THE BLOG

The Future of Giving - From Slacktivism to Activism

We all want to help, right? But I contend we inevitably deny more than give. We give to the cancer fund at the supermarket so we feel comfortable ignoring the homeless man outside. We sponsored a friend's walk for AIDS so it's unnecessary to bring cans of soup into the office. We turn our Twitter avatars green so its okay to skip the fast for Darfur.

We want to help, but with the dog, the kids, the commute, the work, the in-laws, the baby shower, the birthday party and the farmers market, the time to give simply doesn't seem available. And too, there's so many organizations, and so many causes you care about. How do you know which to help? And, how do I know the money goes to putting boots on the ground instead of enriching some middle man?

These are a few of the reasons I created Causecast.org. We're one of several online organizations attempting to make it easier for you to give both time and money. Not only does the Internet let you connect to like-minded individuals, but you can organize your own philanthropic events, keep current on the news that affects your passions, and give to nonprofits with complete confidence that the money is going directly to the cause. This is why Causecast doesn't take any commission on donations.

The online world is revolutionary in its dispersal of information, but I contend its made us passive, content to absorb words and images by the thousands and then promptly forget them. The real challenge nonprofits face is not to get you to care, but to get you to act. Some organizations have already figured this out.

Right now, Invisible Children is lobbying in Washington, D.C. for the passage of Senate Bill 1067, which would put pressure on the White House to act against Joseph Kony, a warlord using child soldiers in his ongoing civil war in Uganda. IC has used the power of media not just to anger American youth, but to encourage thousands of them to join in with rallies and donations. Their interactive website makes volunteering look much more like a party than a public service. For many kids, its a lifestyle decision, not a chore.

For all of Twitter's faults, February's related Twestival raised over $250,000 for charity: water, money which all goes to water projects in developing nations. Once again, so-called slacktivism begets activism.

One more example: Kiva, another organization with which Causecast is proud to be affiliated, makes it easy and effective to give microloans to entrepreneurs. What is interesting about Kiva, and we are shamelessly borrowing from with Causecast, is the creation of a relationship between donor and recipient. These are not nameless, faceless 'others' you are helping, these are human beings, people just like you, who could even become your friends.

It is with this technological understanding that President Obama and the White House have announced the United We Serve initiative. Many credit Obama's Internet savvy with his victory last November, especially among America's youth. The future of public service is frequently going to be launched and organized via the online world, and the White House is pushing itself to the front of this movement by spreading information through blogs and YouTube videos instead of press releases.

The dynamism of the medium influences the cause. The success Invisible Children and charity: water have seen in recent years could not have been possible without the Internet and progressive technologies that make it easier to connect. Nearly all volunteerism in the coming years will start online, in the form of Facebook groups, Twitter trends, blog initiatives and Causecast fundraising pages. There's really no downside to this. More involvement and more interest equals more donations, more volunteer hours and more activism. What we see today in Washington is just the beginning. Online interest is becoming offline action.