CSR-Building Opportunities Abound with the Changing Face of Philanthropy

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Philanthropy is being redefined with the rising tides of digital media, allowing the pursuit of greater CSR initiatives and creation of more conscious companies like Participant Media, created in 2004 by eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, as an activist entertainment company that produces movies with a message.

Lincoln, and encouraging civic engagement and antifracking film, Promised Land, are two examples of Participant-backed films. To deduce the best way to reach audiences and motivate them to participate, Participant is collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

To that end, the team has developed the Participant Index, similar to Nielsen TV ratings, that compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven media and delivers an online survey for up to 350 viewers per project with questions about emotional response and level of engagement. 

On a scale of 100, for instance, The Square, a documentary on political upheaval in Egypt, scored 97 out of 100 for emotional involvement, but only an 87 for provoking action, for a combined average of 92. However, “Farmed and Dangerous,” Chipotle’s web series about industrial agriculture, reached 99 on the action scale and 94 for emotion for an average of 97—thus interpreted as having higher impact than The Square.[more]

Participant is building a proprietary database of three echelons with 35 projects each—about 100 distinct bits of media each year. So far, themes about animal rights and food production are most likely to spur individual action.

Over all, “You have to embrace your fans, not shout at them,” Marc Karzen, whose company, RelishMix, advises film and television marketers, told the New York Times. “They need to be inspired to spread the word.” 

The changing face of charity now includes close to 1,000 benefit corporations, “halfway between a for-profit and a nonprofit. It has two purposes: to provide profits to shareholders and to achieve an announced social or environmental goal. The law obligates the corporation to achieve both, and ensures it doesn’t exist only to make money,” the Times notes.

Even more radical is the emergent model of “participation nonprofit,” espoused in “Finance and the Good Society,” by Robert J. Shiller. 

“It has an advantage over a benefit corporation in that the public will be more likely to donate to it, seeing it as devoted exclusively to some higher cause,” Shiller told the Times. “Such an organization, which might run a school or a hospital, would offer to sell shares instead of requesting donations. The share sales would really be donations, but would be framed differently and come with rights that would change the whole giving experience.”

On an individual level, a shift in behavior has some young children choosing to forgo presents at birthday parties for local charities, according to the paper. “If they ever didn’t want to do it, we wouldn’t do it,” mother Laurie Moret said. “My only hope is community service becomes how brushing their teeth is to them: They do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

On the corporate, for-profit side, toymaker Hasbro has given $5 million to fund a group that selects “community action heroes,” with winners receiving a $1,000 college scholarship. “We want to reach those kids who have been on the receiving end of services,” said Karen Davis, VP community relations at Hasbro. “We want those kids to recognize that they can give back, that they can solve a problem.”

With the internet and mobile devices giving consumers increasing access to giving platforms, including crowdfunding sites and campaigns that gain viral popularity, the face of philanthropy is set to take on a much more casual, accessible tone. 

• Connect with Sheila on Twitter: @srshayon

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