The Habit of Giving

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December 13, 2011; Source: GOOD | It is said that it takes three weeks of daily repetition to establish a new habit, and this dynamic shapes several new web-based philanthropic challenges that have launched just in time for holiday giving and New Year’s resolutions.

Organizers of the GOOD online community’s “30 Day Challenge,” associated with GOOD magazine, ask members to pledge $30 in new donations during the month of December. Organizers further urge members to get personally engaged in finding small-scale, off-the-beaten-track, surprising beneficiaries. They call this approach “creative micro-philanthropy.”

Last week, the GOOD blog highlighted another web-based initiative meant to build momentum and exert positive peer pressure for charitable giving. Brooklyn-based designer Jessica Hische launched the featured website to leverage social capital, represented by her network of nearly 33,000 Twitter followers, toward increased philanthropy. Specifically, people are asked to pledge $52 in donations for 52 weeks, but they can opt for whatever amount or time frame works for them. Each week, Ms. Hische highlights a charity that she’s chosen for her own donation (most recently, Technovation Challenge), but participants can donate directly to any charity they choose. Photos of people who have made pledges—along with their Twitter feeds—are prominently featured. So far, the network has attracted over $157,000 in pledges.

Earlier in 2011, was launched as another web-based portal for micro-donations. It has attracted over $100,000 in donations to date in increments of $1–$10 (donors who want to give larger amounts are encouraged to donate directly to the charity of their choice). This site features daily and weekly “deals” with vetted nonprofits, and favors those with annual budgets under $1,000,000.

While these new efforts certainly draw from the experience of other philanthropic crowd-sourcing pioneers like micro-lender Kiva and giving circles like Dining for Women, they also reframe the meaning of “collective impact.” Rather than advocating for consolidated investment in what’s scalable and perhaps even best practice, these newest micro-philanthropy efforts stress speed of transaction and seem aimed at building the giving habit itself as an outcome. Does this represent the emergence of a new 21st century social compact akin to secular tithing? How does the emphasis on donor creativity, variable vetting, and maximum choice pose opportunities or challenges for the nonprofits you care about?—Kathi Jaworski