Tom Watson’s new book, CauseWired examines how social networking sites are changing philanthropy. Watson’s book does not present a blueprint for raising funds, but instead presents a sort of sociological study of what he defines as “online social activism or peer-to-peer philanthropy.” Or to put it simply, being “CauseWired.”
Who are the CauseWired consumers? Watson describes them as “superinformed” with the expectation to “create and support causes change politics, and have personal involvement in the brands they support economically.”
Watson points out that the “nexus between technology and causes” has grown considerably since the rise of social networks. He cites a statistic that businesses should take note of: 30 percent of consumers told researchers they boycotted a product in the last year “because of the conditions under which it was made or the values of the company that made it.”
Watson cites other studies that businesses should consider. A 2006 study by the
cause-marketing agency Cone revealed that 61 percent of Americans born between 1979 and 2001 “feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world.” Seventy-four percent said they are more likely to pay attention to a company’s overall messages when they see that the company has a deep commitment to a cause.” Almost nine out of ten of those surveyed aged 13 to 25 said that they are “likely or very likely to switch from one brand to another if the second brand is associated with good causes.”
What can philanthropists learn from CauseWired? For starters, Watson states that philanthropy is changing because of social networking sites. Social entrepreneurship itself is maturing into a “fertile field for change” created by the combination of “new online models and a willingness to blur the lines between traditional charity and social causes.”
Just think of the following statistic sited in the book: American philanthropy is over $300 billion a year, about the size of Norway’s economy. However, every year it ends up being less than two percent of the U.S. GDP. As Watson puts it, “philanthropy has not grown.” Yet a “wired marketplace” connects millions of people and many causes, so there exists the very real possibility that philanthropy will grow as a result of social networking sites.