By Sokunthea Sa Chhabra
I never really thought of just how much doing good has become a general part of our mainstream culture in America until I was speaking with media personality Shira Lazar at a conference, and she mentioned that being in the nonprofit world is actually “kinda sexy now.” I had to do a double-take when she said that to see that she was serious, and internally chuckle to myself a little. I’m deep in this world, and a total geek, so yes, I absolutely think that being in the cause-related field is awesome, but to hear it from her, it really hit me: we do live in an environment now, where doing good has surely gone mainstream.
Then, I tried to think of the factors that prove this, and here is what I initially came up with.
The mainstream media is talking about it.
The mainstream media has embraced doing good as an interesting story. Not only do media outlets, like the NY Times and Huffington Post have charity-related verticals and reporters covering the cause-related beat, but it’s also pervading other mainstream media outlets like TV. Major television networks are getting into the good game like never before. For example, the four major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC – and other cable channels featured giving and volunteerism in more than 90 shows’ plotlines during the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s iParticipate Initiative last October, including shows like Ugly Betty, The View, and Desperate Housewives. They’re also even taking risks on shows and series based on doing good. Although short-lived, the TV series, the Philanthropist, was a pretty big deal for those in philanthropy in 2009.
Celebrities are doing it.
Interrelated to mainstream media is celebrities; one thrives on the other. There have been quite a few posts over on the Case Foundation site about celebrities doing good and we will continue to feature great projects we come across, because one thing is for sure – people pay attention to what celebrities do. Like it or not, they have the ability to draw public attention to their interests and influence trends. Who doesn’t know that Bono is tied with relief work in Africa, Angelina Jolie is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, Ashton Kutcher is all over Twitter in support of causes like Malaria, or of Oprah’s Angel Network.
Social media makes it so easy to join the do good bandwagon.
Or, the Slacktivism argument. As defined by Wikipedia, Slacktivism is “considered a pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to require little personal effort from the slacktivist.”
What people have considered as examples of slacktivism include wearing awareness wristbands that support a cause, taking part in short-term boycotts such as Earth Hour, or putting a magnet/bumper sticker on a vehicle. And now, the quick and easy online versions include signing online petitions, joining a Facebook group, tweeting to support a cause, donating small dollar amounts online or via text-to-give campaigns, etc. Although Wikipedia notes that slacktivism has little or no practical effect, the merits and impact of slacktivism has been hotly debated. Here is what Dan Morrison wrote earlier this year on the Social Citizens blog, that I tend to agree with:
Slacktivism emerged because social media tools gave slackers with a heart an opportunity to get involved on their own terms. It is a mistake to think that slacktivists are just lazy. Some are too busy or uncomfortable getting involved with a cause in a public manner. Texting, tweeting and social media gave them the ability to give during the limited time they had or provided the social cover they needed to get involved. So I think we should ask not what the slacktivist can do for us, but what we can do for the slacktivist.
Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, the fact of the matter is that the internet is making it so much easier to pipe up and say you support a cause.
Big brands are adopting causes.
Cause-marketing is everywhere – big brands are aligning themselves with causes as part of their companies’ marketing strategies – and studies show it works. One consumer behavior study conduced by Cone showed “cause-related marketing can exponentially increase sales, in one case as much as 74 percent, resulting in millions of dollars in potential revenue for brands.” Cause marketing campaigns cover a wide spectrum from getting people involved with walks and events, like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and American Express being a supporter of Taste of the Nation from the beginnings, to actual point of purchase and merchandizing partnerships, like Product (RED), which has partnered with many huge brands like the Gap, Emporio Armani, Nike, Apple, and Starbucks to donate a portion of proceeds from sales to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.
A new generation of do-gooders.
Just try to throw an aluminum can in the trash and not recycling bin in front of my six-year-old niece, and she will be all over you with a lecture on where it’s supposed to go. It seems that children and teens are being raised with a consciousness about doing good and giving back that is infused in them from multiple angles now.
Volunteering in America claims that 26% of teens volunteered as of 2009, and while volunteer rates among teenagers declined between 1974 and 1989 (20.9% and 13.4%, respectively), the percentage of teenagers who volunteer more than doubled between 1989 and 2005 (from 13.4% to 28.4%). This may have something to do with the trend in schools requiring service credits for graduation from high school, and sometimes even junior high. There is some level of this happening in elementary schools as well, because my brother and sister-in-law never had to teach my niece about recycling. So, something that may have been taught to children and youth mainly by their parents, families and friends, is now being exposed to them via their schools as well.
So, what does all this mean?
I think there is plenty of evidence out there that suggests doing good has gone mainstream. But, the more important question is, what do we do with it? Although it’s fantastic that this idea of doing good is part of our nation’s general culture and psyche, does it mean that people will lose sight of real impact and will it be an excuse for people to feel like they don’t need to do more? How can the nonprofit sector (or all sectors for that matter) really embrace and then leverage this attitude?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and I will be expanding on the ideas in this post and integrating your comments into a series of posts over on the Case Foundation blog.