The New Age of Charity: E-Activism

College students may not be among the first to shell out cash for starving children in Ethiopia. But many non-profit organizations have noticed that college students are the first to press “Like” on Facebook or download an iPhone application.

A new movement in philanthropy referred to as “e-activism” has become increasingly popular as our society balances a passion for technology and global networking. Not only is e-activism effective, it’s also hip. People can change other people’s lives by helping in convenient and often effortless ways.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., for example, has developed a cause called “Chase Community Giving” that is now hosted on Facebook. Non-profit organizations sign up with Chase and are put on an online ballot. Then they lobby for votes from Facebook users.

Last year, Invisible Children, an organization started by two college students attempting to prevent Ugandan armies from using child soldiers, won the grand prize of one million dollars. Although many participants may not actually be donating to these causes, Chase Community Giving allows people with fewer funds to still play a part in supporting their favorite organizations.

A non-profit organization called Not For Sale has taken e-activism a step further by expanding beyond Facebook and the typical website. Because Not For Sale aims to put an end to human trafficking, they encourage people to help shift the supply and demand of products from slave-made to free trade. In order to help educate people to make quality choices when shopping, Not For Sale has developed an iPhone application that allows users to scan grocery store items and detect whether or not they involved human trafficked ingredients.

This application allows people to support Not For Sale without donating. People on a budget can simply choose alternative products in order to support the cause.

Another outlet that many organizations are using is Twitter. In addition to elaborate websites, frequently updated blogs and Facebook fan pages, companies are now sending 140 character updates and can link directly to phones all over the world. Krochet Kids International is a non-profit that works with women in Uganda and teaches them how to crochet so that they can make a living for themselves.

It is a rather new organization, but has been gaining popularity thanks to an increasing web presence and an avidly updated Twitter account.

Clothing in general has become a significant part of activism and, thanks to online retailers, people can easily purchase attire from various causes as a way to donate and spread the word. YOUME, for example, donates new clothing to children in need and takes their old clothes, sewing patches from the worn items onto unique, customized shirts that they sell online. The profits they make from the shirts are recycled in the form of food, water wells and community renovations for the area in which they donated clothing.

TOMS shoes donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of TOMS purchased.

TOMS also has developed a large online community and has inched its way into the fashion industry as well. Their website even features a section called “How We Wear Them” dedicated to displaying pictures of customers wearing their TOMS.

Although e-activism has made charity an option for all, it also has a rather impersonal and purely trendy side to it. Because many people are helping causes in a removed manner, many may vote for or “become a fan” of a charity merely to give off the appearance of being a caring, altruistic person.

Nevertheless, the popularity of this movement has indeed allowed more organizations to gain support and network with one another. And, amidst all the people casually clicking buttons and receiving Tweets, are those who will also take the step out of e-activism and into real activism on the front of poverty and injustice.