Giving, Giving, Gone

By David Williams (he/him)

The fleeting nature of internet trends has resulted in a surge of attention and donations to charitable causes until a new trend replaces it. David Williams investigates and owns up to his own fickle charitable giving and explores the consequences of trending social causes.


A common thread binds together an attempted insurrection, an apocalyptic Covid-19 wave, missile attacks against refugees, and a transgender weightlifter. In the first six months of 2021, each of these events captured our collective attention. They awakened our emotions, forcing each of us to decide where we stood on these issues.


I was not spared from being ensnared by the emotional vortex that came from watching each of these events play out. To show that I cared, I donated money to causes that help alleviate the suffering of those caught up in the action or help fight those doing the damage.


On the morning of Thursday seventh of January, we were all glued to our TVs and social media feeds watching far right insurrections storming the United States Capitol and pushing American democracy to breaking point. That day, I donated $10 to Anti-Racist Action, $11 to Black Lives Matter, and $20 to two pro-democracy organisations.


When India was consumed by their second wave of Covid-19 in the first week of May, I donated $45 to World Vision’s India appeal.


Three weeks later when Gaza was going through some of the worst bombing campaigns in recent memory, I donated $100 to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA – a relief organisation designed to help Palestinian refugees.

Donating to each of these causes made me feel good. I had done my part to try and make the world a better place. But secretly, I also donated to them because they were trending.

Even here at home when transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was selected to represent New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics, resulting in horrible derogatory comments coming to the surface, I donated $10 to Rainbow Youth and $10 to InsideOUT.


Donating to each of these causes made me feel good. I had done my part to try and make the world a better place. But secretly, I also donated to them because they were trending. For a short period of time, each of the events I mentioned occupied a prime place in my consciousness because they were atop of the news cycle and across social media. I wanted to act like I cared about what was going on at that very moment.


Sudden surges in support for trending causes are very common. Many charities and organisations reap the benefits of such surges. After far-right former politician Nigel Farage labelled the UK's Royal National Lifeboat Institution a “taxi service for migrants”, donations surged. They raised almost £200,000 in one day after his comments.


This phenomenon occurs for New Zealand organisations as well. Tabby Besley from InsideOut, an organisation supporting LGBTQ+ people, saw a rise in donations after Family First sent a transphobic document to schools. “We made a tweet encouraging people to donate to help with sending our trans affirmative resource to schools. It got a great response."


Rachael Russell from the Cancer Society says that they saw a rise in donations last year because of the cancellation of their street campaign because of Covid. “We think that news stories around Covid and the cancellation of our Auckland street collection last year helped our fundraising.”


But what happens when these causes are no longer trending?


While I believe surges in donations are wonderful for organisations who need the assistance, many of them only rely on one-off donations to survive as regular donors are much rarer. As a result, the sudden flood will often slow to a trickle when the news cycle moves onto something else.


Tabby from InsideOut says that they “occasionally pick up some regular donors after some public awareness about our work but more commonly it's one-off donations.”


Charities are often strapped for time and resources; they crave consistency and security because it allows them to plan. However, trends are very fleeting. For the week of May 2 to May 8, the search term “Free Palestine” was at #3 on Google's search interest scale. However, by the next week, that number had fallen to #100. Yet two weeks later, that number has reached #10.


Therefore, any offers of help, be they monetary or mahi, are incredibly valuable. Any offer of help for an organisation or a cause you care about is helpful, even when they’re not trending.

"I’d really encourage people to do some groundwork. Reach out to the organisations you want to support."

Malu Malo-Fuiava from refugee and migrant organisation Belong Aotearoa says “I’d really encourage people to do some groundwork. Reach out to the organisations you want to support. It could be something direct like an email, phone call, attending their event etc, or something less direct in checking out their website or social media, to get a feel for how you could support and what piques your interest too.”


Rainbow Youth, an organisation who supports LGBTQ+ youths say “all support is incredibly valuable, even if it's simply sharing our mahi on social media! You can become a regular giver on our website and choose any amount that works for you.


InsideOUT: insideout.org.nz/get-involved/

Belong Aotearoa: belong.org.nz

Rainbow Youth: ry.org.nz/volunteer

Cancer Society: cancer.org.nz/get-involved/