Nov 7, 2022

How Might Digital Collectibles Support Viral Online Donation Campaigns? 

Dr. Frances Liddell

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014? Do you remember which charity initiated this campaign? And, most importantly, do you remember donating to the cause?

Online donation campaigns are a common tool for nonprofits to raise funds. And initiatives such as the ‘No Make Up For Cancer Awareness’ or ‘Movember For Men’s Mental Health’ or the Ice Bucket Challenge noted above highlight how these campaigns can go ‘viral’ and generate huge levels of interest that goes beyond the initial charity’s social network. 

But are such campaigns effective fundraising? Clearly viral donation campaigns can have a meaningful impact on raising awareness. But online donation campaigns have shown to suffer from ‘Slacktivism’, a phrase that describes online support to a cause that does not lead to any financial donation.

The Ice Bucket Challenge by the ALS Foundation is one case in point. Participants were invited to donate to the ALS Association, share a video of themselves having a bucket of ice water poured over their heads, and then nominate three friends to take up the Challenge. 

Sharing a video on social media creates a sense of accountability to the Challenge, however, this only creates accountability for the Challenge, and not the donation. In fact, some surveys found that as little as 1 in 10 people in the UK who took on the Ice Bucket Challenge also donated to the charity, which suggests that this campaign suffered from ‘slacktivism’. 

In summary, online campaigns can be hugely impactful but run the risk of being more of a marketing tool than a fundraising campaign. 

A Case for Digital Collectibles

Digital collectibles such as NFTs are digital tokens that are exchangeable through blockchain technology and, while it is still an emerging technology, they could offer some form of solution to slacktivism. 

Firstly, like viral online donation campaigns, digital collectibles use the network effect where interest around digital collectible campaigns is sparked through digital word of mouth passed through different digital collectible communities, which creates a sense of hype and ‘FOMO’. This contagious effect is accelerated when celebrities join the initiative, and this was seen with the Ice Bucket Challenge when celebrities such as Britney Spears and Oprah participated in the Challenge. Likewise, Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs gained huge traction when Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon each bought one of these tokens. 

Secondly, both online donation campaigns and digital collectibles are used as social capital. Drawn from sociology, social capital relates to our reputation and social status among our peers and society which is built on shared values and interests. With online campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge, the campaign reinforces your sense of psychological connection to your network when you post your video; it is a way of stating that you are part of a particular trend. Similarly, many digital collectible holders use their token as their avatars on platforms such as Discord and Twitter. Therefore, the digital collectible is treated as a status symbol and a way to identify that person to a particular digital collectible community.

Reconnecting Donation and the Viral Campaigns

Where these two ideas differ, however, is that digital collectibles have to be bought and sold in order for the social capital to be exchanged whereas online donation campaigns work through spreading the concept without requiring any specific exchange of value.

The combination of social capital and exchange value could help to address the ‘slacktivism’ we see in online donation campaigns. Imagine if 10% of every Doodle sale went to a particular charity. This collaboration could both promote the charity and provide it with a sustainable income through secondary sales. 

Fortunately, altruistic digital collectible campaigns are already a reality. For example, in March 2022 Stella Artois announced its partnership with VaynerNFT and Water.Org to create a charity campaign on the Art Blocks platforms. This involved 1024 generative NFTs produced by the artist Eliya Stein where both the primary and secondary sales went to Water.Org, a charity that supports access to safe water and sanitisation. The project successfully sold every digital collectible making a total of 17 ETH (roughly $26,242.90 today) for the charity. 

Liquid Ruminations #766 Eliya Stein,

The ‘Doing Gud’ platform also explores this avenue with digital collectibles. Users can buy and sell digital collectibles on the marketplace, and a portion of the proceeds supports a charitable cause. For instance, Whistle Wind by Thomas Brodin is a photographic work taken at the top of Whistle Mountain in British Columbia, Canada. The digital collectible is being sold for $2,500 with 20% of the proceeds going towards Trees for the Future, a charity helping to address poverty, hunger, and climate change by training farmers about regenerative agriculture techniques. 

Digital collectibles combine the excitement of online campaigning with the act of donating and in doing so could play an important role in addressing slacktivism in online campaigns. Of course, they are still an emerging model, but the aforementioned examples show that this is changing. These tokens could provide charities and other nonprofits with a new avenue for fundraising and museums and cultural institutions are prime examples of the types of organizations that could benefit from this new digital collectible-based model.  

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