Activism or Slacktivism: Researching the Impact of Social Media on Charitable Donations
If there’s one problem the nonprofit world would love to solve, it’s how to increase funding. Organizations go to great lengths to solicit donations for their causes—and one increasingly popular method is by using social media.
“Nonprofit organizations are increasingly using social media for communication and relationship building,” says Dr. Namchul Shin, Professor and Associate Chair of the Seidenberg Information Technology department.
While there has been extensive research in how nonprofits use social media, there has been little research on the impact. Dr. Shin’s research, which he presented at the 33rd Annual IIMA Conference in Seattle on October 24–26, 2022, aimed to address the gap.
There are various topics, technological and social, that we can study and teach. But one of the areas I like most is how to best use technology to create value—not just economic, but social—and how to mitigate harm for society.
—Namchul Shin, Professor of Information Technology
Taking a deep dive into the relationship between social media usage and the impact—that is, the volume of charitable donations—Dr. Shin, alongside Taojin Lou and Mansi Modi, students from Pace’s MBA program, utilized a large data set of the top 100 nonprofits as listed by the Nonprofit Times, ranked by revenue. Various aspects were used to measure social media traction: likes and follower count, for starters.
"It is important to understand how fundraising is influenced by the use of social media," said Dr. Shin. As an information systems professor, his interest is multi-faceted. “We are not just focusing on technology, but also human-centered research. There are various topics, technological and social, that we can study and teach. But one of the areas I like most is how to best use technology to create value—not just economic, but social—and how to mitigate harm for society.”
The results painted an interesting picture. It turns out that social media usage can indeed contribute to charitable giving. "Social media can attract more supporters to nonprofit organizations' social media pages and help promote better communications and relationship building, thereby increasing donations."
But it doesn't end there. Comparing Facebook likes and Twitter followers revealed that different platforms have different impacts on public engagement in fundraising campaigns. "The number of followers on Twitter is highly associated with increased donations, but not the number of likes on Facebook," said Dr. Shin. "The results imply that simply clicking the like button on Facebook might be just self-serving slacktivism."
Dr. Shin is a Wilson Center Fellow in Pace University’s Wilson Center Fellowship program, which supports social change through entrepreneurship and the creation of a diverse body of research that identifies and addresses issues facing nonprofits and social enterprises.