Consumers are embracing social causes with the aim of helping to enrich lives and make the world a better place. People are giving more than ever before in terms of helping strangers, donating money and volunteering their time.
Euromonitor International’s GCT Survey of 2016 found that 53% of all respondents across all countries felt they could make a difference to the world through their choices and actions. Millennials were the most optimistic; the feeling of being able to make a difference to the world declines with age.
A movement towards direct giving
Online crowdfunding is seen as an effective way of engaging communities and empowering people. A new generation of social entrepreneurs have taken crowdfunding beyond the funding of personal projects and microloans to being a means of supporting social causes. Consumers are giving small donations directly to things they care about via online platforms – bypassing big charities and thus changing the whole giving culture.
Despite their reputation as the “me generation”, millennials have proved themselves to be the major contributors on online giving platforms, with education being one of their top concerns. According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, by Achieve and The Case Foundation, 84% of millennials gave a charitable donation in 2014, which was largely carried out via online giving platforms.
Crowdfunding: Increasingly niche causes -spreading to developing markets
In addition to generic platforms, such as Gofundme and Kickstarter, there are crowdfunding websites that specialise in niche areas for social and environmental causes, such as solar energy, schools (eg DonorsChoose.org), or illness sufferers (eg Youcaring.org).
The concept is also emerging in developing markets. In celebration of World Environment Day in 2015, Shanghai GM and the China Environment Culture Promotion Association (CECPA) launched a new crowdfunding platform, Drive to Green, which combines crowdfunding with the concept of environmental protection. Donations go to projects such as The No Shark Fin Project petition, the Rendu Ocean & Coast Environmental Education Program, and the Internet+ Recycling programme for scrap paper.
Social media as a catalyst for change
Social media has also become a platform for sharing online petitions that are often very successful in facilitating change. The US-based website Change.org is one of the biggest social action platforms in the world, hosting thousands of viral petitions for organisations and individuals. Its stated mission is to “empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see”. In 2016, the site surpassed 150 million users globally. Petitions cover areas such as economic and criminal justice, human rights, education, environmental protection, animal rights, health and sustainable food.
Social media (including Change.org) has been accused of facilitating “slacktivism” – a type of passive action that does not involve real engagement with a cause. In order to partially address this, Change.org launched a new feature on its US site in 2016 that allows campaign creators to add a donation button to their petitions, effectively allowing organisations to use it as a fundraising tool. The site is also said to be considering ways in which it can help people volunteer their skills, whether legal expertise, graphic design or ability to show up in person somewhere, in order to help bring about social change.
The Twitter effect
Microblogging platforms, such as Twitter, and Weibo in China, have played a key role in driving change by giving everyone a voice, connecting people across the world and allowing them to air their opinions and promote their causes. Many niche communities have been built around hashtags, some of which have been instrumental in the transition of movements from online to the real world.
For example, in 2011, Twitter was at the heart of the Arab Spring movement, sometimes referred to as the “Twitter Revolution”. Many activists relied on the platform to voice their grievances about the current regimes and to shape the political debates for the movement. After the fatal shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, #Ferguson became the most tweeted social causerelated hashtag ever, according to figures released by Twitter on its 10-year anniversary in March 2016.
Twitter’s Global Average Monthly Users
Source: Euromonitor International
Consumer goods companies can take advantage of the trend towards giving – and crowdfunding especially – by incorporating such initiatives into their CSR strategies. Platforms like Betterplace.org and Crowdfunder enable companies to make their CSR programmes more participative by creating a bespoke platform for them.
Partnering with a local NGO and co-launching a crowdfunding campaign allows companies to interact with and demonstrate their social commitment to consumers. Match-funding is becoming increasingly popular, whereby companies select projects they want to support and instead of donating, agree to double donations made by others.
Crowdfunding also offers companies significant exposure within communities, as well as the opportunity for positive PR. There has recently been a big rise in the number of companies wanting to support local causes. In Germany, for example, savings bank Hamburger Sparkasse has partnered with Betterplace to set up a mini donations platform solely to raise money for local initiatives in Hamburg, while in the UK, supermarket operators Waitrose and Asda have introduced tokens that are then “donated” to a choice of projects operating in the vicinity of a given store.