18 July 2019

Walk Away

I've long touted the Charity Miles app as a great way to "contribute" to the charity of choice while walking (or running or cycling). I think I've used the app for almost seven years, and the early years were truly a joy for me. Even though the streak feature was not user friendly back then, I still enjoyed the motivation to get out there and walk because I knew it was good for my body, and it was good for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, too.

For the past two decades or more, my fitness has been focused on cycling. I had been running every day, but an injury forced me to scale back on that. I could ride without pain. I channeled all my non-creative energy in trying to build my endurance, set and meet monthly goals and raising money for charities, mostly in the battle against multiple sclerosis.

I recently changed charitable gears and now am raising money to battle Parkinson's, although I still support the Colorado/Wyoming Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society through friends and loved ones who participate in NMSS events.

I've also had a little more trouble recently trying to meet daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly cycling goals due to a variety of factors. One is a health issue, which, incidentally, is why we're supporting the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Davis Phinney Foundation now.

When my husband got taken off his bike earlier this year, I voluntarily got off mine, too, in support of him but also to be able to focus our together time on activities we could both do instead of things one of us could do while the other found other ways to occupy the time. I've been trying to walk whenever I can, as opposed to taking a bus or driving a car, since I first started running back in about 1996 or so. The injury that robbed me of daily running required that I walk at least double the distance I run each time I run, as well as stretch before and after, which I confess I had not been doing since probably grade school.

When the back injury of 2004 took away running altogether, I tried to convert my runs into walks (and stairclimbing, and I still climb stairs rather than take an elevator every chance I get). When I first noticed Charity Miles had a streak feature, maybe five years ago, I set the goal that very day to walk every single day. Less than one week into my streak, I had to start a walk half an hour later than normal due to a schedule conflict, and the blasted app wiped out my streak! Oh, I was angry!

I tried a few more times, with the same results, never able to go much beyond a week if I couldn't walk at the exact same time each day. So I gave up. I quit using the app for a long time. I still donated to charities, and I was riding for charity. So I lost only the motivation to check in on the app every day, not the charitable or fitness goals.

Around this same time, I also noticed during a hike on a scheduled weekday off that both Google Maps and Cyclemeter, which I use to keep track of my cycling miles but not to compete with others online, knew where I worked, how far I was from work and when I should be there. I should have known any app with GPS would be able to track my routine activity enough to recognize when something was different, but the sudden realization hit me pretty hard. For a while, I wasn't sure I wanted to use any online tracking whatsoever because I don't really want everyone in the world to know where I am every single move I make.

I've since enabled Google Maps to use my location only when I give it permission to do so. Yes, I get a pop-up asking for permission every single time I use it, and I prefer that to it knowing where I am every minute of the day. Yes, they are called smartphones, but I don't need mine to be THAT intelligent.

I got over my hesitation with Cyclemeter during my next Ride the Rockies. One of the coolest features of Cyclemeter (other than the ability to also use it for hiking, cross country skiing, riding a trainer and even walking through a grocery or department store) is the ability to email PRIVATE links of my activity to Lizard, who often will watch to make sure I'm okay while out and about without him. During Ride the Rockies, he would finish hours ahead of me. Once he had signal, he could see exactly where I was and anticipate when I would arrive. He'd have the tent all set up, and if the food concessionaires were not going to be doing business past my arrival, Lizard would have something for me to eat upon arrival. He takes such good care of me!!!

I still wasn't too sure about using Charity Miles anymore because I didn't really want GPS tracking to keep tabs on me. And yet, I was walking. When Lizard got into a regular 4 a.m. work schedule, I would go to work with him, take the bus to the greenway, and walk, looking for wildlife, every morning before catching the train to my work.

After Lizard retired in December, one of my dreams came true. I'd often wished he could enjoy the wildlife with me, not just by looking during his lunch break at the photos I'd send him every day. Now, he could walk WITH me!

And walk, we did! I started using Charity Miles again because I wanted charitable donations to be directed toward the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is available on the Charity Miles app. Every once in a while, we'd get to repeat the same walking schedule more than two or three consecutive times, and I noticed the streak feature had been improved. I could now walk at 6 a.m. one day, 7 a.m. the next day, and at lunch the following day and string up a three-day streak! I got very excited about Charity Miles again, and I started pitching it to all my friends and loved ones who walk.

