2018's Social Impact Trends


social impact trends

Image by Grace Weston

Image by Grace Weston


By Danielle Finck, Founder and CEO, Elle Communications


For the past decade, we have worked to tell the stories of best in class organizations in the impact landscape. From the rise in popularity of give-back brands to the massive upswing in attention for social justice initiatives following the 2016 election, it’s been exciting for us to watch as our clients increase in relevance and popularity.



On the eve of our own ten-year anniversary, here are ten trends we’re seeing right now in social impact:



1. cash donations

Major CEOs are taking stands on issues like the environment, LGBTQIA rights, immigration, and gender parity. While donating dollars might seem counterintuitive to making a profit, it’s become a necessity for doing so. Brands that get this right know that their consumers care about important issues and they prioritize understanding what those are, and engaging in them. An example is Cora, an organic feminine care company, who covers the tax for its consumers in California who are subjected to the controversial tampon tax.


2. iphone is the plug

Gen Z is more motivated by purpose than any other generation before, and they’re also tied to their devices, spending as much as ten hours per day on them. So reaching them digitally with opportunities for them to get involved in improving the world is a recipe for successful relationships with them. 



3. quit humble bragging

Consumers are getting savvy about transparency and whether brands are making “real” impact, or just using it as a tactic to market to them. At the same time, measuring impact is still in its early days – standards are fuzzy and usually self-defined and reported. 



4. let's see that diversity

Workforce diversity has been a topic of conversation for companies for years, but it’s no longer enough to say something – consumers want to see your words in action. 



5. environment, but make it fa-shun

The apparel industry is one of the largest offenders of both people and the planet, but for the past decade, a slew of brands have emerged doing things differently – and consumers are taking note. Pioneers like Raven + Lily, Akola Project, Soko, Reformation, Veja, Cuyana, Stella McCartney, and Apolis are gaining both popularity and major retail success, and haven’t cut any corners when it comes to protecting the environment and taking care of people who make their products in the process. 



6. let's avoid another oscar's 2016 fiasco

TV, film, music, and media directly affect public perception and drive forward momentum for social causes and organizations like CultureStrike, HARNESS, and ARRAY Alliance are creating pathways for people of color and their stories within the entertainment industry. Funds like the Pop Culture Collaborative have launched in the past couple of years to help advance narratives by educating and empowering creators, such as actors and show runners, to be agents of change through the stories they tell. 



7. #metoo and you, too.

Sexual harassment has entered the public narrative like never before, forcing companies to make changes internally, as well as showing support for movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. We are seeing brands like Bonobos launch campaigns around ending toxic masculinity and Harry’s partner with Justin Baldoni’s Wayfarer Entertainment for the Man Enough series, exploring conversations with men around everything from body image to sexual assault. 



8. !fake news!

In this time when the reputation of media sources is under attack, the impact community is looking at alternative ways to support organizations producing high quality journalism. Campaigns like NewsMatch have gained traction in the giving space, raising $4.8 million for nonprofit newsrooms in the holiday season last year, carving out a new segment of philanthropy for people to consider giving to that ensures the future of high integrity, ethical journalism. 



9. all voices count - not just angie jolie's

Celebrities have long been engaged in sharing stories about causes close to their hearts. As they widen the breadth of organizations they’re speaking out in support of, understanding that the public is craving their voice and opinion, we’re also seeing a lot of nontraditional and digital influencers enter this type of conversation. YouTubers and beauty influencers once thought their followers didn’t want to hear from them for anything more than tips and tricks, but are finding their own ways to engage in and support the things they care about. Another interesting example is Eva Chen from Instagram's Fashion Partnerships team who is constantly engaging in opportunities for micro-donation campaigns on her feed for local and hyperspecific projects like a specific school's fundraising project or smaller organizations impacting the gun control debate. 


10. make your message digestible

With the rise in popularity of the impact trend, there has also been a bit of fatigue with consumers feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of issues being marketed to them to help tackle in the world. It’s vital that brands understand what type of impact is most important to their consumers, that they engage in that impact genuinely, and that they communicate it back in ways that are easy to comprehend in our fast-moving world. Some companies who exemplify this are Patagonia, Reformation, Warby Parker, OneHope Wine, FEED, Beautycounter, and This Bar Saves Lives.  




These consumer trends show just how vital it is for every brand to have an impact strategy, not just “give-back” companies and major corporations with a large CSR budget. Consumers want to know that they’re supporting companies that are doing good things in the world and this is oftentimes the quality that will make them select you over your seemingly similar competitors.