What Are the Fastest-Growing Social Issues Consumers Care About?

“If there is one take-away for brands after reviewing this study, we hope it’s this: What matters most to your stakeholders should matter the most to your company.” — Brittany Hill, Catalist

Recent studies have shown that consumers feel more loyal to companies that demonstrate their purpose by connecting with the issues they care about. But what are those issues, and how have they shifted? Catalist — a matchmaking and measurement platform for companies and causes — recently released new research highlighting changes in the issues people care about and how they are choosing to engage.

Sustainable Brands caught up with Catalist CEO and co-founder Brittany Hill to learn more about the organization and its research.

What is Catalist, and what does it bring to the social impact space?

Britanny Hill: Catalist is the industry's leading data provider for social impact partnerships — we broker connections to support right-fit partnerships between nonprofits and brands through a dynamic, proprietary platform that leverages leading-edge technologies powered by human experts. Our technology includes the largest comprehensive database for the social impact industry, a first-of-its-kind matchmaking and issue-mapping platform. We also produce data analytics to support partnerships and quantify the impact and value from these partnerships.

You also do research and have just published a report called The Issue Revolution. What was the motivation behind this research?

BH: The issues Americans care about are progressing — this affects the work we do with companies as they make their social impact decisions. The most progressive companies are considering their shareholders, employees’ and customers’ affinities and preferences when developing their strategies. Digging into the motivations and inclinations of demographic and psychographic segments of your key and coveted audiences can further enlighten your strategies. In simple terms, knowing more about the sub-segments of your people will allow you to customize opportunities for them to activate around the social issues you support.

At Catalist, we wanted to understand this issue revolution at a deeper level, and uncover how our passions and motivations have changed and how they differ between people. So, we conducted this study, which profiles the top social causes that resonate with Americans today. It highlights the conversations around these issues, who is having them and how we all want to make a difference in our communities. The study incorporates insights and contributions from social impact powerhouses like Afdhel Aziz, Rachel Hutchisson, Katy Moore and Max Lenderman, and a foreword by Carol Cone.

Americans have always been active on social issues. In the last year, what changes did you find in how Americans are choosing to engage on issues they care about?

BH: The ways in which people engage with the issues they care about are evolving: They want deeper engagement with causes and knowledge about the impact they help catalyze. Our research clearly demonstrates that Americans are becoming more diversified in the way they support social issues. They are turning more to their voice, expertise and abilities to have a tangible impact on a social issue rather than simply donating money.

Over the last year, over 93 percent of Americans engaged with a social issue. Volunteerism has nearly doubled over the past three years, and is rivaling donations as a preferred way to support a cause: 53 percent of Americans who engaged with a social cause donated, while 50 percent volunteered. Advocating and engaging in social conversation around causes are becoming more popular ways for individuals to engage with social issues, with 25 percent of people having engaged in advocacy and 22 percent having engaged in social conversation.

That isn’t to say that philanthropy is dying — as you’ve read, it’s quite the contrary. But many people are choosing more direct ways of supporting causes to make a difference than donating.

What issues grew the fastest in 2018?

BH: While issues like education, health and the environment have always made the list of social issues we support, we are also witnessing the emergence of topical issues like mental health and veteran affairs. The fastest growing issues and their growth rates are:

  1. Mental Health; 28 percent

  2. Veteran Affairs; 25 percent

  3. Gun Control; 18 percent

  4. Gender Equality; 15 percent

  5. LGBTQ Equality; 12 percent

What would you say is a key take away from your report for brands, and how they might use the insights to make sure they are connecting with employees or customers?

BH: If there is one take-away for brands after reviewing this study, we hope it’s this: What matters most to your stakeholders should matter the most to your company. The brands with the most sophisticated and focused social impact strategies are considering their audiences when determining their social investments, and as the cause landscape continues to shift, this is more important than ever. At Catalist, we recommend stakeholder consideration and evaluation as one of the key steps in social impact strategy development. Most companies have supported one or a few social causes for decades now. Many designate those issues based on executive connections or brand value alignment. Very rarely have companies analyzed stakeholder sentiment and aligned their purpose-based decisions accordingly. Until now, the causes that matter to stakeholders have also remained most consistent. For brands that want to win the hearts and minds of consumers and employees, identify the social causes that resonate most with them.

In 2018, nearly every brand claims to be a purpose-driven brand. Because we know how important purpose and social impact are to consumers, employees and shareholders, a company with purpose is no longer the exception but the expectation. Exploring what purpose means to your company, your brand and your stakeholders is the next chapter in today’s purpose-saturated world. We must all commit to being philanthropic but go beyond giving to effectuating tangible change. The future is built on knowing more about your people, using collaboration and leveraging influence to solve our society’s biggest challenges. How is your brand going to do more tomorrow than you did today?

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