Although I’ve considered this question before, the issue struck me more squarely than ever when I received an email a few days ago from the American Marketing Association (AMA). Like several other organizations, the AMA sent a message to its constituents, encouraging them to contribute to the relief effort, in other words, marketing giving.
The email contained a link to an American Red Cross/AMA fundraiser page, powered by Crowdrise. On the right side of the page was a box, listing the amount of money raised--$5,095 at last check. Also in the box was a scrolling list of names and dollar amounts, showing who’s given and how much, for instance:
Andrew Smith $50
Erika Alexander $10
Yanliu Huang $100
Gunisha Samir $50
I never saw anything quite like this revolving list of donors, which made me think: Should I be recognized for my giving?
Of course, Crowdrise didn’t invent the idea of donor recognition. There are plenty of other examples, ranging from acknowledgment pages in high school yearbooks to the names of buildings on college campuses. What’s different with Crowdrise, however, is the unique and unconventional appeal, bluntly stated below the company’s logo: “If You Don’t Give Back No One Will Like You.”
Now, I’m really questioning my motives: Do I give to others because I want to help them, or because I’d like other people to acknowledge and appreciate me. This reflection is personal, but companies wrestle with similar questions, which affects how they handle their giving.
For instance, Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt has effectively used his celebrity to raise over $15 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Given that more than 152,000 people have contributed to Watt’s fund on YouCaring.com, gifts must be coming in all sizes. Probably the largest contribution has come from retail giant Walmart, which cut a check for $1 million. However, Walmart didn’t make its donation discreetly through Watt’s website. Instead, the company handed a massive 3 ft. x 7 ft. presentation check to Ellen DeGeneres while she spoke with Watt during a taping of her talk show.
Was Walmart wrong to promote its philanthropy on national TV? Probably not. For one thing, the visibility of this very significant gift will likely raise awareness of the need for hurricane relief and encourage others, especially large corporations, to contribute. In addition, given that Walmart is a publicly-traded company, its management is accountable to shareholders, which means announcing material transactions and building goodwill for the firm, which publicizing charitable giving tends to do.
So, should you and I hand an oversized presentation check for our next $100 donation? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be recognized. At least one of the reasons mentioned above for Walmart can apply to individuals: When others see that we give, they may be inspired to do the same.
There are, however, a few important things to consider, whether it’s an individual or a corporation building its brand. As suggested above, any publicity should be in keeping with the size of the gift. Also, motivation matters. No person or company should give simply because they want recognition. That doesn’t mean forgoing any acknowledgment, but it does mean that recognition should not be the driving force, or the primary motive.
It’s fine to have multiple reasons for doing things. Life is complicated, and our motivations must reflect that complexity. However, as a society we’ve gone askew if we allow promotion to overtake compassion. We need organizations and individuals who genuinely care about others and who are willing to help even if no one else knows they did.
So, while Crowdrise’s tagline, “If You Don’t Give Back No One Will Like You,” is unseemly, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with receiving recognition for giving. In fact, appropriate recognition can be helpful for all involved. Giving for the right reasons, anonymously or with one’s name attached, is always “Mindful Marketing.”
P.S. Helping those impacted by Hurricane Harvey is much more important than a blog about marketing ethics. If you’re thinking of giving, here’s a great list of organizations that can put your donation to good use.