Giving the lion's share
CEO Robert Weiss hopes Gen Z will hear the “Roar” of philanthropy
Creator of a new giving-and-activism-focused social media platform, Roar Social, says he was inspired by his Jewish upbringing, his parents’ involvement in their local federation
When Robert Weiss was growing up in Scarsdale, N.Y., he was obsessed with technology and computer coding, and was determined to someday use tech as a tool to tap into the altruism that he believes is “hardwired into humanity.” Today, the former journalist and tech entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of Roar Social, a recently launched attempt to cultivate philanthropic activism in the next generation through content creation and sharing, gamification and fun.
“When I was a journalist [at NBC’s ‘Today’, Newsweek, ‘The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour’ among others], I specialized in stories about people making a difference and social impact. And I saw, up close and personal, humanity at its best, even in dire situations,” Weiss told eJewishPhilanthropy. “People want to do good. You have to make it easy. And, for this generation, make it fun.”
Roar Social was designed for Gen Z (and millennials) after extensive research by the Roar team into how younger people relate to giving, sharing content and activism. The original and authentic images and video content they post on other platforms like Instagram or TikTok gets likes; but on Roar Social, their content’s “likes” turns into “gives,” a process Roar Social calls “gamifying giving” — embedding a reward system that provides the dopamine boost from knowing that content is resonating with peers and beyond, as well as a philanthropic high as content earns visibility — and dollars — for the causes they support most. And it’s not just for TikTok stars or celebrities; any user can use their social capital and authenticity to make a positive impact on the world through philanthropy.
Roar Social users sign up with one of 15 “hero causes” — a category of charity like climate change, mental health or animal welfare — which operates like an impact fund, the CEO said. Platform use then generates posts themed to the user’s chosen cause, saving them from having to select individual nonprofits as beneficiaries, Weiss explained. Each user can load a giving wallet from Apple Pay or a credit card — the funds go through a separate 501(c)(3) foundation, so the platform itself makes no income from its users — and make small donations, as well as learn more about the causes. Users have a “Roar Score” that goes up the more they use the platform — a gamification element that encourages them to look at and comment on existing content as well as create their own.
Weiss said that his values came from his mother, who taught special education, and his father, a professor who also worked in public service; his parents were both involved with UJA-Federation of Westchester, and his father, in particular, made an impressive impact, helping out on Super Sunday fundraisers and at other events, which Weiss estimated enabled the federation to raise millions. Weiss’ Jewish background, education and values — which included volunteering, fundraising and making a difference — were influential in his world view and in his decision to found Roar Social, “especially the focus on education and giving back,” he said.
Ultimately, Weiss said, his goal is to encourage a culture of social giving that leads to social activism.
“The goal is to get people interested in different nonprofits and feel connected to them because on our platform, you’re going to see where your money goes and the difference it’s making,” Weiss said. “Imagine a year or two from now, [when] off-platform, you go volunteer at the homeless shelter, and you get ‘Roars’ [as a reward for the visit]. Once we bring [users] onto the platform, and they’re hooked on it — in a good way because they’re making a difference — then we can expand off-platform to promote social impact by being active in different nonprofits,” he added.
Weiss founded the company during the early days of the pandemic, “when all the eyeballs were online on social media,” he told eJP.
“I think that social media has not lived up to the promise of what social media can be,” he said. “I think you can build a very successful for-profit business and do the right thing and make a difference all at the same time. Legacy social media companies have embraced profits solely at the expense and peril of our society. I was not thinking about launching another social media network, but wanting to use technology to make a difference and to democratize philanthropy… Social media became the vessel whereby I get to deliver this tool to hopefully democratize philanthropy,” he said.
Roar Social aims to transform the instinct to hit the “Like” button into philanthropy, as the company phrases it, with “the like becoming a give”: users giving microdonations — as little as a penny — to their chosen causes. As the platform grows, advertisers — corporations using their corporate social responsibility budgets, Weiss predicted — would join users in supporting organizations by matching donations.
The organizations currently on the platform — which must have 501(c)(3) status and are vetted using tools like Charity Navigator and Giving Compass — are large national nonprofits with big brand name recognition to help boost its launch. The site does not include faith-based organizations right now, Weiss said, but over the next few months, users will be able to suggest organizations, and organizations will be able to sign up directly on the website.
“Like [with] all nonprofits, we’re going to evaluate faith-based nonprofits on the same case-by-case basis, looking for alignment with the hero causes, and then vetting them for trust, transparency, effectiveness, using those third-party rating systems,” he said.
Roar Social shifts the balance of social media’s value from companies like Meta, Tik Tok and X (ne Twitter), its founder said, to the creators who channel community, charity and fun into fixing the world; leveraging the social sharing instinct and the creativity and authenticity of online content creators to make a difference.
“If you’re a Gen Z or or millennial, you’re all about authenticity,” Weiss said, adding that although cause-oriented celebrities may be part of the platform in the future, he is not aiming for a “celebrity-centric platform,” because “it’s not going to feel authentic.”
The platform is still not fully open to everyone; users must be in the U.S. and are being granted access in what Weiss called “intentionally strategic cohorts” — a few thousand at a time — to test out different features.
By designing the platform for a generation raised on digital access and both activism and slacktivism, Weiss hopes Roar Social will help “override laziness and go right to the altruism,” enabling users to step into a philanthropic world where, otherwise, they might not have felt welcome.
“There’s been this misnomer for as long as I can remember: you have to be wealthy or rich, or both, to be a philanthropist,” Weiss said. “We’re going to dispel that notion and create a generation of millions of philanthropists that are literally donating a penny at a time.”
Being a new dad himself and still grieving the death of his father about two years ago, Weiss added, reinforces how important his work is.
“My son’s generation — God knows what media is going to be for him. I want to leave behind, for him and his generation, this legacy of social media for social good. I have to believe every day that if we do our job well — and so far, I’m really proud of my team — that his generation can’t imagine a social media where people just scrolled all day long and there wasn’t some other purpose behind all that scrolling. Being a dad makes it that much more purposeful.”