Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Tipping Point for Charitable Giving and Social Media

In my prior post, I addressed the issue of involvement (or lack-there-of) in charitable or philanthropic events by Facebook users. Of the 25M Facebook users that have installed the Causes app, less than 1% have ever actually contributed money to a cause through the program.

My friend Jessica Lomelin brought up an interesting comment: “I think many people like the idea of being philanthropic and self-less, but only do it until it affects their day-to-day and time.” Amen.

This got me to thinking of Causes in terms of a social epidemic, as Malcolm Gladwell would call it in his crazy good book The Tipping Point (I hear it did decently well...). Causes sure seems to fit the bill as a social epidemic with 25M users, but how come so few actually utilize the app for charitable giving?

According to Gladwell, a social epidemic has 3 key players:

Connectors: These are the people that seem to know everyone despite what circles they run in and seem to “link up the world.”

Mavens: These are the people that we rely upon to get us new information - aka the kingpins of word-of-mouth marketing

Salesmen: The persuaders. They’re charismatic and have powerful negotiation skills.

It appears that Causes has utilized both Connectors and Mavens. The people that seem to know everyone and the people that we rely on for new information and trends got the word out. They told their friends, who told their friends, and everyone signed up because of it.

What Causes is missing, is the Salesman. There is nobody out there persuading us to give our money to worthy causes. And the subtle Facebook messages that remind us to donate don’t count. We all know that it’s a good thing to do, but there is nobody busting our balls about it that gets us to empty to empty our pockets for AIDS research or starving children in Africa.

So far, I honestly think that comedian Dane Cook has the best answer to this. In one of his standup routines, he talks about how the soft sell tactic is ineffective. That the guy that comes onto the screen to tell us to give 15 cents to help a kid in Africa “Is too nice. He’s too sweet. And we’re Americans, and we need our f***** asses kicked once in a while. If you’re too nice and too sweet, that’s not gonna work. They need to have a f****** dude in a leather jacket, few days of growth, just step in the frame...” and in fewer words, tell us off and put us in our place.

Do yourself a favor and watch the clip, you’ll laugh because you know it’s true.
Dane Cook: Uncensored - 15 Cents
Dane Cook Kool Aid VideoMore Dane Cook VideosJoke of the Day

So how does social media leverage this tactic if the soft sell doesn’t work? I honestly don’t know. Maybe Causes installs a widget on your computer that sporadically yells at you and tells you to think of others. Or maybe emails you your monthly expenses and in big bold red font displays what you spent on clothes and booze as compared to what you donated to charity. Maybe if you sign up for Causes, it charges your credit card 25 cents (or something seemingly negligible - that you agree to of course) every month, but when multiplied by 25M users, is $6.25M every month.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I feel like there’s a simple answer out there - a way that social media can be leveraged to kick our asses and persuade us to give money to others.

What are your thoughts on how social media can be leveraged to help change this problem?

-- Now Let Me Clear My Throat --
Josh Groth


Brett Hummel said...

The lack of contributions on Facebook has to do with how the message is delivered. In a book I recently read (I think it was in Made to Stick), hotels were trying to get their guests to not launder their towels every day. The management put out the standard message that by the guest not washing their towels, it would help save energy and reduce green house gases. When the author surveyed the guests however, only a small percentage responded to the request because they figured the hotel was just trying to save money. When the author changed the sign to say that many guests had decided to keep their towels an extra day, the amount of people who responded increased. Finally, he changed the sign to say the last person in the room had kept their towels from being washed, and a full 70% decided to keep their towels. I think this same idea can be applied to charity in general and more specifically to Facebook's charity pages. The delivery of the message is just not yet there, and until someone figures out how to appeal to a potential donor, the Facebook pages will continue to lag.

Kare Anderson said...

To reach a tipping point us humans must be "primed" (a behavioral cue) to act. That's most likely to happen by the "power of previous precedent" - that is others (especially those like us) are already doing it.
See what is happening in Iran right now as powerfully inspiring priming to act - the first social media-supported revolution is a cause by and for the people - one that has pulled in many Americans, most of whom do not understand the history of what has happened there - and may never learn but will act in support..

On FB it seems the "action" as you so astutely noted is to write about giving and to put badges on one's site and ask others to do the same. Josh - see some of the very smart cause campaigns that Tim Ferriss has instigated then written about afterwards. he is very specific about what he did to spur cause funding and how he honed what he learned for the next one.

Some cause would be so very lucky to get you behind it.

BTW, Brett's "towel" example came from Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein. The wrote Nudge, are longtime friends of Obama, Cass now works in the administration - and many of the pieces of legislation show their influence - how to "nudge" us to do the right thing, for ourselves and each other.

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