Copyright STACKEDD Magazine, 1/4/2015

Instant Karma:The GreaterGood Finds Philanthropy in Click Culture

Art by Siolo Thompson

Online giving and new media storytelling may not result in measurable long-term engagement with a cause, but organizations like GreaterGood.org demonstrate that it does result in actual donations that help actual women.

Donors in general are now giving online more frequently: way back in 2011, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that online donations had increased by 14% from the previous year. Online giving is encouraged by nonprofits because donors who commit to regular online payments are less likely to forget or cancel their donations. People are more comfortable sharing financial information online, aided by the popularity of Internet shopping along with Google’s penetrative and unavoidable efforts to know everything. In order to actually effect this change, nonprofits have had to adapt to current Internet habits in order to transform well meaning “cause voyeurs” into active and informed donors.

Besides method of giving, the Internet has provided new ways to tell stories about beneficiaries that educate and engage the donor: social media, videos, and other interactive, new media platforms. New media storytelling in philanthropy has greatly benefited nonprofits that serve women and girls in need. When a donor gives money to other causes (say, environmental or political), they are able to avoid identifying directly with the beneficiary; in fact, often the opposite is true. Donors get an immediate jolt of feel-good karma without having to see the immediate effect of their gift: “oh, those cute polar bears won’t have any icebergs to live on? Here’s $10 — I’ve done my part!” When donors interact virtually with the faces and stories of real people, there is no way to avoid imagining life in their shoes; donors necessarily develop a powerful mental connection between empathy and action.

This recipient visibility is partially why Kiva’s model has been so effective. Donors today want to know exactly how their money will be spent, and their karmic boost feeling is amplified when a beneficiary can express gratitude for their specific gift. In the world of philanthropy, does the immediacy and intimacy of the Internet increase our empathy or erase it?

GreaterGood is a website that utilizes point-and-click giving, where each click on an advertiser’s site generates a small financial donation. One of these is GROW (Girls’ Right to Opportunity Worldwide), a program that identifies and works to remove barriers to secondary education for girls around the world and correct the staggering statistics, like the fact two-thirds of the 700 million adult women in the world are illiterate. In the same world where Malala Yousafzai and Boko Haram are household names, it might seem obvious that education for girls is a fundamental part of the struggle toward equality.

By taking advantage of short attention spans, GreaterGood manages to collect donations while also telling personal stories to increase GROW’s transparency about beneficiaries.

Hannah Levine, Manager of Content and Engagement at GreaterGood (and occasional STACKEDD entertainment contributor), has found that new media increases empathy, and is an essential tool for telling stories and capturing donors.

Social media is a game-changer on many levels. Not only are we able to raise awareness about new initiatives more rapidly and to a broader audience, but we are also able to shorten the feedback loop and report our successes more quickly. Being able to show our donors a video of a young woman discussing how the educational opportunity they helped fund has changed her life completes the circle in a manner that’s ethical, smart, and keeps people engaged in a very powerful way.”

It seems that online giving both increasing empathy and erases it, which matches the short attention spans and immediate gratification that most 21st century brains are rewarded for: “I give, I feel really good about it, I forget.”

Even if it’s only because of the post-donation feel-good, or for incentivized giving opportunities (free ornament with donation? Sign me up!), online giving and new media storytelling are generating more money for women and girls in need.

There’s no assurance of long-term engagement with a cause, but GreaterGood is capitalizing on a habit pattern that works well for donors and works out well for beneficiaries. It may not be able to prevent another Malala, but only good things can come from this model of uplifting more female voices.