Consider the citizen philanthropist

Social media has given voice to the individual philanthropist and there is a great deal of good that can come from opening up the process of philanthropy and helping redefine what it means to champion a cause you personally care about.

– Kari Dunn Saratovsky, Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation

People find out about GivingCity – nonprofit professionals, PR people, young professionals, everyday folks I can’t categorize – and they ask for help. Either they want us to help publicize something or they want to pick our brains about the nonprofit community.

We are totally happy to help.

But I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an avid user of social media or because there’s a growing trend toward this, but I would say about 75 percent of the people who reach out to GivingCity are what Mashable calls “citizen philanthropists.”

Like me, these citizen philanthropists reach for the easiest and cheapest tools available for spreading the word about their cause. For us that’s been, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and – in the works – a LinkedIn group. Love love love for the free social media tools that have helped us take GivingCity from a cute idea to a broadcast and publishing channel in its own right.

And like me, they’ve identified a flaw in the system, a need in the community that’s not being served from their perspective. So instead of complaining about it to their friends over tap beer at a sticky happy hour table, they start something. They do something about it.

There is a place for citizen philanthropy, whether old-school nonprofits want to admit it or not. But citizen philanthropists have a responsibility to do their research and look for ways to contribute to existing efforts – stand on the shoulders of existing nonprofits rather than dismiss them as a dysfunctional organization. Consider the possibility that nonprofits may know more than you about how to serve their clients.

Nonprofits have a responsibility, too. Open the door. Find a way to support, empower and engage these citizen philanthropists. Make it a priority. Consider the possibility that a nimble and passionate individual can push the world forward, too.

“Just think — what would the civil rights movement have looked like if it were blogged and tweeted like the Iran revolution of 2009,” asked Hargro. “What if Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passionate and prescient words were tweeted and retweeted worldwide?”

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4 Comments on Consider the citizen philanthropist

  1. At Citizen Effect (, we provide a platform for anyone to be a Citizen Philanthropist. You are right, there are plenty of nonprofits, NGOs and community based organizations that are doing amazing work. Our responsibility is to find them and put Citizen Philanthropists directly in contact with them. People are seeking a better way to make an impact in the lives of others. They don’t just want to give $50 to the black box or, but to develop a relationship with a community and have a direct line of sight to the impact they are having. It is going to require organizations to be more transparent and accountable. The organizations that deliver clear, measurable results will see more and more support from Citizen Philanthropists. We are seeing the emergence of a very exciting market. Dan

  2. It is exciting. And it’s great that not every citizen philanthropist has to learn how to do it from scratch. Platforms like yours will elevate everyone’s contribution. Thanks for the comment!


  3. I agree that there are individuals in every community that are looking for ways to help create positive social change. I believe and hope that small businesses feel the same. Here in Los Altos, CA, the Community Foundation is trying to inspire and engage various segments of the citizenry in philanthropy and is looking to Giving City Austin as a role model.

  4. Hi, Laila. Sites like your are actually amazing resources for businesses to engage in philanthropy. I don’t know what kind of role model Giving City can be, but it helps me to look to your site – it’s great to see other bloggers caring enough to help people in their community make connections. Thank you!!!

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