How Socially Responsible Spending is Replacing Traditional Philanthropy

You would be hard pressed to find any person who has visited a grocery store or movie theater that has not been asked to donate an additional dollar for charity on top of their purchase.  It’s become a widely accepted, near expected, practice in contemporary consumer culture.  Capitalizing on existing buyer behavior is not just easy- it’s smart.  However, the model has advanced far beyond adding a few dollars onto a popcorn purchase at the cinema.  It has emerged as a way for organizations to capture financially strapped young donors, and generate creative revenue streams as traditional philanthropic avenues face increased competition.

So what does this model look like now? How can organizational leaders take advantage of it? And most importantly, where is it going?

Non-profits have largely benefitted from the rise of crowd sourced funding and the micro-donation.  The participatory nature of platforms like GoFundMe appeal to the Millennial and Gen-X donors who want to be engaged with their giving experiences.  In 2015, 32%  of consumers stated they wished to increase socially responsible purchasing, up from 30% in 2014, and 29% in 2013.  Utilizing the concept of the micro-donation and social enterprise dovetail perfectly to create unique ways of engaging consumers in charitable giving.  

While not a model every organization can adopt, there is something to be said for the success and scale of Buy (RED).  (RED), a non-profit founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver, was specifically designed to “provide a sustainable flow of money from the private sector to fight aids.”  By partnering with a wide range of private companies like Apple and Starbucks, (RED) produces useful and desirable products that allow consumers to “vote” with their wallets.  100% proceeds from all (RED) products went directly to meeting the mission.  As previously mentioned, this is not something that all organizations can attempt.  However, the $315 million (RED) has generated from the sale of their products is emblematic of the success of this type of model.  People are interested in buying products that support causes they believe in.  As an increasingly consumer focused and results oriented society, it makes sense that younger generations are more inclined to give back when they receive an immediate benefit, like any of the (RED) products.  Furthermore, (RED) requires very little of people who become “donors”, they are already looking to buy a new iPad cover or set of headphones, they are just selecting a different case or pair.  Minimal effort on the part of the consumer is key.

AmazonSmile, an arm of e-commerce behemoth Amazon, on the other hand, is an avenue that every non-profit organization can take advantage of, which explains the nearly one million available charitable organizations to choose from when shopping.  The model is simple enough.  As long as an organization qualifies for GuideStar, it qualifies for the AmazonSmile program.  Shoppers elect to buy through the Smile marketplace, as opposed to the regular Amazon website, and dictate which charity will receive a donation of 0.5% of the purchase price, made on behalf of the Amazon Foundation.  Though not the most lucrative of options, there is something to be said for word of mouth in this instance.  Campaigns can be built around shopping on AmazonSmile.  End of year asks can be augmented with additional suggestions to do one’s holiday shopping through AmazonSmile.  Someone who might not have made an end of year donation, might end up giving $100 just by buying their Christmas presents through Smile.

Benevity is a company that wants to “reinvent corporate giving”, but its doing a lot more than that, especially when it comes to cause marketing and micro-donations.  Non-profits claim a Benevity profile that gives organizations access to Benevity’s corporate giving infrastructure.  In addition to traditional corporate social responsibility programs like gift matching, organizations are also privy to benefits like easy mobile giving platforms and loyalty campaigns.  For example, Brand A has partnered with an organization I care about.  I choose Brand A over Brand B, scan a barcode, a donation is made to my organization, and I get a coupon to use on Brand A in the future.

Even pushing beyond purchasing behaviors is the concept of geo-social good.   Check-ins for charity capitalizes on both an increasingly tech-saavy demographic and passive giving behaviors.  CauseWorld, FourSquare, Gowalla, and Loopt are all apps that use GIS (geographic information systems) to register with various charities to make micro-donations, simply by “checking-in”.  Since 2009, CauseWorld alone has raised $1 million.  Check-in’s, a behavior already made popular by social media, is an even less invasive habit to alter than purchasing choices.  In many instances, it can even be automated, creating a seamless donation channel.

The Conscious Consumer index predicts that 30% of consumers will increase socially responsible buying, yet only 18% of Americans will increase their charitable giving.  This is not a trend to dismiss.  With the rise of social enterprise, what drives a consumer to make a donation when they can buy a product and know that at least a portion of proceeds are going to a worthy cause?  There is a tremendous opportunity to join with companies now, and become the worthy cause that consumers are using their purchasing power to support.