A new survey looks at how Americans want to give back--and shows that charitable buying, not charitable giving, is the trend.

Conscious consumer spending is going up.

Especially in the midwest.

Still, 1/3 of consumers don't care at all.

What's preventing people from making more conscious purchases? Lack of information.

The most important factor in deciding a good company: How it treats its employees.

2014-04-21

Co.Exist

Americans Want To Give Back With Their Purchases—Not With Charity

Cause-based brands are both complementing and competing with more traditional nonprofits.

Supporting a cause used to be mostly about writing a donation check to a charity. But today the lines between charity and commerce are blurring as more and more shoppers buy from socially-minded companies and view their buying habits as a means of "giving back."

The results of a new survey, conducted by socially responsible marketing consultancy Good.Must.Grow, show these trends for the second year in a row. In a poll of 1,010 Americans, the group found that about 30% consumers planned to increase their purchases from socially responsible companies in the coming year (compared to 29% last year). Meanwhile, only 18% plan to increase charitable giving in 2014, a decline from 21% in 2013.

"Americans have done about what they are capable of or willing to do as far as donations go," says Heath Shackleford, founder of socially responsible marketing consultancy Good.Must.Grow. "As they see more opportunities for buying responsibly, they are looking at it as a way to do more without having to find more money to do it with."

In all, 1 in 5 consumers responded that they actually prefer to give back by purchasing socially responsible products. Another 39% preferred to split their giving between charities and cause-based brands. Some people said that buying rather than giving charity was simply an easier way for them to give back regularly. A large minority, 48%, believed it was a "more effective" way to support change and make a difference.

As a result of the uptick in what Good.Must.Grow calls conscious consumerism, some non-profits and traditional charities are starting to diversify their models—say, by considering adding a social enterprise component so they aren’t only dependent on donations or grants.

One example is Against the Grain, a Nashville, Tennessee, nonprofit where Good.Must.Grow is based. The charity helps formerly incarcerated individuals find work and a second chance, and recently bought a small pizza restaurant to generate revenue that will fund their work, as well as help train clients in the program. "It’s a very small-scale example," says Shackleford. "It just speaks to the fact that you don’t have to have a national model to do this."

Overall, the growth of socially responsible companies is slow but steady, says Shackleford. For charities, this trend expands the pie by giving people more opportunities to support a cause. Still, he says, social enterprises will need to become more transparent and provide better education and information to consumers so they know what they are buying and feel they can trust the brand. This is especially important to capture the one-third of Americans who shop by their conscience when it’s "convenient," according to the survey. They have good intentions, but don’t want to go out of their way or think too hard.

You can see other results from the survey in the infographic and slides above.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

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3 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing this study with a wider audience. I'm the founder of Dsenyo.com a social enterprise and ethical fashion company. We are inspiring a tribe of artisans and customers that share the desire to build a better world. By simply shifting your dollars to socially conscious companies that you already spend on gifts, clothing and accessories...(add groceries, coffee, etc)...we can start to change our world for the better.

  • I work for Thistle Farms in Nashville, TN. We are a Social Enterprise that is funded by the sale of our amazing products. (Which are all handmade, all natural, and chemical free - manufactured, labeled, shipped, packaged and sold all by the Graduates and Residents of Magdalene, a 2 year residential community for women that have been through lives of addiction, prostitution and sex-trafficking.) Check us out at thistlefarms.org !

  • Stone in Shoe (www.stoneinshoe.com) is a great example of this! They sell canvas print art and donate 100% of the profits to anti-human-trafficking work in Southeast Asia. Check them out. Buy a print!