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Joanne Fritz

Is Micro-Giving the New Layaway?

By February 8, 2010

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The recession has changed us all in many ways. Not least among them, the return to some budgeting habits of yesteryear. We are saving more, spending less, and reviving old-fashioned techniques such as putting things on layaway so we can save up the money to buy them or pay them off in installments.

We are also giving to charity in more ways, but in smaller amounts. Nicole Wallace, writing on one of the The Chronicle of Philanthropy blogs, has pointed out that although charities raised millions of dollars in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, more than after the 2004 Asian tsunamis, the average gift was smaller - $109 for the earthquake compared with $208 for the tsunamis.

Micro-giving was already on the rise, in tandem with an explosion of online giving and the number of channels by which one can give. The interest in doing good that seems very strong in the younger generation, especially the Millennials, is a powerful force behind micro-giving, as is the perfecting of mobile giving which limits individual gifts to only small amounts such as $5 and $10. Many donors are also finding it's easier on the wallet to set up month-by-month giving plans or payroll deduction through their employers.

In a recent issue of AdvertisingAge, Christine Huang and Ozlioma Egwuonwu, of GlobalHue, a multicultural marketing firm, list five ways "culture" will become crucial for success in reaching consumers in 2010 and beyond. They list the diversity that will soon be uncovered in the Census; the multicultural sensibilities that corporations will have to show; the spread of "social gameplay" represented by Foursquare, CauseWorld, Twitter, and Facebook; and a return to humanism which shows up as increased interest in happiness, joy, and self-definition.

The fifth reason culture will become crucial the authors call "Micro Goes Mass," citing the outpouring of help for Haiti. They tie the reaction to Haiti with the "aftermath of the economic collapse," saying:

...the optimism that often accompanies the arrival of a new year is running thin in 2010. And yet, we're coming together to offer hope in smaller pieces, in the form of simple micro-actions....And beyond these times of need, micro-support is gaining traction as a straightforward, accessible way for everyday people to support the causes they believe in, finance promising new businesses, and make their creative visions a reality in small, easy steps.

I like the idea of framing micro-giving within the context of broad social change. We've already talked a great deal about micro-giving as the democratization of philanthropy where anyone can participate, no matter what their means. Now the picture widens and we can see that micro-giving may be intertwined with new economic realities and cultural shifts.

Whether we call micro-giving the new layaway or democratization, it does seem to coincide with a general feeling that smaller is better, slow is at least steady, and there are many ways to care for ourselves and others within a culture that is anything but ordinary or culturally monotonous.

Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images


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February 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm
(1) Nelson says:

Micro giving seems obvious looking back, there is a far greater population that can afford to give at this rate and their donations add up quickly. I believe the prevalence of technology is the driving factor is this, cell phone text giving has a huge convenience factor for the donor. People who would not normally take the time to stop and send in a check won’t think twice about replying to a text message to donate $5-10 dollars. The greatest issue with this is getting the cell phone data into the hands of legitimate non-profits for their fundraising efforts, as cell phones have traditionally been tougher to market to (but this is changing for the better).

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