The internet has changed the way we do many things. It has changed the way we shop, the way we bank, the way we teach. It has even changed philanthropy. eBay Deals and eBay Giving Works recently came out with an Infographic listing sixteen stories they believe prove the “internet has a heart.” These stories do prove that online giving is alive and well. They also illustrate three potential trends or “hot spots” in online giving: disaster response, inspiring stories, and the few nonprofits savvy enough to channel the power of viral philanthropy.
Trend #1: Disaster Giving
Online giving is particularly effective in times of natural disaster. We saw this following the earthquake in Haiti. The Red Cross raised millions of dollars in a very short time frame using methods that are still largely untapped by many nonprofits: Twitter and mobile phones. The immediacy of disaster-based needs and the visual images of damages shown on TV are powerful motivators for philanthropy. The Infographic indicates that the eBay Giving Works program drive raised more than half a million dollars in support of relief for victims of the 2013 tornado in Oklahoma; and that GoFundMe has raised more than $3.3 million for victims of the bombing at the recent Boston Marathon.
Trend #2: Inspiring Stories
The internet loves a good story. You may have seen on Facebook or Twitter the compelling story of Billy Ray Harris, a homeless man from Kansas City who returned a diamond ring. That story went viral and more than $191,760 in donations poured in for Mr. Harris through GiveItForward.com. In a similarly touching story, a man from Nairobi inspired more than $80,000 in donations in less than twenty-four hours after being slashed in the face trying to defend his orphanage. These stories have the power to capture the hearts and open the pocketbooks of many.
Trend #3: Savvy Nonprofits
In other cases, it seems that nonprofits that are savvy about online giving can actively participate in creating the “perfect storm” for online giving. For example, more than $1.4 million was raised via Charity: Water when soon to be nine-year-old Rachel Bechwith asked that in lieu of gifts, friends and family helped bring clean drinking water to developing nations. Her wish was fulfilled after her passing. In another case, more than $200 thousand dollars was raised for Doctors Without Borders by a FirstGiving campaign sponsored by Reddit/Atheism. The Infographic does not tell the story of how the online campaigns were created or executed, but the focus on a nonprofit’s mission as opposed to an individual such as Mr. Harris is key.
Nonprofits should take note. Not all nonprofits work in the area of disaster relief but most can tell a compelling story. These stories, besides being potentially viral online giving opportunities, are touching and speak to our common humanity. They are a motivating factor in giving.
The money given to the man in Nairobi and to Mr. Harris will change a few individual lives but will not affect the lives of the many other homeless men nor will it improve the safety of other orphanages. However, nonprofits who educate themselves about online giving have the potential to channel the viral impact of these stories by raising money for the organizations and programs that will make a lasting change.
Note: part of this blog ran as a newswire report for the Nonprofit Quarterly.