Mind the Gap (Something for something)

A reader emailed me with information on this entry from the BusinessToolsBlog, Donate to Charity with Your Mouse, Not your Wallet.  You click on links and the charities get money.  The reader asked me if I agreed that this was a promising way for people to get involved in and support organizations they might not know about – specifically because  people could support charities without much effort, and over time this would introduce them to the idea of being more philanthropic.

I’m torn about this. On one hand, there’s an economic value in just about everything you do online, so if someone wants to take that value and transfer it to charitable organizations I think that’s a very good thing.  And there is the distant possibility that by coming across one of these sites, someone might learn about a new organization and get involved in a more significant way.

But I’m unconvinced that this will open many people up to giving and to supporting organizations with their time and energy.  To the contrary, I worry that this reinforces the notion that you can get something for nothing, that change can come without effort and sacrifice.

This is the same hesitation I feel about the Gap’s Inspi(RED) t-shirts and other products that make donations to worthy causes – happy that the money is going to the cause; hopeful that the act of buying the shirts (or the water or the cereal) is educating people about and motivating them to act to support the cause; but worried that we might delude ourselves into thinking that this is enough – worried that buying the “responsible” shirt acts as a salve on our sense of responsibility to others, and worried that when doing something “good” becomes a fashion statement, we can loose sight of the impact in favor of the fashion.

And, by the way, here’s what the NY Times reported last February about the RED campaign:

In its March 2007 issue, Advertising Age magazine reported that Red companies had collectively spent as much as $100 million in advertising and raised only $18 million. Officials of the campaign said then that the companies had spent $50 million on advertising and that the amount raised was $25 million. Advertising Age stood by its article.

You see how tricky this gets once you get into the details.

It strikes me that buying is one thing, giving is another.  As long as they are complementary we’re in good shape.

But I worry they might be substitutes.

This entry was posted in corporate social responsibility, Generosity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Mind the Gap (Something for something)

  1. It’s the battle between being pragmatic and idealistic.

    On one hand, it’s certainly good that some money is going towards charity. That’s always good.

    On the other hand, as you’re so rightly concerned, will this “reinforce the notion that you can get something for nothing, that change can come without effort and sacrifice.”

    Perhaps the question is if the people who buy into that notion can be convinced to truly care (and act)? If not, then I guess this is better than nothing.

  2. John Fontana says:

    Very fair assessment top to bottom. I cannot disagree with your final statement “It strikes me that buying is one thing, giving is another. As long as they are complementary we’re in good shape.” but I think that is the point. Trying every day to nudge someone just a little closer to the understanding and acceptance of the concept that the world is not about us but what we do for others is always a good thing.

    Keep fighting the fight! Thanks for all you do with this blog.

  3. Sandi Mays says:

    Hi Sascha,

    What struck me about giving by clicking your mouse is that corporations are putting up the money for these charities and in return they are asking for a little exposure. If folks don’t click on the link, the charities don’t get the money.

    In an “ends justifies the means argument” – if the goal is to help people, the money is available, and it just takes a mouse click to deliver that money to a charity in need, why should we cast a gray cloud over this or any other type of giving.

    I thinks it’s judgmental to infer that giving without buying or giving with a mouse click isn’t as good as the “true philanthropy.” IMO any gift is good and assuming that clicking a charitable link or buying a t-shirt will replace other charitable contributions is a bit of a stretch.

  4. Sasha says:

    Sandi, I agree with you – gifts are a good thing, and people who click on them (or people who encourage others to click on them by making them more visible) are doing something good.

    But I do worry about the mentality that the (RED) and other similar products encourage, namely, “You don’t have to do anything differently and the world will be a better place.”

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