After I wrote about the Sliderocket presentation for the Hoshyar Foundation, I dropped an email to the head of the charity, telling her how much I had admired the presentation, letting her know that I had blogged about it and sent it to friends, and asking what the response had been like.
I got a note back, telling me that more than 32, 000 people had looked at the presentation. But, she wrote, since Sliderocket’s donation was limited to $5,000, they were now hoping for more donations from those who looked at the slides. She then directly asked me for a donation, explaining that she would not be able to go back to Pakistan if she did not raise more money.
This response really put me off. I have been mulling it over, trying to discern the reasons for my reaction, these past few days.
The first one is that she did not thank me for blogging or sending her link on to my friends. And, it was clear that she had not read what I wrote about her campaign and her foundation, but just went straight after me as a potential source of money. If she had read the post–and this is a real sticking point for me–she would have seen that I am doing work of my own and so any extra funds I had would go to that. In fact, probably the main thing that hurt was that she had not bothered to look at my site long enough to see that we were both engaged in the task of helping girls in the developing world become educated. I had hoped there would be a recognition of a tie there, but instead I was asked for money.
As I have taught my students for many years, human exchange is based on an ethic of reciprocity. That is as true today, in this overheated global economy of ours, as it has ever been. When people find their expectations of reciprocity violated, they often get angry, and are likely to make moral accusations. Reciprocity doesn’t mean every dollar must be returned, but includes the more general acknowledgement of each other’s interests and even their humanity. So some of what I was feeling was a violation of reciprocity.
My experiences with charities these last five years have made me a bit intolerant of the attitude of entitlement sometimes characteristic of people in these organizations. They sometimes bring an element of greed to public-private partnerships that is most unproductive and unseemly. As seemed to be the case here, there is often a suspicion that the private partner has somehow “gotten away with” something that brought them more advantage than the charity received. This suspicion often occurs when there is no evidence to suggest that the private partner “got away with” anything. Some of this happens because charitable personnel are usually pretty naive about business and they assume every private company is flush with titanic gobs of cash that they can (and should) just throw around.
In this case, the software company had quite reasonably limited their exposure up front. You cannot know how such a campaign will fare on the net. It could “go viral,” gleaning millions of viewers. If that happened, the resulting donation from a campaign like this might actually bankrupt a small software company. At the same time, the likelihood of this campaign leading to very much business for the software company was also unknown. I daresay Sliderocket will end up earning much less from this campaign that Hoshyar will, but the charity will always think that, because there were 32,000 clicks, there must have been thousands who bought the software. I doubt that’s true.
One must also consider the value of the work Sliderocket did for Hoshyar into the mix. The presentation was, itself, really beautiful. The design of this presentation was worth something–it was probably the reason people sent the link around. Yet the charity will likely not consider Sliderocket’s donation of personnel time and expertise in their assessment of what should have come to them from the campaign.
I have noticed in other cases also, with these types of campaigns where there is a limited consumer engagement (you buy one pack, they buy one vaccine; you watch the video, they make a donation), that the charity often expects a great flow of new donations coming along as an ancillary response. And this usually does not happen, either. I think this is because consumers understand the relationship between the private company and the charity to be the source of funds. And I think consumers like these kinds of campaigns because they understand their own exposure to be limited. They will resent being hit up later for more money, as I did, and will feel “taken” if that happens. In truth, had the email I received been more generous in attitude, I probably would have donated on my own initiative. However, a follow-up email campaign to all who “clicked” will probably cause a negative response.
In all, the experience made me look a bit differently at these public-private campaigns on behalf of women’s empowerment. I still think they are a good idea, for as long as they actually help women on the ground. But I can see a future where people will feel used and burnt by such efforts and they may cease to be effective as a result.