During the spring, Lizard developed a couple of new health issues, and soon he wasn't able to ride or walk with me for a while. Although he is briefly back on his bike for a short time, surgery may be inevitable, and he may be off the bike and off his feet again during recuperation. We're hoping he'll be back in training condition this fall, and we can pick up where we left off.

Meanwhile, I started building a streak. And I mean really building! I got up into double digits! Then I got past a month, then two...

But something fishy caught my attention. I'd read advertisers who make their charitable donations via Charity Miles were giving 10 cents to 25 cents a mile. But my chosen charity's total never changed. I was logging some big miles, and I was walking every single day. But the displayed donation amount never changed.

About this same time, I met my former stairclimbing partners for lunch. I was telling them about Charity Miles. I wasn't doing the hardcore sell anymore, but I was trying to be enthusiastic. One of the girls tipped me off on a couple of investigative reports she'd seen regarding charity apps, and you can be sure I read. Every. Single. Word.

I then did a little of my own research. I decided I would keep going until I reached 100 days, then I would ditch the app, use Cyclemeter to record my miles, regardless of how I acquire them, and make my donations directly to the charities of my choice instead of going through a third party.

Charity Miles isn't necessarily doing anything bad. The advertisers who provide the donations aren't necessarily doing anything bad. I already had issues with the constant GPS tracking (which can be turned off after each use), and what I learned helped me see the old-fashioned way of making donations is better for me.

The providers of charity apps are not charitable organizations. That's how they are able to stay in business. They have to turn a profit to make it worth their time and effort to funnel contributions to various organizations as well as come up with sponsors who will bite the bait.

As any charity app provider will tell you, the money the advertisers put into charity is set in stone. They make that decision each year as they review their annual numbers. They may not choose which charity gets their contribution, but they decide in advance how much they are going to donate.

In return for pledging to the app, they get "advertising." Not free... They have to make a pledge in order to appear in the app ads. I'm okay with that. For years, I've been telling anyone who would listen I'm willing to put up with the (often unwanted and/or unneeded) ads because I know a charitable contribution is being made because I looked at the ad.

I'll be candid. I don't often buy anything via an ad or an ad click. Clicks are critical in internet marketing. No clicks, no revenue. Every once in a while, I will see an ad that piques my interest, and I will make a mental note of it and look up the business next time I have some free time. On a protected computer with cookies disabled. Sometimes I might even buy what I looked up.

My purchase does not stimulate the revenue column of the charitable donor "buying" the advertisement. The advertiser doesn't get a return on their investment. They may or may not invest again the next quarter, or the next year, or whatever.

Given this, many apps are now turning to a different revenue-producing method. Make the app user sign up for advertiser emails in order to "get credit" for donations. If you don't surrender your email address or partake of marketing surveys or fall for "free bonus" prompts, you get no donor credit. In some ways, it's a brilliant marketing strategy. Combine your advertising and charitable budgets, and get twice the mileage! The advertiser will still make the donation, even if I don't click the bait; but the donation is being made because the advertiser is being promised they will have a return on their investment. Not because they want to make a difference in the world.

The point also is made that people who use charity apps are less likely to donate out of their own pocket because they believe they are already donating more than their fair share by allowing an app to track whatever activity they are doing to "earn" donations.

I'm not judging anyone. Individuals and businesses may make their donations (or not) any way they want. But for me, I've decided an app is not the charitable route I want to take anymore.

Although I am more apt to support a business that contributes to its local community or to causes in which I believe, I am not going to hold businesses hostage to what I think they should be doing with their money.

My century was an awesome streak. I'm very proud of it. I will not stop walking! But my fitness and my charitable contributions won't be connected via a smart phone anymore. Both will be active and healthy. Just not together.

1 comment :

  1. Yeah, you have to watch a lot of things as they aren't technically scams, but they are just after your info. Hopefully the lizard is sticking in there and any surgery goes well.


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locked inside, hidden deep from view?
You can talk to me... (Stevie Nicks)

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