[An excerpt of this posting appears on the Huffington Post, in the Impact section.]
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones notwithstanding, the problem with the Chase Community Giving program isn’t that it lets “civilians”–non-expert non-critics–decide which theater companies deserve a $20,000 one-time no-strings grant. The problem is that it pretends to do that–Let the People Decide!–while actually turning theater companies into marketing satellites of Chase Bank. Institutions poor and weak enough to be moved by a $20,000 carrot–to which the competition was explicitly restricted–recite the bank’s name relentlessly to their audiences. That’s a lot of advertising for very little money. Of course, all corporate giving is advertising–but this is of a special, insidious kind.
The Nonprofiteer doesn’t believe in “crowd-source philanthropy,” because it’s not philanthropy at all: it’s “crowd-manipulation marketing.” Chase has gotten hundreds if not thousands of little charities to demand that their audiences provide contact information to the bank and subject themselves to commercial targeting for the good of the cause.
These crowd-manipulation marketing programs (pioneered by Pepsi and American Express, doubtless with many more corporate behemoths yet to come) also set up a system which rewards the nonprofits with the greatest Internet presence or savvy, which is not the same as giving the money to the neediest, or best, or most diverse, group of people doing important work in society. Again, the issue isn’t who gets to define “best;” it’s whether the agencies competing for that designation have a fair and equal opportunity to receive it. Upper-middle-class people may imagine that “everyone” has access to the Internet, but in fact if you reward clicks and responses to e-mail and Facebook postings, you reward organizations with wealthy white audiences and disadvantage those whose audiences are nonwhite and/or poor. Way to magnify the digital divide. Way to make sure that the rich get richer and the poor have babies.
This lazy and manipulative approach to corporate giving diverts nonprofit attention from real fundraising–which involves relationships over the long term–to point-and-click fundraising, which costs “donors” nothing and therefore gives them no stake in the institution.
The argument about who’s entitled to judge art is a side-show, doubtless one Chase would be happy to have theaters and critics debating from here to eternity. Meanwhile, the bank laughs all the way to–the bank.
[Unable to resist, the Nonprofiteer dons her critic’s hat and argues that, though she believes her opinions about theater are better-informed and therefore more useful than those of the guy standing next to you on the train, she’s also open to the possibility that her prejudices and blind spots make this false in a significant number of cases. In any case, if she didn’t believe theater was the essential human art form–because it involves words, the very thing that separates us from all other species–and therefore belonged to everyone human, she wouldn’t spend so much of her life seeing and reviewing plays. So she refuses to concede that others’ engagement with theater–in whatever form, and without any credentials whatsoever–is unwelcome or inappropriate.]
“Crowd-source philanthropy” doesn’t mean the people get to decide; it means they get the illusion of deciding while actually being used to serve someone else’s commercial purposes. We know that’s a bad thing when the issue is what corporations give to, and get from, politicians. Let’s not fail to notice when the issue is what they give to, and exact from, us.
See also Barbara Talisman’s posting on the subject, which links to an entire discussion of the pros and cons.
Tags: advertising, arts groups, Arts Organizations, charity, charity promotion, corporate giving, donors, Fundraising, grants, Marketing, nonprofit, Nonprofit management, nonprofits, not for profit, philanthropy, Private Philanthropy, Relations with funders, theater