Monday, September 28, 2009

Charitable Exhaustion

The Knife--"You Make Me Like Charity" (mp3)

I did the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure today. It's a good event, a big event, but it is part of the charitable overload that is exhausting the good citizens of this city and this country.

You see, I am "walked out." While I can't claim that I've participated in dozens of walks in the past year, I have done a couple of others, and my job puts me in a position to have to say "yes" or "no" to the many charities that want, quite rightly, to involve our students. And these days, when a good cause looks for a way to raise a bunch of money, at least in this city, you can almost predict what their event will be:

1. a walk.

2. a t-shirt.

3. or an event involving alcohol (these, of course, do not involve students).

When a non-profit looks to raise money, their first thought seems to be 'Let's do a run or a walk-a-thon.' The Komen Race is the gem in that jewel box, without doubt, but the success of that now-27-year-old annual event has led to so many imitators that people have to be worn out with the idea and increasingly discerning about where they will commit their sore feet for charity. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with a walk or run--sponsors with schwag, drinks, t-shirts, live or taped music. I'm not trying to diminish wonderful events, but they've all become pretty much the same.

At our school, the favorite fundraiser is a t-shirt. You can charge a pretty significant price over cost, make a lot of money quickly, and students love t-shirts, especially t-shirts that commemorate important student events, so much that those t-shirts will become the first fashion selection for a lot of students. Tommy Hilfiger would turn green with envy if he knew how many units of the same shirt design were sold in this city every single year during the week of the great football rivalry! I broke the hearts of the March of Dimes a couple of weeks ago when I told them that our school's t-shirt market was glutted and we would not be participating in their t-shirt fundraiser.

The last option is kind of the new kid on the block--Brewfest, Wine Over Water, there was even a mixed drink fundraiser for a couple of years at the Convention Center where everybody got completely shit-faced for charity. But as these events get more and more expensive, once you have done them once or twice, you may hesitate before dropping $80 bucks for your and your significant other. You may conclude that the band doesn't look as good as last year's band, or that the vintage or microbrew you enjoyed so much the previous year isn't going to be represented, so you decide not to go.

Is that fair? Does a charitable event have to be "worth it?" If you support a cause, shouldn't you just support it and not worry about what's in it for you or how expensive it is? Well, idealistically, that may be true, but we are a culture who expects something for our sacrifice. At least throw a bumper sticker our way so that we can let other people know what our causes are and where our money goes.

I do not condemn this mindset. America, as a capitalistic society, has always embraced the maxim that "It takes money to make money." Why should it be any different for charities?

But with the exception of the t-shirts, which are almost guaranteed in our school culture, most charitable options in this city are pretty played out at this point, at least in my opinion. Some of them don't even make all that much sense. We have helped out "Pennies for Patients" for the past three years, and will again this year, but people aren't carrying around change, let alone pennies, much any more, which makes this a flawed concept. It's only because we have those students who will shove a $20 bill into the box that we make any headway at all.

You probably think I have a solution, but I really don't. And I don't have to. We try whatever we can think of--koozies, sunglasses, Thunderstix, buttons, Chik-fil-A sandwiches, sno-cones, free dress days, etc. and most of them will work because we know our target market so well. But for a large local or national charity that wants to involve thousands of people in an event, it must be increasingly difficult to try to keep ahead of the pack with fundraising options.

All I'm saying is this: it's reaching the point where I'm having to say, "I'm sorry, we're already doing a walk that week (or that month) and I don't think we can handle another one." It's time for good old Yankee ingenuity to pay a visit to the non-profits of America and give them a fresh slate of money-making ideas. Otherwise, there's going to be a lot more room to walk.


Billy said...

Self-promotion moment:
Attack of the Charitable Causes
circa December 2008.

The onslaught is no longer even tied to a season of the year. It's non-stop, and it's merciless, and it almost requires that we become numb to it all. It's a charity rabbit hole.

Bob said...

I don't really fault the number of charities and charitable events out there, though. There is a lot of good stuff going on, good causes, operations that would not survive without donations. It's just that when there are so many, they're going to have to work harder to differentiate themselves.

Of course, then the danger becomes, do we support the charity or do we support the fun event or item that we get by supporting it? Would we, in effect, be offering our donations to the highest bidder?

Daisy said...

Our elementary school is taking a new approach to fundraising this year. They asked everyone to write a check at the beginning of the school year with the promise that there would be no other fundraising for the remainder of the year. Conceptually I like this plan as I know all the money is actually staying at the school, but I'll let you know in May if it actually works.

Bob said...

How much was the check for?

Daisy said...

Keep in mind this is a public school (albeit one who likes to think it is a private school) of just under 500 kids. They asked for $100 per child with a slight discount for multiple students in the same family. The goal is $25k and they have raised between $18-19k.

Bob said...

Daisy, I like that idea. I hate being nickled and dimed all year; I'd rather know up front the total of everything I will owe. Hope that works out for your school.

Daisy said...

I'll keep you posted!

cinderkeys said...

6,000 Runners Fail to Discover Cure for Breast Cancer

Right there with you. And while we're at it, who came up with the idea of making people perform some task that has nothing to do with the actual cause?

When Habitat for Humanity enlists volunteers to build houses to help the homeless, that makes sense. Walking to raise funds for a breast cancer cure does not make sense.