Stakeholder Trends and Insights
The Snowball Effect:
How Creative Engagement Approaches Can Unleash Generosity

For third-sector organisations, the fundraising environment has rarely seemed so tough. One aspect of this is the prevalent belief that digital media and technology is creating a culture of 'slackivism’ — people replacing direct involvement and engagement with causes and campaigns, with clicks and Facebook likes.

However, there is some recent evidence that the creative use of digital media can translate into much-needed hard cash. A recent report from UK innovation foundation Nesta claimed that technology is already increasing impulsive giving, and (not surprisingly) that reciprocity offering some kind of reward increased people’s likelihood to give. The Snowball Effect — a fun experiment by brand engagement agency Given London — seeks to put both of these trends to the test.

The Snowball Effect is a seasonal online experience in aid of UNICEF, in which members of the public are invited to throw a virtual snowball at their friends and family via a bespoke website. Each snowball is personalised with a short message from the sender, which is then ‘thrown’ by email or Facebook. Messages arrive with a splat and recipients are invited to throw a snowball of their own. A £1 donation through The Snowball Effect’s Just Giving page will buy one snowball, and there is no upper limit for the number of snowballs thrown. The idea was tested out for real on the streets of East London before the digital campaign went live

In this case, the goal was to marry motivational factors, such as fun and social currency, with a serious and poorly understood issue — after several years of conflict in Syria, more children than ever need help. And with temperatures dropping this winter, over 7 million Syrian children are in danger. UNICEF is working in Syria and the surrounding countries to give children at risk the crucial and life-saving supplies they need, such as warm clothes, clean water and medicine.

A recent report from Mintel supported the view that digital and social media channels do help support fundraising efforts. According to the study, social media selfie campaigns such as #nomakeupselfie and #IceBucketChallenge have had the effect of boosting altruism in young people.

Watkins also shared some advice about the specific set of challenges that online giving initiatives bring with them: “Charity giving through social media feels more dependent on influencers getting involved to advocate, than the strength of the communications idea. A key question is, how can we get influential voices on board?”

If the challenge of coming up with an original, digitally led concept seems daunting, The Snowball Effect demonstrates that it can be a case of taking a simple human idea - in this case, the joy of throwing a snowball, into a social online environment.

As Given’s MD, Becky Willan, points out: “There is a great opportunity to combine emerging technology with the old emotional truths of why people give. You need to ask what’s the ‘digital tombola’? What’s the ‘digital cake sale’?”

Speaking of which, if there’s no snow where you are, why not snowball a friend online? It’s for a good cause.


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