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Slacktivism confirmed: ‘Liking’ a charity means you’re less likely to donate

If you care about a cause, you might want to avoid the phony rush of “liking” it on Facebook.


Sarah Weber


Nothing says “I’m doing my part” like joining a charitable group on Facebook. That is, except contributing actual time or money to the cause.

But a recently published study suggests people who publicly proclaim their support for charitable causes on social media are actually less likely to give in a meaningful way, i.e. with cash or other resources.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business asked group of study participants to support a cause by joining a Facebook group, accepting a badge, or signing a petition. Later, those same people were asked to put some skin in the game by volunteering their time.

The researchers found that the more public a person’s initial show of support, the less likely a person was to actually give later. People who supported a cause more privately, however, were more likely to give tangible resources later on.

While the merits of such “slacktivism” have been argued for years, many have previously assumed that digital activism doesn’t actively harm charities. What non-profits don’t gain in substantive resources from freeloading supporters, they do gain in brand recognition and social reach. And, they don’t necessarily lose anything.

But this study concludes that they can lose. If people show visible social media support to a cause initially, it actually damages the chances they’ll give substantive support later on. (Of course, that didn’t apply to people who were highly engaged with the cause.)

The researchers, Kirk Kristofferson, Katerine White, and John Peloza, consider two motivating factors for giving. First, you want to look good in front of your friends. Second, you want to be consistent with your own values.

Traditionally, dropping a few dollars in a collection bin, writing a check, or volunteering your time were ways to achieve that warm, fuzzy honeyglow you get when you’ve done a good thing and gained the delicious approval of your social group. Slacktivists, however, find that a social proclamation is an adequate placebo to get that same high.

So what does this mean for charities who want to make the most out of their fundraising campaigns?

“If charities run public token campaigns under the belief that they lead to meaningful support, they may be sacrificing their precious resources in vain,” Kristofferson said. “If the goal is to generate real support, public-facing social media campaigns may be a mistake.”

H/T The British Psychological Society  | Photo by Silicon Prairie News/Flickr

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