Chase: What matters?

[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.


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6 Responses to “Chase: What matters?”

  1. Sector3Report Says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been seeing these campaigns pop up and have not really paid much attention. I am so moved by what you say, I am going to repost on my blog. I firmly believe people should go into something with their eyes wide open, but too often we are manipulated into group think.

  2. Mike Puican Says:

    I’m of a different opinion. Some nonprofit will be $20,000 richer because of this promotion. How is that a bad thing? We all know that corporate giving is strictly about how the giving can enhance the corporation’s reputation. No one is under the delusion that it is done out of a sense of wanting to help advance a NFP’s good work.

    Even those organizations that don’t “win” the cash can benefit from the promotion. Suppose an organization puts a call out to its supporters and asks them to reach out to their friends and contacts to vote for the organization. Suppose there is a big effort behind it. This becomes a major opportunity to inform and engage a larger group of potential supporters.

    You are right the amount of money is not large. But the opportunity to use this to create awareness and involvement exists and any organization can take advantage of it. Who cares what the corporation gets out of this. The real question is how can my organization use this opportunity to increase its outreach.

  3. Rick Cohen Says:

    Good analysis, Kelly. On the NPQ Newswire, I wrote something responding to a consultant who was touting the Chase program and others as the democratization of corporate philanthropy. As much as that is bunk, you raised the important issue of what the funders are expecting of their potential or actual grant recipients in terms of corporate marketing. How much should a nonprofit be prepared to do to thank and market for its corporate donor? Put the donor’s name on a sign or on the website? Allow the donor to place marketing materials in the nonprofit’s office? Publicly say nice things about the corporate donor? Give the corporate donor access to the nonprofit’s constituents and clients? This is why nonprofits ought to have gift acceptance policies that address not just what kinds of corporations they’ll accept donations from, but what kinds of quid pro quos they will consider beyond the pale.

  4. Fractured Atlas Blog : Popularity Contest Philanthropy Says:

    […] there, the floodgates opened. The Nonprofiteer declared that she doesn’t believe in “crowd-source philanthropy,” calling it a “lazy and manipulative approach to […]

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      This is an interesting and sophisticated take on crowd-source philanthropy, suggesting that a naked popularity contest is not the only model available. The Nonprofiteer still prefers patronage arts philanthropy–not money given out by overworked giving officers, but money given out by highly motivated individuals who truly value the arts–and wants arts groups to invest time in developing those patrons rather than gaming the “Clicking for Bucks” system.

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