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Charity Pays: How businesses competing for your business are now aiming for the heart.

It isn’t enough anymore that American businesses reduce their negative effects on the environment or tolerate diversity in the workplace. We’ve come to expect so much more. Way more. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the strange ways corporations are targeting your sense of philanthropy…

 The Good:

Tom’s shoes has a very simple business model. You buy a pair of their shoes and Toms will donate a second pair to a person in need — frequently hosting “shoe drops” in Africa and elsewhere. Pretty cool. I’ve bought Toms shoes on several occasions over the years and have only now discovered that Toms Shoes is a for-profit company.

Huh. Hm. Well… who cares, I guess! So what if Tom makes a few extra bucks? Or a million bones, for that matter? As long as he’s keeping his word about his charitable and ethical dealings, how could I have a problem with that? They make shoes. They sell you the shoes. They give away shoes to people who have no shoes. This is a very organic model.

The Bad:

They’re called “giving portals”. These are widgets that are usually embedded on a for-profit site on behalf of a non-profit organization as a means of funneling charitable giving. How nice of the “for” to host the “non”, right? Well, what we don’t know is that most (if not all) of these for-profit sites are skimming off the top. True story.

Okay, this may not be illegal or preposterous, but it is off-putting. This isn’t something you want to have to consider when you give. In fact, it’s impossible to consider this when these fees or “commissions” aren’t even mentioned in the fine print. Some companies only take five bucks per transaction, while others rake in 15% per donation — small or large. Yikes. What a racket.

The danger here is that when these practices become common-knowledge, the bad press could reflect poorly on the non-profit and further putt off an already skeptical philanthropic public.

The Strange:

I was reading Google’s blog the other day when I stumbled upon a reference to the “Gayglers”. This is a term to encompass the LGBT community at Google. Here’s a link to a Google bog article and a video about it. In the article you can read about all the LGBT causes that Google celebrates and supports financially.

Diversity and tolerance are expected in the workplace these days and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, failure to exercise these is punishable by law. The “strange” element here is the feeling that Google is tripping over themselves to weigh-in on, support and put the spotlight on a person’s sexuality in the workplace. Not every one’s sexuality either, mind you. There is no corporately supported straight club, or polygamist gang. (And there shouldn’t be.)

Is it possible that by spotlighting the LGBT at Google and other places – and sectioning them off into weird little cliques with cute little names – that we miss the point of an integrated, tolerant workplace? Maybe this special attention from Google does tug at some heart-strings and earn extra support from users. But at least for me, I don’t see the organic correlation between a search engine and the gay community. I do, however, see a huge opportunity for Google to be a growing beacon of light for the spread of information — even in the darkest, most censored parts of the world. Ah, this sounds familiar.

Remember when Google had to be persuaded to stop partnering with China in the active censoring of a nation? Well, they gave in eventually, but what if the opposite were true? What if Google were using their vast resources to wage an all out information war on these countries, forcing the spread of info and finding new ways to beat the system? I’m sure the Gaygler’s, the Straightglers and the Polygamiglers would all sacrifice a little air-time for that cause.

But I digress!

In conclusion:

Good, bad or strange, I love that these considerations are becoming commonplace. For every one of my transactions, it would be nice to expect the added philanthropic benefits. While this could eventually trivialize charity, it just might lead us to bigger and better questions like, “why do we feel so morally obliged to the poor and oppressed?” And moreover, “where does that come from?”


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