime is an issue in Tehran – I’d guess from the way people behave, carry and interact with the objects they carry it is similar to London in its intensity. To a thief the charity box represents an-hoc 24 hour loose change machine – to be carried off, forced open or, given the volume of keys that must be out there, simply unlocked.

And supposing you trust that the money is affectively collected by the, um, money collector, do you trust that it is put to good use? How transparent is the collection, distribution and application of those monies?

Fast forward to our naturally future perfect, where you carry the real time means to browse, preview, pay, track, and in the case of digital goods and services, receive and store what you buy i.e. through a personal mobile device. What new ways of charity giving does this enable? What is the personal mobile device equivalent of putting a few pennies in a collection box? A pre-loaded Give Now application – simply select a charity an amount and press send where the results are billed to your account? Or donations triggered by the tasks you complete – every time game played results in a 10 cent donation. Even matched funding according to how much you spend on your phone bill, assuming of course calls are not already free by then.

But as with the collection boxes on the streets of Tehran, how sure are you that your digital donation is actually being put to good use? Whom do you trust to administer the money collection service? A Vodafone, MTN or Cingular? A Motorola, Samsung or Nokia? An HSBC or CitiBank? Or a charity branded application or service?

And given that donations can be tracked to what extent do you, or for that matter the charity, want to highlight exactly when and how the money is spent?