The DoNation: using friendship and commitment to cut carbon
An email flashes up in your inbox. It’s the same old story. Another friend is running a marathon, and asking for sponsorship… not only does it make you feel guilty as you’ve been meaning to dig your trainers out of the cupboard for months, but also as much as you see yourself as a charitable person, you’re starting to feel like these requests for money are coming in all too often, even if the causes are very worthy. But hang on – your friend isn’t asking you for money. They want you, and all their friends, to sponsor them by pledging to take simple actions to cut carbon.
Now that’s a bit different.
Marathons and Knitathons
This is the idea behind a great new social enterprise called the DoNation, founded by Imperial College graduate Hermione Taylor, which launched earlier this month. It all started when Hermione and her friend Sara decided to cycle all the way from London to Morocco, but didn’t want to bug their friends for sponsorship in the form of money – they wanted people to donate by doing. 18 months, and a lot of hard work, later, the website http://www.thedonation.org.uk is live and anyone can sign up. Mike ran the London marathon in April. Will and Bojana have just cycled to Slovenia. Xavier is hiking the Camino Santiago. But it doesn’t have to be quite so energetic – they welcome all kinds of challenges, even knit-a-thons.
Those who are doing the challenge tell all their friends about it and ask them for sponsorship. These friends can then choose from a list of ‘DoActions’ on the website, from simple habits like eating less meat or not over-filling the kettle, to bigger changes like switching to a green energy supplier or getting a solar panel. The amount of carbon saved for each ‘DoAction’ is then calculated, and added together with all the other pledges, giving a total amount of carbon saved for each challenge.
The power of friendship
From a behavioural perspective this is all very clever. Firstly, it’s a novel idea – it’s not just another request for sponsorship money, it’s something different – so you’re much more likely to keep reading the email.
Secondly, it’s your friend asking you to do this – someone you know, like, respect, and want to support. With your friend as the messenger, you’re much more likely to pay attention and take action. In addition, your friend has agreed to do something on the basis that you’ll do something else in return – in the jargon this is called “reciprocity” and us humans are suckers for it. They’re not going to go back on it, are you?
Thirdly, all the pledged ‘DoActions’ are made public on the website – not only for your friends, but also for anyone else who looks on the site to see – so while you can in theory get away with having a steak for dinner every night when you’ve pledged to eat less meat, the chances are you won’t. Behavioural theory tell us people are much more likely to go through with something if they’ve made a public commitment. The DoNation also uses the power of social norms – chances are that once you can see what all your friends have promised to do, you’ll want to get involved.
This in turn will probably make you feel pretty good about yourself. Ok, so your trainers may still be in the cupboard gathering dust while your friend is running 26.2 miles, or knitting the longest scarf you’ll ever see, but you and your friends are all supporting them: and the combined effect of all the sponsorship raised really can help cut our carbon footprint.