Introduction to the Digital Influence in Social Cause Report

November 10, 2009Sparxoo

Charitable giving has been on the decline since the onset of the recession. Total US gifts and pledges decreased 5.7% on an inflation-adjusted basis to $308 billion in 2008 according to Giving USA Foundation. More than half of charities are experiencing a downturn in contributions so far this year compared to the same time in 2008, according to an informal poll by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. In the face of these challenges, nearly three in ten of the leaders of the nation’s biggest charities and foundations have taken pay cuts in the past year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Given overall challenges, non-profits are increasingly searching for new ways to grow the impact of their organizations. In 2009, there have been several social causes successes in the digital world, led by the Twestival phenomenon. Allison Jones reports, “Last year people in over 150 cities used Twitter to raise money and awareness for charity:water, a nonprofit that builds wells for communities throughout Africa. Giving the overwhelming amount of support and money raised (over $1 million!), Twestival is back this year but with a new twist—each city is supporting a local charity.” With the growth of Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms,

the digital landscape is changing quickly. There are new opportunities to engage audiences to raise the visibility of social causes, deepen existing donor relationships, and inspire a new generation of philanthropists. Our team at Sparxoo embarked on this study, “Digital Influence in Social Cause,” to evaluate how the landscape is shifting. We define digital influence in social cause based on overall impact of efforts, audience engagement, and digital stretch. Our team scoured for data that show the breadth and depth of consumer interaction with social cause leaders, including total charitable donations, web site traffic, YouTube presence, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and Tumblr presence. We considered over 100 different charitable organizations ranging from household names such as American Red Cross and United Way to lesser known charities such as Smile Train and Farm Aid (please see methodology for more details).

As we compiled the results, we wondered if the much-hyped Charity Water had surpassed the established leaders and just how much influence Kiva had accumulated since its founding in 2005. We were surprised by the results and believe there are significant learnings to be found in these rankings.

The established charitable leaders still have influence, but need to accelerate their digital efforts in the face of significant competition from emerging upstarts and organizations focusing on environmental causes. American Red Cross ranks as the #1 digital influencer in social cause. More surprising, is that you have to go to #28 on the list before you get to United Way. The Top 20 includes 3 newer members to social cause: Kiva (#3), Lance Armstrong Foundation (#9), and Charity: Water (#20). The Top 20 also includes 3 organizations focused on animals, nature, and the environment: PETA (#2), Greenpeace (#4), and World Wildlife Fund (#11).

At Sparxoo, we believe that social cause is going mainstream. Through our work with Habitat for Humanity, TOMS and Clean Plates we have seen the power of a social mission. Through our blog, we have tracked the acceleration of digital development, which affords new opportunities to upstarts such as Charity: Water. While it is tempting to devote all of our attention to new entrants, we also recognize the potential rewards for established organizations such as the American Red Cross (founded in 1881) that embrace today’s digital world and attempt to reinvent themselves. As we emerge into a new economy, forward thinking leaders will survive and thrive.

Warm regards,

David Capece
Managing Partner, Sparxoo

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