Recently I was researching web sites that raise funds for nonprofits, as part of a project at work. After a few, I began to notice many incorporated an approach that’s been in use by for-profit companies for years—inflating the importance of the consumer, or in this case, the donor. They emphasized that by making a donation, or becoming involved in a cause, the giver would be noticed—s/he would be something of a “star.”
One site allowed users to create their own “Charity Badge,” with a photo and a list of donations made, which could be displayed on a blog or other site. Another offered a personal area with links to a “My” suite of tools: My friends, My kudos, My click to donate, My whatever.
This seems somehow antithetical to the idea of charity, which, as I previously understood it, is to give, not get. It was about doing the right thing, not feeding one’s ego. But somehow giving, like almost every other concept, has been transformed into an aspect of self-promotion—what’s my ROI if I contribute? How will it make me look? What’s in it for moi?
This marketing strategy actually makes sense if you consider the success of ad campaigns that stress the consumer’s self-importance uber alles. Pandering to individual egos works. It sells stuff. And I can’t really blame nonprofits for doing what they can to raise funds in these tough economic times. Or can I?
Andy Warhol had it right. In 1968 he said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Jump ahead to 2010 and that timeframe has been digitized down to 15 seconds of fame—everyone has a blog, a Facebook page, a video on YouTube—you barely have time to see the face, read the name, and move on, the next image may be more interesting. Is this what matters?
I have a suggestion: next time you want to make a donation of money or goods or just want to be nice in some way, do it anonymously. Send money but ask the charity not to list your name (or don’t even tell them your name). Drop off used items or food at a shelter and don’t take a receipt. Do something nice for a stranger, just for the hell of it. And then, don’t tell anyone you did it.