Hump Day: ‘Charity as a business’ might not be popular, but it is practical

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I find there’s a disturbing holier-than-thou trend on social media lately toward registered charities and their legitimate fundraising activities.

The most recent sample is criticism of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past month, you would have seen some of the many videos being posted online of everyone from politicians, business leaders and young people who are raising money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease eventually leads to weakness due to muscle atrophy and difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing and is ultimately fatal; there is currently no cure. Many patients remain fully aware of what is happening as the disease progresses. Tragic!

To say there are numerous videos posted online is the understatement of the century. Every political leader and business leader worth his or her salt is doing it. There are boring videos, funny videos, touching videos and downright strange ones, too. Each person tags three friends. If the friend doesn’t take the challenge, they have to make a donation. (Many people make a donation anyway.)

According to a CTV news report posted to the network’s website on Monday, ALS Canada has raised nearly $6 million since July 29, while the ALS Society of Canada has raised $5 million. In the U.S., the ALS Association has raised more than $70 million. Meanwhile, the equivalent association in the UK has raised more than $1 million.

It’s a phenomenon, to say the least – and marketing genius. I can’t remember a viral fundraising campaign that’s been so successful so fast. I’m sure there’ll be imitators popping up all over the Internet at some point. You can be sure the marketing staff at every charity in the world are looking for the next Ice Bucket Challenge right now.

Of course, the Ice Bucket Challenge has its detractors. Environmentalists say it wastes water. Some wonder how in the world the ALS-related charities can deal with such an unexpected windfall. Others say you shouldn’t give to disease-specific charities and besides, the Ice Bucket Challenge videos are one-offs. People who donate will never donate again. (Better to get it once than never, I say!) Others are just annoyed that the videos are taking over Facebook, Twitter and the media in general.

It makes me want to scream with frustration. A charity comes up with a fundraising phenomenon of epic proportions, raises millions of dollars and has everyone talking about it. Awareness is through the roof. Even if many aren’t experts on the disease because they just wanted to get in on the fun, it just makes sense that by the law of averages a certain number of people will continue giving to ALS for years to come. Even if the various charities only retain 15 per cent of donors, this would be tremendous success. Personally, I congratulate ALS on coming up with such a popular idea. If others complain, it’s because they’re green with envy. Good for you, and shame on them.

This week, the 100 Men Who Care of Greater Moncton group had its inaugural meeting. There’s also a 100 Women Who Care of Greater Moncton group that began earlier. The premise of the group is that 100 people join the organization and then nominate a charity. Before the meeting, three charities are picked to make presentations. Afterwards, a vote is taken and the winning charity is written a $100 cheque by each member – meaning $10,000 to one charity in one shot.

It’s a godsend to many charities, for sure, and a way for a group of strangers to come together and make a significant financial impact without breaking their own bank. The receiving charity then provides tax receipts to the donors. The meetings take place four times per year, meaning four $10,000 windfalls to local charities.

CharityWhen I joined the men’s group and started to promote it, I was surprised that a number of people were quite critical. It was discrimination to just have men! It’s also discrimination to just have women! Maybe a competing organization should be set up for those who want a co-ed group. Well, sure! Why not? Fill your boots! But discrimination? Really? Are we that politically correct that a group of one gender getting together to do good in the community is somehow ‘evil’ (for the lack of a better word) just because everyone happens to be the same sex? I don’t get it.

The other day, I saw something that made my jaw drop. A Facebook friend publicly advocated that we shouldn’t donate to cancer-related charities. A video was shared talking about conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical companies, how money was being spent on highly paid staff, etc. All this feel-good stuff like Run for the Cure was just a big useless waste of time, apparently.

Seriously? I have a bulletin for naysayers: you have to spend money to make money. I’ve seen charities that live on shoestrings. They rely on volunteers. They pay their staff next to nothing along with few benefits and long hours. They act like impoverished victims. And guess what? They raise little to no money and are certainly not as effective as they could be.

Charitable organizations are business. They do a lot of good. They fund research. They raise awareness. They provide services to those who need them. And yes, they have staff and offices. And – God forbid – some people are paid well, too! If you want to make money, you have to spend money. I’ve always believed that, especially for charities. We need to stop demanding that charities act like victims and start demanding that they act like dynamic, innovative businesses so they can properly serve their target audiences.

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