Sunday, June 13, 2010

Four Types of Donors

I've written a lot about my feelings on the rise of "slacktivism"--that is, the growing prevalence and acceptance of all the small, simple, easy things people can do to make a difference: Embedded philanthropy, tweeting for donations, virtual volunteering, signing petitions, running races, etc. When I saw this new list of "5 Cool Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW To Make a Difference" (OMG!) I thought I'd fire off another snarky post lambasting this degradation of the philanthropic community. But then I remembered this satirical post a friend had passed on to me on the BP Oil Spill and I realized I couldn't really out do that (it's hilarious). Instead, I decided to do something a little more productive.

My main issue with slackivism and the products/services that cater to the slacktivist model is the level of complacency (I think) they breed in people. I recognize that we all have varying degrees of interest in a cause and varying degrees of resources, but I also do not accept that those varying levels can't be pushed to get more out of people. To help illustrate this, I created this graph:

(Sorry for the kindergarten image quality.)

On the x axis, we have an individual's level of interest, be it in a cause, specific field or in social change in general. For the purposes of this discussion, let's be general and assume we're talking about a person's interest in social change. On the y axis, we have a person's capacity to devote resources to that cause--in our case, social change. The dots on the graph represent individuals. We can see that someone can have a high interest in social change, but not a lot of resources (time, money) to devote to "the cause," while there can also be someone with a high capacity to donate to "the cause" but not a lot of interest to do so. And there also is every variation of people between the two.

(Before going further explaining this model, I think it's important to note that I conceptualize these individuals represented on the graph as being in a singularity prior to the act of donation--that is, they have not yet given, but could do so in the future. These two axes represent an interest and a capacity that can be captured by non-profits, social change organizations, or what have you, at any point in the future. Moving on.)

To make things simpler, I decided to divide up the graph into segments:


which quarters off the plane and allows us to nicely divide up the donor market into this matrix:

Now, again, this is a simplification for the purposes of the model. Obviously, people don't just have either "high" or "low" interest in social change, or "high" or "low" capacity to give. But, this simplification helps us talk about the different characteristics. (Another note: I think it's safe to ignore the individuals who fall directly on either axes of the graphs; either people with no capacity to give whatsoever or those with absolutely no interest. Neither of those groups concern us in this model.)

In Q1, we have people with a high capacity to give, but a low interest. These are wealthier, privileged people with access to resources that make it easy to give, but, for whatever reason, don't want to. In Q2, we have people with a high capacity to give and a high interest. These are privileged donors with a strong desire to give. In Q3, we have people with a low capacity to give as well as a low interest. In Q4, we have people with a low capacity to give, but a high interest. In this quadrant, people are willing to give and be more engaged, but don't have the resources to do so.

Now that these markets are segmented, we can see the effect of the slackivist methods of giving on each of them. I will start with the easy ones. For Q2, the methods will have little to no effect. These donors are already highly engaged and contributing greatly. They do not need anything to help them give. For Q3, these donors don't have much to give and not a lot of interest to do so. If they use the slacktivist methods, it will be only slightly.

But the methods will have a large impact on Q4. For a Q4 donor without a lot of time or resources to be engaged, but a strong desire to make a difference, the "slacktivism" technologies actually make it easier for these donors to be a part of the philanthropic market. Their capacity to give is increased by the easier accessibility and increased connectivity of slacktivist modes of giving, which "mobilizes" them from their position in Q4 to a position in Q2. Woo! Alright!

So, the Q1 area is where I come up against my issues with slacktivism. For these people with low levels of interest, but high resources, slacktivism becomes a stopping point. Instead of feeding more information and aiming for increased engagement, the slacktivist methods instead simply extract increased-frequency, but still small donations from this quadrant. A raising of awareness could mobilize people from Q1 to Q2--which would lead to higher engagement and contributions--but instead, the Q1 donors remain stationary.

Now, you might ask, what's the big deal? Q1 people are giving more than they would have, as are the Q4 donors, so what's the problem?

Well, I would answer, it matters precisely because the slacktivism methods are not mobilizing Q1 people into Q2. There are huge amounts of time, resources and energy to be gained from the Q1 market share (especially in the Western world) and slacktivism is holding those people back. While it may mobilize the Q4 donors, the market share of Q1 (again, especially in the Western world) is much, much higher than the market share of Q4. There is so much to be gained from these potential donors, but slacktivism allows them to remain on the left side of the matrix.

Given a choice between buying a coffee bag that comes with a contribution to the Global Fund and one that does not, it's obviously better to choose the one that does. But accepting this as the only choice out there to potential donors is a huge misrepresentation of the possibilities of the philanthropic market and the world of social change. Things that mobilize the donors from Q1 to Q2 is where we need to be focusing our energies, not on making t-shirts with charitable donations woven into them.

That is my issue with slacktivism, embedded giving, texting donations, tweeting for charities, whatever you want to call it. People (especially in this country) can and should be doing more to be a part of social change.

(I recognize this was a lot. I appreciate you reading it all the way through. If you have any questions or thoughts on my model, my matrix, my subsequent analysis of it or anything, I'd love to hear from you through email or in the comments.)


  1. So, Bono is in quadrant 2, along with Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. Right? And I think your point about Q1 is important. That some of us/them feel like we are doing what we can with the t-shirt purchases. It's one reason why I hate those promos. What about folks who have a high interest in social change and resources but don't know what to do. Certainly, all the organizations that you have outlined in your blog (GiveWell) are useful for that. Just getting folks to be aware...and motivated. As always, the hard part. Great post!!

  2. You make a great case that the issues come with the folks in Q1. I would say this is as much of a problem in Q3 because they may have low capacity now, but eventually a few of them will have high capacity and move into Q1. They'll learn how to give/engage in this too casual way, and then when they have the ability to give more dollars, won't suddenly do any more.

    Of course you don't know which individuals in Q3 will move into Q1 eventually, so as fundraisers we have to "educate" them all the same.

    Can you tell I'm in annual fund ;)

    Great analysis. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    Brigid Slipka