Five Noteworthy Movements in Philanthropy in the Digital Age

How the Internet Is Changing Philanthropy in Big Ways

Today’s philanthropists are young, old and in between. They’re men and women. They’re actors, musicians, magnates, socialites, writers, politicians, factory workers, students, teachers. They have old money, new money or, in some cases, little money. Their cause of choice is in line with their lifestyles and their passions, and they are eager to give.

But philanthropy hasn’t always looked this good or been this accessible.

The average American used to be poorer. Their assets and resources were limited, and it was left to big-business moguls and politicians to carry philanthropy through the 1800s.

Rockefeller. Carnegie. Johns Hopkins. These were some of the most powerful, wealthy names in America. They were the Bill Gates of America’s earlier centuries, and without them, we’d be lacking in medical achievements, public libraries and education.

Anyone looking to support a cause can do so at the click of a mouse.

There were lesser-known philanthropists too. Americans who did what they felt they should do, without receiving as much media attention, buzz and funding for their efforts.

Clara Barton, an amateur nurse, founded the American Red Cross in 1881. Three women — Mary Goodwin, Alice Goodwin and Elizabeth Hammersley — organized the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1860. The Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister, founded Goodwill Industries in 1902, and in that same year, A.B. Graham, a schoolmaster in Ohio, began what would become 4-H.

These organizations started quietly and built over time — an approach that was really the only option in an age of limited radio and no television or Internet.

But in today’s world, anyone with a few hundred dollars can put a website together, file the right papers, open a bank account, and launch a social media campaign to attract attention to their cause. And furthermore, anyone looking to support a cause can do so at the click of a mouse.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust:

  • In 2013, online giving grew by 13.5%, while overall charitable giving grew by 4.9%.
  • 100 of the largest charities reported receiving 13% more in online donations, and 25 of these charities collected more than $10 million each in 2013 from online gifts.

Philanthropy is changing, there’s no doubt about it. Social media and the ease with which we connect with and create charitable causes is infectious. To celebrate this shift in how philanthropy is being positioned, we’ve compiled “Five Noteworthy Movements in Philanthropy in the Digital Age.”

TOMS — Selling a Need

A forerunner in combining philanthropy with a for-profit online business model, TOMS has become a household name. Its motto is “One for One,” a nod to its commitment to provide one pair of shoes (or glasses, etc.) for every pair sold.

TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie started TOMS with philanthropy in mind. But things changed when he realized that keeping it a charity would limit its giving potential. In a 2011 article he wrote for, he said, “I began to look for solutions in the world I already knew: business and entrepreneurship. An idea hit me: Why not create a for-profit business to help provide shoes for these children? Why not come up with a solution that guaranteed a constant flow of shoes, not just whenever kind people were able to make a donation? In other words, maybe the solution was in entrepreneurship, not charity.”

The result? claims that the company has given away 35 million pairs of shoes, and that is with little to no presence in brick-and-mortar stores. Impressive? We think so.

Emma Watson — the Power of the Hashtag

Bono. Sir Elton John. Lady Gaga. Angelina Jolie. Numerous celebrities have become advocates and representatives for various charitable initiatives and foundations. But few seem to have taken their role to social media the way Emma Watson did when she helped launch the HeForShe campaign for gender equality. Her influence and dedication to pushing the movement online has resulted in impressive numbers.

The campaign launched less than a year ago (September 2014). It has 372,000Facebook followers and 194,000 Twitter followers. In comparison, Bono’s ONE campaign has been going since 2004, and it has 1 million followers on Facebook and 837,000 followers on Twitter.

It seems that Watson, who peppers her personal social media with promotions for the cause, is poised to hit those numbers in half the time.

Ice Bucket Challenge — an Accidental Phenomenon

Admit it. You groaned when you saw the headline for this section. The Ice Bucket Challenge is an example of a marketing strategy that worked so well, we got tired of it. However, there’s nothing tiresome about the numbers.

In the year before the Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALS Association reported receiving a total of $29 million in income, contributions, etc. Compare that to the$220 million that it says has come in as a result of the initiative.

Britton Marketing + Design Group Takes the Challenge

And what’s even crazier is that the challenge wasn’t the brainchild of the ALSA.The challenge originated among golfers, hoping to generate interest in various charities. Through happenstance it morphed into something focused on ALS awareness.

This shows the power of social media, the power of celebrity involvement, the power of small contributions, and the importance of staying flexible as an organization and keeping current with online trends. — People Helping People

Imagine taking the power of social media and directing it toward individual needs. A mother diagnosed with cancer. A father trying to make it home for the holidays. A pet (yes, a pet) needing surgery. These are the kinds of needs that are met on a daily basis through sites like

GoFundMe allows individuals to set up short-term crowdfunding and fundraising campaigns for themselves or their friends in need. Then, GoFundMe makes it easy to push those campaigns across social media, resulting in benefactors who are neither friends nor family of the needy. They’re just strangers who want to help.

It’s a model that works, proving again that social media and the connectivity of the Internet can be used for things a bit more worthwhile than, say, Tinder swiping, celebrity gawking and Candy Crushing.

Facebook — Immediate Relief

For the best example of how the Internet can swiftly and effectively mobilize people and generate donations, we must consider Facebook’s recent charity initiative.

Hours after the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, Facebook had this little blurb at the top of everyone’s News Feeds:

Instant Fundraising on Facebook

Facebook has 890 million people log in daily. It boasts 1.3 billion active monthly users. So in the course of one day, Facebook was able to a) create awareness for the Nepal earthquake and b) mobilize its massive population to help out in the form of dollar donations.

Philanthropy has never been so cool.

And did we mention the process to donate takes a minute? Yeah, we thought you’d be impressed.

This is the world we live in.

As charities and fundraising campaigns become more viral and more marketed, participating in these efforts is becoming easier than ever. There’s no need for a televised concert (though we still have those) or a lengthy speech. Users can access the information they need at the click of a button, make a decision to help, and then immediately channel their resources to their cause of choice.

Philanthropy has never been so immediate, so accessible or so easy. And we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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