OUR VIEW: ‘Slacktivism,’ crowdfunding divert donors

Matt Harrelson | Daily Journal Cancer survivor and Relay for Life coordinator Pam Davis holds the microphone as survivors call out their names and say how long they have been cancer-free during the Richmond County Relay for Life on May 8. The event so far has raised $61,284.15 of its $100,000 goal.

From coming together to launch the Place of Grace homeless shelter to taking care of our own when they fall on hard times, Richmond County residents are known for opening their hearts and their wallets to those in need.

It was particularly painful to report Saturday that one of our largest annual fundraisers, the Richmond County Relay for Life, saw a 41 percent decline from 2014. Relay teams collected $61,284, down from a goal-shattering $105,000 last year.

Another worthy cause, the Tossin’ for Taylor cornhole tournament to benefit the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation, saw half the number of teams as last year and raised about $2,500, down from $3,500 in 2014.

Relay for Life coordinator Cameron Whitley said a company’s move to neighboring Scotland County and its participation in Relay there accounts for part of the decrease. As to the rest, we can all only speculate.

Unemployment has ticked upward. Many of us find ourselves with less money leftover when the bills are paid. Richmond remains among North Carolina’s poorest counties. And the changing ways people champion causes in the Internet age may bear some responsibility.

Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have made it easier to show public support for helping agencies, charities and campaigns. That’s led to a phenomenon called “slacktivism,” which occurs when expressing solidarity takes the place of donating or volunteering.

Awareness has become a buzzword in charitable circles. Wearing a ribbon or armband in the color designated for a specific condition or cause (pink for breast cancer, red for HIV/AIDS, yellow for deployed troops, purple for domestic violence, etc.) is a way to make a statement.

For many, it’s an empowering exercise. But it shouldn’t become a substitute for contributing to worthy causes.

What do we really mean when we say we’re raising awareness? Are we talking to our friends and neighbors about breast self-exams and screening mammograms, or are we wearing a pink ribbon because it gives us a fuzzy feeling of altruism?

The other fad is click-to-give crowdfunding websites that allow anyone to solicit donations for any reason. The websites pocket a percentage of the proceeds, and the rest goes to the person or group who created the campaign.

This technology has a great potential for good, and some have used the sites to raise money for those battling disease or families who have lost their homes and belongings to fire.

Some use crowdfunding websites for personal projects like publishing a novel or buying studio time to record a CD. Still others ask people to support struggling businesses. Unlike investors, online donors don’t receive stock or any tangible stake in a company.

Reputable charities have expressed concern that crowdfunding is cutting into their bottom line. Unlike nonprofits that must file public IRS forms reporting the money they collect and how it is spent, crowdfunding campaigns operate with no financial accountability.

Folks should be cautious — even skeptical — about giving money when there’s no way to account for its use.

Causes like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life have a track record of good stewardship, and they’ll show you where each penny goes. They deserve Richmond County’s continued support.