What ever happened to plain vanilla philanthropy? The kind that just said, "you're doing a swell job holding your finger in the dike."
Oh, for the good old days when all a little non-profit had to do was a terrific job (and keep good records). When I founded The Lower Eastside Girls Club in 1996 to address an egregious disparity in my community (there were three Boys Clubs and no comparative programs for girls) I knew fundraising would be essential to our success and I was ready for that challenge. Since then, thousands of Lower East Side girls have benefited from our free after-school, weekend and summer programs to build the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders.
In the early years, foundations and corporations came, saw, and wrote a check. Some were even grateful to be our 'partner.' A decade ago we started a series of small businesses to help train girls for the working world and raise some unrestricted income to pay rent. Social venture was the wave of the future...
Now we're being asked to pimp for Pepsi, do market research for Google, and in general compete with our sister organizations for that ever-smaller piece of the pie. Today it's all about making us work for our supper. As if the work we are already doing doesn't take all our time and energy.
Do I sound frustrated? Well, if I get one more pleading email asking me to vote for "x" organization so that they can make it into the next level of the Pepsi Challenge or some similar competition.... or have to spend my days producing a video about me and my great idea to post on "y" corporation's website... or spend another minute trying to find out how many municipal light poles Google's competitors are using and at what rates, while also organizing community leaders and identifying the major factories, hospitals and universities... just to apply for a Google grant. (For heaven's sake -- can't Google just google this information themselves?)... I will give my computer away!!!
Oh, I forgot, charity is out. Social networking is in. But is this really social networking or are we being duped into doing sophisticated PR, marketing and market research for some of the wealthiest multi-nationals on earth?
It just seems so sad and tawdry to watch people I admire, in organizations doing great environmental and social justice work, grovel for votes in the Chase Challenge like they're on a reality TV show. Isn't dealing with real reality enough work already? And, popularity contest aside, it feels so schizophrenic (we called it cognitive dissonance back in my grad school days) to promote products and ideas we spend our working days challenging. Hasn't anyone noticed that soda comes in plastic bottles that choke porpoises?
This trend, shilling for the corporate funder, makes me wish for the good old days, like when Phillip Morris didn't even ask you to list them as a funder if you worked with children. I know times are tough for the banks and the big boys but I'm already holding two jobs -- as Executive Director of a youth development organization as well as a wife and mother. I'm not sure I want to take on a third shift tweeting the praises of potential donors all day long, or the embarrassment of begging in public. When I was a kid I learned this lesson: no amount of hand waving and 'pick me, pick me' ever made dodge ball fun. Not then, not now. And so my organization will stick to selling cupcakes -- no shame there!