We are all aware how social media has changed how we communicate about the world we live in, but how has it affected how we give to charity?
University of Warwick professor Kimberley Scharf presents a paper with a model showing that people using social media are less likely to share information about charities or ways to give if they are part of larger groups. When someone is part of a larger social group, such as those with many Facebook friends, they are more likely to engage in what economist call free-riding. Free-riding is defined as when someone chose to not donate to a cause because they assume that the group is large enough that someone else will do the giving.
According to Scharf’s research, smaller social groups provide a greater sense of connection that can result in action. Within smaller group settings sharing information about giving goes a long way, and their gift has more of an impact on the group for smaller groups. Sociologically speaking there is a cost with sharing information or giving, but a benefit if someone else responds positively to one’s sharing information. In a large group someone is more likely to respond to someone else, which lowers the benefit and incentives to share information. In a smaller group there is a greater incentive to share or give because the chances of a beneficial response to each one’s sharing is greater.
Reading this paper as a Christian (not a sociologist) I see that Scharf touches some Christian ideals when referring to small groups but giving as Christians may have more to it than this social cost/benefit transaction. God calls us to give without receiving, so we should be more willing to incur any social cost of these group interactions and give more freely. We often do feel the benefits of supporting a cause we believe in, even if we don’t see immediate results, and when we give joyfully or tell others about causes to support we feel benefits from trusting God will work through our gifts. As a Christian the benefits extend beyond just our interaction with the group.
Since 2008, BFJN has been cultivating small groups of Christians to give through the Lazarus at the Gate curriculum. This resource has helped hundreds of Christians engageissues of spending, wealth inequality, and consumer choices in light of their faith. Here are a couple of things we’ve gleaned from our experience equipping leaders to run small giving groups:
- Giving in community increases impact. By gathering friends together and giving towards a common cause, you can exponentially increase the impact to the recipient organization. My individual gift may be relatively small but if I give with 10 or 12 friends then our combined gift can make a sizable impact. The possibility realized through this has helped many within the BFJN community given even more – stretching themselves to give sacrificially towards a common goal.
- Giving in community sustains giving. Many of the Lazarus groups have continued giving following the end of the their small group. Lazarus cultivates an experience of generosity within participants that is grounded in their faith in Christ that will last a lifetime. The accountability provided through the small group setting allows for deep connections allow for deeper engagement in a common cause.
Social media connects us to ideas (and causes) with a pace that is both exciting and at times overwhelming. Social networks also connect us with others we may not communicate with otherwise. However, in this changing world of social interactions let us not lose the value of a personal connection with each other in all parts of our lives.