Philan-selfie: Attribution Vs. Contribution

Curator's Note

In a September 2014 open letter, the film grantmaker Fledgling Fund addressed ongoing dialogue surrounding the contemporary push to measure (and quantify) the social impact of a documentary film:

It is important that any evaluation methodology distinguish between "attribution" and "contribution". The vast majority of social issue documentaries and their engagement campaigns are entering into a community (however small or large) of activists, leaders, organizations and coalitions that have laid groundwork long before the films and campaigns were conceived and they will be there for many years continuing to build the movement.

I appreciate Fledgling’s articulation of social activist or philanthropic media efforts as contribution versus attribution. Fledgling, for its part, is interested in funding films which contribute to a cause, and to working with its filmmakers on the best ways to do so. Raising awareness is often no longer enough. Media as a social contribution takes longevity and investment in the existing landscape, building knowledge and adding value to an ongoing conversation. I think this distinction gets to the heart of some of our unease (or at lease ambivalence) toward conspicuous “awareness” efforts in online media. Our ice bucket challenge videos were largely attribution, pointing to a space that we perhaps knew something about (but maybe not much.) So too our hashtag activism (slacktivism?) surrounding #YesAllWomen, #BringBackOurGirls and #Kony2012 evidenced a possible colonization of causes that caught our interest but did not truly advance dialogue meaningfully.

Its for this very reason that I applaud the savvy efforts of the #GivingTuesday movement. Created as a response to "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday," #GivingTuesday was spearheaded by the 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, and continues to grow exponentially each year. Preliminary estimates from this past Tuesday, December 2nd show that over 15,000 nonprofit organizations and took part in this year's activities raising an estimated $45.68 million.  Though also viral and media based, unlike the Ice Bucket challenge, #GivingTuesday is well grounded in the specificity of the giver. Participants are invited to give on their own terms and within their own capacity – adding value to the efforts that are rooted in their personal story. In telling personal stories of giving, and identifying their own causes, participents in #GivingTuesday frame themselves within the realm of contribution rather than passing attribution.  This year #GivingTuesday encouraged video giving statements from participants, framing philanthropy as a personal narrative (#whyIgive) as well as a personal point of pride (#unselfie).  These tags champion the idea that giving is indeed, something to brag about. And why not? Major donors have long known that supporting causes also accrues its own form of social capital and goodwill. While we may not be able the to wallpaper our names across major buildings like the Koch brothers, I love the idea of at least papering our digital walls with news of our largess. 


Do you believe that Giving Tuesday will retain Black Monday's longevity? Right now people are very concerned with making purchases that contribute to social well-being, but will that always be the case? My fear is that people may become disenchanted with the week (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday), especially as Giving Tuesday comes after a spending spree. From personal experience, almost every cause or charity I've donated to contacts me on Giving Tuesday and instead of a personalized call to contribute, it becomes spam.

I agree, Eleanor, that the flood of "asks" on that day can be overwhelming. I think the success of the movement is not necessarily in the dollar amount raised - people will give what they can, when they are able. However, the invitation and social permission to tell personal stories of giving is a powerful platform. No matter how the day evolves (and i'm sure it will) I'm energized by its erosion of traditional social stratification of philanthropic action.

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