In Spanish we have a saying that I really appreciate (and use quite often): la caridad empieza por casa or Charity begins at home. It is used to point fingers at hypocrites who appear well intentioned and generous in a public arena but are generally not very nice people when one gets to know them intimately. People with double standards; people who mistreat their employees while organizing a fundraising, that kind of thing.
There is a mailing list I follow closely on the subject of Social Marketing. Social marketing, for those who might not be familiar with the concept is the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good, and it is a good part of what I do for a living, helping orgs communicate better. Yesterday, at this mailing list one of the members asked for examples of unethical fundraising for a presentation he is writing. His request was simple enough:
I would appreciate examples of fundraising materials that you would consider ethical, unethical or borderline ethical regarding the ends being pursued, the means being used or intended/unintended consequences.
And I know what I am going to send this person as an example of unethical fundraising efforts: Jezebel’s fundraising for the stars of an MTV reality show, The Teen Mom College Fund.
Anyone who reads this blog on a semi regular basis knows that I am quite unemotional in my responses. Sure, I get upset when I read ignorant statements, but I rarely take on a hyperbolic or emotional tone in my posts. I am sort of immunized by now. I do challenge, examine and deconstruct those ideas or assertions that need challenging (sometimes with better luck, sometimes in my usual clumsy and hurried rhetoric), however, I am never upset while doing so. That’s probably the reason why I rarely react to issues immediately. I usually take my time to think through why something bothers me. To elaborate why I find something problematic. So, when I finally address something that irritates me, I have the same coolness in me than an entomologist piercing a dead butterfly.
But today, I am seething with anger.
Not only is Jezebel setting up a faux charity but one of their senior editors is advising people to engage in tax evasion while doing so. And while that is none of my business (really, if people are dumb enough to oblige Jezebel’s hipster fundraising efforts, they deserve to get any legal troubles that befall them). What has me seething with anger is that it is an effort purely geared towards page hits. There is no single after thought to the hoops and troubles real fundraisers go through to get people to care enough to donate for real, worthy causes (like, you know, legal defense funds for victims of rape, or museums closing down, or people fired from their jobs for their sexual orientation, or transwomen living in male prisons; you know, all the other causes out there).
But the real cherry on the cake? They could have garnered attention for one of the same readers who brings them the page hits on a daily basis. A woman whose husband is dying of cancer and who cannot even buy cereal for his breakfast. They could have brought attention to someone like that, someone who struggles anonymously while she waits for her husband to die. Instead, they direct their faux philanthropy to an MTV show. For page hits. While they ask people to lie in their tax statements. I guess terminal brain cancer is not worthy of the page hits or not hip enough to engage an audience of jaded Facebookers?
I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle over Tashi and her husband this past weekend due to some dumb comment he made. I even pointed out that it was an unfortunate comment. However, here is the thing: we all make unfortunate comments every now and then. I invite anyone reading this to carefully examine all our past statements and not find a questionable one. However, we are granted the grace of moving on. Our unfortunate statements quickly forgotten and replaced by something (hopefully) more meaningful. And most of us are not dying in poverty. We are not struggling to pay for chemotherapy. We are not celebrating our first wedding anniversary with a death sentence. Tashi’s husband is. And she, at twenty something is left to pick up the pieces.
Jezebel could have used the hammer of Gawker Media’s millions of daily page views to bring attention to this. Not because Tashi and her husband are more important than the million others going through the same situation but because they are painfully representative of the little guy with no resources and nothing left but to wait for death to come. They could, for once, have used the page views for something that mattered. Instead, they irresponsibly try to get attention for an MTV Reality show (as if such people needed more exposure) while giving questionable legal advice.
Shame on you, Jezebel. Shame on your hipster philanthropy, Ms. Jessica Coen. Shame on your misplaced attention seeking, hoping that MTV would give you a shoutout and the implied page hits. This is not charity, this is not philanthropy, this is just shameful.
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