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Social media activism is a simple way to speak out against injustice and make your voice heard.
But while sharing a post can amplify a message, speaking with your dollars can affect a company’s bottom line—and it’s often a faster way to enact change.
Sometimes we see a convergence of the two, like in the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign which pushed companies to stop marketing on Facebook until the social media giant finds a better solution to the rampant hate speech and harassment happening on the platform.
While boycotting is an effective way to make a company listen, there is another option: financially supporting and rewarding companies that have policies and practices you find ethical.
You don’t have to look far to make a difference. It can start in your own neighborhood.
Buy From Local, Small Businesses
In June 2020, after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement across the U.S., books examining race relations, the Black experience, and the history of systemic oppression shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
It’s easy for consumers to default to purchasing books from the cheapest, fastest online retailer—especially during a global pandemic when stores and many libraries remain closed.
But a shift happened with the rise of these bestsellers.
Black-owned bookstores across the country rapidly sold out of these titles as activists, influencers, and friends advised people to not only buy books written by Black authors, but to buy those books from Black-owned bookstores.
That’s not to say you must only buy from Black-owned bookstores when you’re getting a book to educate yourself about systemic oppression or racism. The point is to recognize that every purchase you make is an opportunity to speak, and support, with your dollars—and you can be thoughtful in your purchases.
You can learn about how the Black community has methodically been financially disenfranchised in our country by reading “The Color of Money” and “The Color of Law.” But you can also be a small part of the solution by putting dollars into the hands of Black business owners.
Supporting small businesses and your local economy is a simple and highly effective way to reinvest in your own community.
Shopping small can extend beyond your own town or city, especially if there are particular goods and services or causes you want to support. A combination of Google and social media can help you find small businesses that align with your causes.
Support Companies That Donate to Causes You Care About
There are two distinct ways companies donate, and they’re similar to the way individuals donate.
Some companies weave charitable giving into the DNA of their culture, and other companies donate during the holidays, a time of crisis, or to support a large-scale movement.
Many companies jump on large-scale movements in a phenomenon known as “brand activism.” That strategy isn’t exactly wrong, since it still results in funding organizations making a difference. In fact, noticing how your favorite brand responds in a time of crisis may help you decide if you want to keep supporting the company.
But when it comes to long-term loyalty, you can prioritize companies that consistently support a cause that’s important to you.
For example, Patagonia pledges 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment. The clothing retailer United by Blue removes a pound of trash from the ocean and waterways for every purchase made. Bookshop donates 10% of regular sales to indie bookstores, or you can shop directly from a local bookstore and it will receive full profit. Beauty brand Tatcha donates a portion of profits to Room to Read, an organization focused on eradicating illiteracy and building gender equality.
Finding companies that are deeply invested in important causes can help you see the power of every dollar you spend there.
Use Opt-In Donation or Matching Practices
You can also leverage your already-planned shopping and donate a little extra to charitable organizations.
For example, ordering a purchase via AmazonSmile instead of Amazon means the AmazonSmile Foundation will contribute 0.5% of eligible purchase price towards a charity of your choosing. One caveat: You have to remember to shop via the AmazonSmile portal.
The website Giving Assistant operates similarly to cashback and coupon code portals like Rakuten or Honey, with the twist that you’re encouraged to donate your proceeds to charitable organizations.
Another option is to consider donating your credit-card cashback or credit-card rewards, which can often be done through your credit-card portal, depending on the company.
An additional way to maximize your own donations is to see if your company offers any sort of donation-matching program in which they contribute the same amount or a percentage of your own donation. (If they don’t have a program yet, you can encourage them to create one.)
You should also keep an eye on social media for influencers and celebrities offering matching opportunities.
And when you do decide where to put your money, consider making a small, consistent monthly donation instead of one large lump sum. These pledges make it easier for non-profits to manage budgets and carry out their missions.
Check If a Company’s Business Practices Align with Your Ethics
It’s encouraging to see companies pledge a percentage of profits to important causes or make lump sum donations—but what if that company engages in business practices that don’t align with your own moral compass?
Every person must set their own litmus test of what’s acceptable, based on a company’s support of human rights initiatives or environmental and labor practices. For one person, using AmazonSmile might be a nice way to maximize their donation dollars, but for others it’s not an effective way to speak with their dollars given Amazon’s controversial labor practices.
Other people may want to see that a company isn’t merely offering lip service to diversity initiatives and actually has a board and C-suite or management team that isn’t homogenous.
Even the personal politics of a company executive could be enough for someone to decide to ditch a product or service. Recently, Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue endorsed President Trump, causing not only a swift backlash on social media with hashtags like #goyaway, but even a call to boycott the company’s products.
Remember This Is a Long Process
Shopping in a way that aligns with your ethics and speaking with your dollars isn’t simple and it can take time to adjust.
The SNL sketch “Boycott” from 2017 perfectly illustrates the level of cognitive dissonance that feels required to move through the world. You can’t try to make every decision perfect. If you analyze everything, like they do in the sketch, you could end up naked, stranded outside, and unable to make a single purchasing decision because of the political or social views of an investor or founder, or the labor practices of, well, pretty much any company.
No one’s perfect, but we can strive to do better if we keep donating and shopping in ways that align with our core beliefs.