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.