As 2011 drew to a close, you probably had giving on the mind. Not just with holiday presents and host gifts, but combined with the many requests for your year-end donations, it all conglomerated to form a whirlwind package of year-end generosity. But of course, giving doesn’t stop when January first rolls around. It’s the more subtle giving that lasts throughout the year that, perhaps, makes the bigger difference for both us and the community and world we live in. As we settle into the blank and fresh 2012, we’d like to take note of changes in the way the world gives, and perhaps write this year’s story of giving a little better than the year before.
There have been three major shifts in how we give. The first is an turning from a one-way donor-to-recipient model to a community-oriented, grassroots partnership model. Instead of giving toward large, multifaceted undertakings, projects are smaller, and communication between donor and recipient is increased, and sometimes even tangible. Therefore, gifts aren’t seen as much as donations, but more of a support partnership. It’s been around for a while, with the likes of microfinance-oriented sites you’ve heard of like Kiva and Kickstarter.
The second big shift, which smaller microfinance projects automatically lend themselves toward, is the connecting with an experience or story. People who give, especially during the upswing of a recession, want to feel connected with their recipients and know their support is making a difference. They want to actually feel a part of a not-so-happy beginning turning into a happy ending. Kiva and Global Giving (among many others) allow supporters the luxury of hearing from recipients first-hand. A more recent evolution of experience-oriented support, specifically in the innovation community, is Quarterly Co. This is a whole new arena that plays off of a subscription model, supporting the work of creative thinkers who send a story-driven gift every three months in the mail. It’s a new (and tangible) way to think about connectedness and support of innovators (and the USPS – check it out).
The third shift is that giving is social. Take ONE, Pepsi Refresh, text message giving, Twitter campaigns, etc. Giving today is more social that ever. It’s a duty, it’s something we take part in together. 52 x 52 is just one of many new platforms that get people together to give more abundantly, and we spoke about the Leap Year Project a few posts back. More than ever, people are able to band together to create positive change.
But underlying it all, there’s a more subtle twist in the giving storyline. The line between giving and consumerism is blurring. Today, conscious consumers purchase with purpose. They are motivated by the story and buy into products with the intent to create positive change. Buying is giving. According to Slavoj Zizek, you are not just buying something, you are buying into something bigger. (Although Zizek goes into a fascinating discussion of consumer motivation of purchasing these goods, that is a discussion for another post. See the full video.) This idea of course started with the likes of (RED) and other charitably-based product lines, which multiplied into grassroots story-driven companies you see everywhere today.
We love giving, and it’s interesting to see how it continually evolves in our culture. Recognizing these shifts has affected the way we as designers think about messaging, how we communicate those messages, and how we give ourselves. The best part of all of this is that there are more ways to be a part of supporting others than ever before. So get out there in 2012 and start giving, and share with us what you do or what you see.