Gone for Good, a smartphone app designed to make giving unwanted goods to charity easier, was developed by Reason Digital, a social enterprise setup to make digital do good. In this article we interview co-founder Ed Cox to find out how the app came about, and what impact it’s having.

How did you come up with the idea of the app?

The idea was brought to us by someone who works in van rentals in the charity sector. The technology used in vans uncovered the fact that some donations to charity shops being picked up by volunteer van drivers wasn’t actually making it to the charities and was instead being stolen or swapped out for inferior goods by some rogue drivers. Instances of theft in the charity sector is actually higher than in the private retail sector and is stopping money going to good causes. We decided to build an app to increase the likelihood of donations arriving at charity shops while making it easy for charity supporters to donate pre-loved items as it is to donate cash.

Who’s on the development team and what are their backgrounds?

Our development team have come from local digital agencies, from digital teams within charities and homegrown talent from local universities. They’ve worked on projects for a diverse range of charities and are experts in User Experience design, web development, project management, social research and digital marketing.

We believe that the people most suited to solving the biggest social problems are the ones experiencing those problems.

Our team have designed and developed for a range of social causes, using technology to tackle such questions as “how do we make sex workers safer by reducing instances of violence and rape against them?”, “how do we reduce slips, trips and falls in older people to help them keep healthier and happier (and alive!) longer?” , “how do we get help and support to more children at risk of abuse when helplines don’t have enough volunteers to answer every call they receive?”

We ask these questions to the people and the organisations we’re trying to help, using human-centred design principles and co-production techniques. We believe the people most suited to solving the biggest social problems are the ones experiencing those problems. We also find that people may have already fixed their problem in their communities but need technology to scale it to more people or to other communities.

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What was your process for getting charities on board?

We wanted to work with the charities that had the biggest reputation and the largest number of charity shops, as this would increase the chances of someone accepting a donation regardless of where in the UK they were using the app. We met with representatives from the UK’s major charities to talk about their issues in terms of accepting donations at charity shops, managing stock, dealing with goods that couldn’t be re-sold, through a number of focus groups where we presented initial ideas. We then iterated through designs, reporting changes back to the charities and repeating the process.

We found that once a handful of charities had signed up, others were more likely to join as the concept had been validated.

We found that once a handful of charities had signed up, others were more likely to join as the concept had been validated by large, well-respected charity brands and so Gone for Good was a good way to be seen as a peer to these charities and to compete for donations on a level playing field.

Were there any technical or political challenges with pitching or developing Gone for Good?

One of the biggest technical challenges was designing a data structure that could take information about charity shops from a broad number of national and local charities that collected and stored data in different ways – particularly how they classified the types of goods they could accept. It made selecting a list of donation types quite challenging, but we were able to map several different categories to a relatively small selection to make things as easy as possible for the end user.

One of the biggest technical challenges was designing a data structure that could take information about charity shops from a broad number of national and local charities.

Charity shops also have a very diverse range of different processes for responding to donation offers and managing collections – sometimes centralised and sometimes managed at the local shop level – which can make the experience inconsistent for the app’s end users. For example, donating goods to one local charity may be an easier or quicker experience than donating to another. We’re currently working on making a more consistent experience by looking at how the app and platform can support and improve charity shops’ existing processes.

How much, in donations, has the app raised?

Cash equivalent of donations to charity is estimated at around £750k so far.

How did you fund this app? Do you plan to monetize, and how?

The app was initially funded with money by private investors and a loan through the Key Fund. Certain charities have funded additional functionality to make the app more useful to them or more suited to their needs once the idea had been tried and tested and was in use by the public.

We’re currently monetising by charging charities a small referral fee for each donation they accept. We’re currently looking into other monetisation opportunities such as advertising, sponsorship and corporate partnerships.

How can creative designers and programmers get involved in building civic technology apps? What resources are there for those looking to use their skills for good?

We’d recommend getting involved in local hackathons (such as the global AngelHack) and code camp events, which often involve charities, community activists or tech startups. This is easier for people living in cities where there are plenty of organised events and meetups, but might be challenging for designers and developers in rural areas or geographically-isolated places.

However, there are online opportunities to get involved in building apps for social good, such as volunteering platforms such as the Charity IT Association and Skills For Change. There are also collaborate online platforms such as Ideo who regularly run challenges for social innovation that will often involve digital tech.

For the more entrepreneurial, there are social tech startups and accelerators such as DotForge Impact, Bethnal Green Ventures, UnLtd and brokers for social investors, such as ClearlySo. TechCity has a load of great links to resources for tech startups, which is just as relevant for social tech: see here.

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