Archive for the ‘philanthropy’ Category
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Jennifer Stauss Windrum over the last couple of years. While we are separated geographically, the joys of social media have given us a chance to meet each other virtually.
Jennifer is a communicator, first and foremost. And she’s someone who I’ve grown to admire for her passion and her ability to take a personal tragedy and turn it into a positive movement.
Jennifer’s mother Leslie, like far too many people in this world, has cancer. And right now, her journey is coming towards its end. Leslie was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now when you hear lung cancer, you might say to yourself, “did she smoke?” Which is what many people think of when lung cancer enters the picture.
She didn’t. My dad had lung cancer, and when he was diagnosed, he hadn’t smoked for more than 20 years.
Jennifer’s mom’s diagnosis was bad news. No denying that. But the difference between Jennifer and other people is that she wasn’t willing to shake her head and tut-tut about the injustice of someone getting lung cancer and being stigmatized, or the fact that while lung cancer is the US’s #1 cause of cancer deaths, it receives the smallest amount of research funding.
She started WTF Lung Cancer. You get that, right? And in a cheeky, tireless, sometimes angry, sometimes despairing multi-year project, she’s been advocating for better funding for this disease (remember, 4 out of 5 lung cancer diagnoses are being made in NONSMOKERS now).
My dad was lucky. He was operated on for the lung cancer and lived on for nearly two decades. His impairment was minimal. Jennifer’s mom is not that lucky. To be blunt: she’s dying.
And in one of life’s odd juxtapositions, her mom’s health began to decline VERY quickly just as Jennifer has launched a giant new campaign. And as she’s managed being a caring daughter WHILE managing a major initiative, I’ve been touched, humbled, and inspired by her honesty, her love, and her dedication.
I’ve donated to a fund and social business that Jennifer started called SMAC! or Sock Monkeys Against Cancer. She wants to provide funky sock monkeys to cancer patients young and old as a symbol of comfort, care and concern. And she wants to bring attention to the plight of people like her mom. And she’d like to see this shitty disease cancer CURED.
If you’re here for a PR lesson, take this as your lesson: if you have a cause, if you have passion, you need to look at how Jennifer has channeled raw emotion into a strategic campaign to achieve a goal. She’s consulted others, she’s asked for help, she’s offered help when she can, and she’s put in the thinking and the work to make one of her dreams become a reality.
And if you learn something from this post or her websites, and you have a few bucks, why not make a donation, the way I did? She’s so close to achieving a major goal. Help her out. You won’t regret it.
The world was abuzz this week with the story of Karen Klein, a woman from upstate New York who was taunted mercilessly while working as a school bus monitor. As is so often the case, the taunters were not only mean and vile, but stupid enough to record their actions. If you haven’t seen this, you may or may not want to expose yourself to the 10 minutes of evil vapidity.
The video, as is the cliché, went viral. Millions of views. Then a guy in Toronto named Max Sidorov was touched by the video. He set up a campaign on Indiegogo to give her a vacation. He set a goal of $5,000, saying “There’s even a point in the video where one of the kids touches Karen’s arm in an attempt to make fun of her. I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try. She doesn’t earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!”
Then Sidorov’s campaign went viral too — in spades. In a matter of days, the campaign raised more than $545,000.
All of this is heartwarming. This is a 68-year-old woman who was treated more than shabbily, and it’s lovely to think that she’s going to be helped by this.
But let’s be honest here. Does Karen Klein need a half-million nest egg? Does the pain or embarrassment she suffered warrant a half-million payday?
Let’s take another example — Caine’s Arcade. The release of a short film about Caine’s Arcade led to a college fund of more than $200,000 and a matching fund to help other kids as creative and deserving as Caine.
There’s no doubt that these stories are inspiring. But I have this feeling that even the desire to good using the tools of social media can go too far. In themselves, the 25,000 donors to the Klein campaign each did an undeniably good thing. But is the best use of the $545,000 and counting that has been raised to simply go to Ms. Klein?
The other side of this is the response by viewers to reach out to the school or the school district.
The school district website has a message which reads in part:
“The behaviors displayed on this video are not representative of all Greece Central students and this is certainly not what we would like our students to be known for. We have worked very hard to educate students on the damaging impact of bullying and will continue to do so.
We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated.
We all need to take a step back and look at how we treat each other. It is our job as educators and parents to teach children and lead by example. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard to begin a dialogue with their children about bullying, respect and consequences. As a school community, we will continue to take the lead in bullying education and we encourage all students and employees subjected to bullying and harassment to report it as soon as it occurs and to take a stand if they are witness to bullying in their lives.”
I can only imagine the sheer volume of contacts. How could a small upstate New York school or district reasonably handle this level of outrage and demand for response? And what would my angry e-mail add to the situtation?
I don’t really have any answers here; I’m just trying to think through how a bad thing can, through social media, lead to a good thing and then, again through social media, perhaps the good thing becomes too much of a good thing.
What do you think?
I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.
One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.
Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.
And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.
I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).
But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.
The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:
- Twestival‘s remarkable success (nearly $2M raised in three years) comes to mind (and I feel justifiably proud in pointing to Ottawa’s superbly done Twestival event last year, organized by Stéphanie Montreuil and a gang of other smart people).
- The recent example of Caine’s Arcade is another heartwarming story, especially now that in addition to providing Caine with the world’s first crowdsourced scholarship (I’m guessing), a foundation has paired up to match those funds and help other kids like Caine.
- Hélène Campbell, a young woman from Ottawa, took her diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and turned it into a campaign for organ donation that took the province of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network by surprise — when she got celebrities such as Jann Arden, Justin Bieber, and Ellen Degeneres involved in urging organ donation, their registrations went from about 50 per day up to hundreds per day. She bumped the whole province’s registration number by two percent — nearly 250,000!
- 12for12K was a campaign organized by Danny Brown back in 2008, which raised more than $100,000 for a number of charities.
- And a couple of years ago, this was brought home to me when I found myself raising money and collecting goods for a local women’s shelter that had suffered a terrible fire.
So what makes all this different? A few things:
- People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of.
I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.
- Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way
Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.
- Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire.
The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.
- Use this new energy to leverage your organization.
In the media relations game, ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.
- Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives.
Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.
As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.
Some great resources for not-for-profits:
I was at an OCRI event this morning and heard about a cool new idea called 75+75=31. You might think that doesn’t add up.
But the United Way Ottawa campaign is hoping it will.
The charity is hoping to get 75,000 new online donors in 75 hours, to help it reach its $31-million goal. It also stands for the 75th anniversary of the United Way in Ottawa.
I love this idea. They have a countdown clock showing how much time is left, they have the funky button on the left…
But I wish they had done two things: first, some blogger outreach would have been great. I decided to blog this after I saw a tweet by local high-tech guy and member of the United Way’s “next-generation cabinet” Chris Neil. But I think they could have made more of a splash.
Second, I think the United Way should have put a count-up of the number of online donors and the amount donated as well as the countdown of time remaining. Would have added to the excitement.
Great idea, though, for a very senior charity, and hopefully a good way for them to bring the social-media generation around to donations.
UPDATE: Chris Neil of the United Way Ottawa Next Generation Cabinet tells me that “$85,302 was raised through the 75+75 = $31 million challenge. This final push before the campaign’s wrap-up on Tuesday, December 2 certainly reinvigorated the city, engaged new supporters, brought in all kinds of fresh support through visibility and in-kind help and ultimately, provided an opportunity for people to be part of something positive for our community.” Impressive number.