The Rocket Fuel for Your Philanthropy is Technology

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I’m often asked about the intersection of technology and corporate philanthropy. What are the innovations on the horizon, and how is technology evolving to meet the demands that employees have for giving back?

The Future of Online Giving

Let’s take corporate giving, for starters. Up until very recently, employees had become accustomed to clunky technology that simply automated spreadsheets and paper pledges and served one purpose: creating a payroll deduction, requesting a match and ‘setting it and forgetting it.’ This type of technology is no longer relevant, useful or sought after in today’s market.

Today’s employees and the employees of the future want to be able to give in whatever form they can, including credit card, payroll, commissions, points, Apple Pay and, for those unique few, bitcoins. They want their giving to happen in real time, not three months later.

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People Will Seek Purpose, Not a Job

Employees are also seeking to create a deep and meaningful connection with their supported charities. They want to track their impact, not just dollars raised. They want to see the ways that they’re benefiting their local communities and helping to chip away at the global issues of our times. They want to understand how they’re contributing to their company’s ambitious social impact goals. And as they’re seeing all of this change happen in real time, they want to be able to share their stories and do so through their social media identities.

Administrators want an online volunteer and giving platform that will encourage mass adoption and that will prompt user actions. It should allow for easy tracking of impact and, though administrators want to encourage social sharing, the system should still allow for monitoring of those lines of communications. They want a system that won’t need complex upgrades but one that naturally evolves with the changing technology landscape. Their system should be sturdy, reliable and keep pace with whatever new HR, payroll and/or intranet systems they adopt and the technical enhancements they support. Opportunities for streamlining processes through web services, APIs and greater mobile functionality will be key.

Customer Support Gets Real

The next generation of workplace giving software will also continue to extend beyond technology and provide a human service component that is insightful and reliable. Employees want to be satisfied with and inspired by their customer experience. Gone are the days of missed emails and/or no real-time chat support. The software of the future is just as much about providing a genuine human connection as it is providing state of the art technology.

Widening the Intersection of Education, Technology and Opportunity

The technology that powers progressive modes of giving back is most effective when it’s integrated into a company’s shared values and, better yet, its business model. Corporate citizenship isn’t just about volunteer days, and workplace giving is no longer just about charity drives. Technology that meets companies at the point of cause innovation are where breakthroughs occur for society, individuals and corporate America.

For example, I’m inspired by an initiative called LRNG, which redesigns learning for the 21st century. As laid out by Blair Taylor, Chief Community Officer for Starbucks, and Connie M. Yowell, Chief Executive Officer for Collective Shift and Director of Education for the MacArthur Foundation, LRNG creates solutions for “opportunity youth,” the seven million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working and are in danger of falling through the cracks, with no pathway out of the educational gap and into the workforce.

“These opportunity youth are comparable to the veterans of 25 years ago,” writes Raechel Banks for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “Due to a lack of shared language around translating their skills, there is a vast pool of untapped latent talent. Five trillion dollars in untapped potential, in fact.”

LRNG meets this gap by working with cities and businesses to create an alternative learning approach based on digital badges, which can be earned for a wide range of skills, including teamwork, and can eventually lead to internship and job opportunities for opportunity youth. The program has been piloted for three years now and is about to break out more widely throughout the country.

Starbucks has placed a great deal of focus on youth unemployment, having recently announced its 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a national coalition of leading U.S.-based companies committed to hiring at least 100,000 Opportunity Youth by 2018. LRNG takes this goal a step further by asking cities, nonprofits and businesses to reimagine the role they can play in this issue, and then using technology to bridge those efforts and power the way.

Welcome to CSR 2.0

Technology is reshaping our world every day, and it’s essential to the future of our planet that technological innovations propel new forms of giving back. I launched my company, Causecast, precisely for this reason. My hope was to accelerate the ways that companies could create sustainable solutions through technology and to magnify the role that employees occupy in this effort.

Every company that cares about engaging employees should be using a volunteer and giving platform that can adapt to the evolutions of workplace giving. Whether it’s a new feature that encourages teaming, points and/or gamification or an integration with a new workplace wellness application, volunteer and giving platforms should be built for the future. When your technology meets your philanthropy at the point of innovation and engagement, anything is possible.

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Adding fuel to the fire: How important is Facebook?

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how important is facebook

A new survey adds more fuel to the swirling debate about how social media usage is changing, especially among teens.

In a Piper Jaffray survey of American teens, one-third described the photo-sharing app Instagram as their most important social network. Twitter finished second, named most important by 20 percent of respondents, followed closely by the popular chat app Snapchat with 19 percent.

However, you need to dig into the nature of the research before making conclusions about the implications for marketing strategy. The research does not necessarily say teens are moving away from Facebook. The research says they “prefer” Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Only 15 percent of teens in the survey said Facebook topped the list.

How important is Facebook? The rest of the story

Before declaring Facebook dead, consider that other reports offer a dramatically different view. In a survey released this spring, Pew Research Internet Project found that Facebook is the site used most frequently by U.S. teens. In fact, 41 percent of those polled described Facebook as the site they use most frequently, beating out Instagram and Snapchat.

Pew had previously reported that teens were growing frustrated by the presence of adults on the site — but few teens had actually dumped Facebook.

To make matters even more confusing, in 2014, nearly half of 4,517 teenagers surveyed by Forrester Research about social media use said they used Facebook more than a year earlier.

Making sense of the data

What can we conclude from these data points? How important is Facebook? How much should we consider this research in marketing plans?

  1. First, it’s not out of the question that what teens say and what they actually DO are different. They’re teens — that should not be a surprise, right? The most important thing to teens is relevance and if Instagram and Snapchat are relevant, that’s what they will talk about.
  2. It appears that teens are diversifying but not necessarily abandoning Facebook. Another interesting data point is that for the last year, 8 percent of the respondents in this survey think the most important social network is not even on this list! I think that is the most interesting data point. What is OTHER and how do we get there?
  3. This is another nail in the coffin of Google+. In 2012, I wrote about the need for Google to place all of their marketing dollars on teens. To go mainstream, they needed to be relevant to this generation, period. They should have listened to me.
  4. Along with Facebook, Twitter also took a hit on the “favorite scale.” But it is still substantially preferred by teens over Facebook — and even Snapchat. Why? Grandma ain’t there. Seems like an unrealized opportunity by Twitter, which seems to be devoting all its activities to bringing Grandma on to the channel by making it more Facebook-like.
  5. Facebook owns Instagram of course. People scoffed at paying $ 1 billion for an 11-employee company with no revenue. It was the right move. Instagram is now valued at about $ 50 billion.
  6. I think the most important thing to consider here is emotional bond. Think about the lasting emotional bonds to products you loved as a teen. What were they? Maybe a certain comic book hero, a television show, the Star Wars movies? Those connections remain strong your entire life. While it may no longer be cool to read a comic book as an adult or spend your time watching Full House all day, when these teens become adults, it will probably be important to use Instagram because of the bond and community they are building there.

While the data may  be somewhat conflicted, I think the emergence of Instagram and Snapchat as preferred social media channels has interesting long-term implications.

Illustration courtesy Piper Jaffray

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