On altruism and self promotion…

by Smartie on March 18, 2011

The horrific situation in Japan just keeps getting scarier and scarier, and I am sure they will need piles of assistance from the global community to rebuild after a tragedy of this scale. But I can’t help be a little cynical. Because when disaster strikes and altruism sets in, sometimes it’s hard to tell where the self promotion ends and the selflessness begins.

In the weeks and months following 9/11, I got a number of calls about handling press for benefits and shows where “all proceeds” would go to some 9/11 fund. Some people were donating to the Red Cross and other specific charity outlets, but some were very vague about who exactly was getting that money. Was someone going to carry a paper bag of dollar bills and coins to Lower Manhattan, stand on top of the rubble and hand it off to the first recovery worker they saw?

I suppose what compounds my cynicism is that often there was the endless insistence that because their motives for their project were “purely altruistic,” the press absolutely had to cover what they were doing. It was all to raise money for disaster relief.

But raising money for disaster relief was the aim of just about every project at that time. So a disaster relief donation on its own had absolutely no merit for coverage. It was not newsworthy; it was actually the norm.

Now, of course big corporations use their altruism to gain favor. Facebook handed over a massive sum of money to the City of Newark, and received a lot of media love for it. Time Warner certainly wanted some lovely PR when they underwrote the Signature, so that the theater could change only $20 per seat. The vast sums of money that a Facebook or a Time Warner is able to donate makes them not only newsworthy, but it also gives them a free pass on whatever their motivation may be for their altruism.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that only large organizations should raise and donate money. By all means, go out there and raise money. Donate it, even if it’s $5! It’s amazing to give to organizations that help people in need–and even the smallest amount of money can be an enormous help. And yes, put it in your marketing materials and press releases, so people know where the money is going. It’s perfectly OK to share what you are doing. And perhaps someone will make more of an effort to buy a ticket because of it.

But do it because you want to do it, because you are driven to help in some way. Do not go into it with the mindset that because your company is donating money to a cause you deserve coverage, audiences, etc. Don’t use it as a vehicle for self promotion. It won’t have the impact you desire. And it’s simply bad karma.

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