Charitable giving was originally a very localized and participatory way of solving a social problem. In the West, this usually meant church congregation members coming together to give money and volunteer their time. People pooled their money and skills to help the less fortunate in their community. Philanthropy was not something you did quietly on your own but essential to being part of a group of like-minded/faithed individuals. This is how many of the oldest charities, like the Salvation Army, began.
Social media communities
This type of grassroots and community-based philanthropy is making a comeback thanks to social media and new technology. Though now mostly dissociated from religion, the principles of community action are still in force. Online communities mean that individuals no longer need to be physically in the same location as their other community members. Online crowd-sourcing and social networking mean that people can now connect, interact and give – no matter where in the world they are.
If I look at who Advice for Good follows and who follows us on Twitter, we are very clearly part of a like-minded (mostly!) group of organizations an individuals who are dedicated to making the world a better place by encouraging charitable giving and philanthropy. I am likewise a member of a number of groups on LinkedIn that discuss and debate issues specific to fundraising and non-profits.
The online community example par excellence has to be Facebook. This is where non-profits can go to easily build-up a following of supporters who they can mobilize to donate money, time, connections, expertise, etc. Since social media sites, like Facebook, cost little or no money to set-up they are democratizing philanthropy (good article on this topic here) and making it easier for the small charities to compete with the big ones.
But these new philanthropy communities don’t just apply to small-scale grassroots movements. The Giving Pledge, for example, is a community of billionaires who have pledged to give away the majority of their wealth to charities.
Then there are the more formalized supporter structures – called ‘Giving Circles‘ – that very closely resemble the original faith-based community groups. A giving circle is a group of individuals who come together to donate time and money to causes they choose – much like a church congregation. They are a growing philanthropic trend, with an estimated 800 giving circles in the US raising well over $100 million for charitable causes.
One innovative giving circle in the UK, called The Funding Network, holds dragon’s den style events where members come together to hear 6 minute pitches from charities to say what they would do with £5,000. Members then pledge donations towards the cause(s) they would like to support.
Community giving – the future of philanthropy
Whether it’s giving circles or online grassroots philanthropy, community-based giving is making a comeback in a big way. Social media and new technology are making it easier for like-minded people to connect and contribute to non-profits. It’s is also leveling the playing field for charities who want to get new supporters and spur them into action. Watch this space for key developments in philanthropy and charitable giving.