I don’t mean to sound awful, but no, I don’t want to donate $3. Or $2. Or $5 for that matter. Whatever your cause is, I’m sure it’s great. A good friend sometimes refers to me as Granola Michaela, and Granola Michaela thinks any cause is really better than no cause, so in principle, I’m on board.
But in practice, my issue is this: Corporate social responsibility should be exactly that — corporate social responsibility — not customer social responsibility. Donations should come from your profits, not directly from your customers’ pockets.
If you want to match what I donate, that’s a bit of a grey area to me. But, increasingly I’m being asked pretty much everywhere whether I want to contribute to corporate causes, with money that won’t be matched, and on top of that, the sum of customer donations will be used to benefit the company in their own advertising, and often goes to the company’s own foundations and tax benefits.
Campaigns may boast “We gave 400,000$ last year to [insert your cause here] thanks to customers like you”; I would have so much more respect for companies that could honestly say “We gave $400,000 [or frankly, only $40,000] out of our profits last year to [insert cause here].”
“No thank you, I just wanted to buy some milk,” I say, while I think to myself, “No I don’t want to contribute to making your (false) claim that you’re a good corporate citizen seem more legitimate in next year’s advertising campaign.”
“No, just wanted a hot chocolate, thanks.”
“No, just the book today, thanks.”
I’d explain myself to the cashier, but frankly, the cashier is just doing his or her job, as he or she has been trained to essentially suggestive-sell a donation. Instead of leaving these stores feeling happy about my purchases, which I’m sure some marketing executive would like, I leave with a sense of shame and guilt – I publicly said I wasn’t willing to contribute to children’s literacy – I must be such a jerk. What if people I know saw that? Or heard me? Or worse yet, called me out on it?
I think people who are asked three times per day to donate 3$ to some cause or another are getting fatigued — “donor fatigue” or “charity fatigue” is a real thing — and I’m worried that they are going to be far less motivated to donate larger sums to causes they believe in, and less apt to think through their own tithing priorities. I think that’s bad for all of us.
It’s also bad when we don’t know how well a corporate foundation is run. We should all be asking – of every non-profit to which we donate – what percentage of donations fund administration and what percentage actually gets back out in the community to help people. Because that’s what matters.
Do the corporate boards who decide to implement these strategies realize the impact they’re having? I’m so personally fatigued by this, I’m contemplating two options when I come across this situation: a) shop elsewhere, or b) create a note to management so that every time I’m asked to donate, instead give the cashier a note to pass to his or her bosses explaining my position.
For the first option I’m thinking that one of the other benefits of shopping online is that you don’t have to feel that in-person pressure to donate, and most online shops haven’t integrated this intrusive “ask” yet, so maybe I’d be able to shop more comfortably. (I could enter shameless plugs here for businesses I am involved in, have invested in, work for, or just generally love, but I’ll save you having to read that.).
For days when I feel I should do something about it, I’m going to arm myself with this letter for store management.
Are you as tired of these pressure-filled donation tactics as I am? Could companies be handling their charity drives better? If so, I’d love to hear about it. If not, well, I’d love to hear that too. Am I way off base?