Social media has shaken up a lot of things in its relatively short history. For anyone with access to the internet, there’s virtually no corner of our lives untouched by its all-consuming power. Areas that traditionally operated independently of social media and the internet, such as sales, marketing, travel, entertainment, and even philanthropy have been changed by it. Social media didn’t start out as the dominant force it is today; according to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission- to make the world more open and connected.” Intentional or not, social media has taken the business world by storm and it refuses to be ignored.
The concept of philanthropy is about as old as humanity itself, since the instinct to give is a part of human nature. The roots of giving can be traced all the way back to 347 B.C. when Plato entrusted his nephew with his farm, along with instructions that the proceeds be used to finance students and professors at his academy. Although the definition and purpose behind philanthropy has withstood the test of time, the way in which we give has changed drastically over the years. The current era of philanthropy can be said to have started in the 1980s when philanthropy took on a global scope. Philanthropy as it is now can almost be looked at as the dawn of a new era in which charity no longer has to occupy a time and space, but instead has a ubiquitous presence, living in our phones, computers, and smart devices.
Here are some of the ways that social media is transforming philanthropy:
You may have heard of sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo, and you’ve probably even seen links to people’s personal fundraisers through these sites on your Facebook wall. Maybe you’ve donated to one or started your own. Crowdfunding has picked up at an incredible rate over the last few years, and it is essentially just the act of raising funds online through your network of friends, family, customers, and individual investors. The difference between raising money online and through traditional means is the that the pool of donors is so much wider when you can market your cause through social media. Traditional fundraising is like a funnel, fundable.com explains, where you are limited to a narrow stream of support, but crowdfunding “turns that funnel on-end.”
When you posted your ice bucket challenge video the Facebook when it took off a few years ago, did you do it because ALS was a cause you would have supported anyway or because it was the trendy thing to do? Now, you don’t have to answer that question. Regardless of your reasons for donating, what matters is that you did. The famous ice bucket challenge fundraiser generated $94 million for ALS research in its first month alone, so you can’t argue the immense impact of challenges like this.
Social media opens a huge window of opportunity for nonprofits, who can utilize networks like Facebook to create pages for their charity and get the word out about volunteer opportunities. When most nonprofits rely on such a small amount of income, they may not have the financial means to advertise themselves through traditional methods, so social media provides a powerful outlet for building engagement, finding volunteers, and raising money.