Do We Need Consumerism to Have Philanthropy?

Nike_(RED)_Laces

A recent piece in The Atlantic, Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?, initially caught my eye because of its provocative title. As I started reading, it kept my attention with its message of individuals criticizing and downplaying the importance of the nonprofit sector.

The piece profiles a few people who believe that philanthropy is most effective when folded into consumerism. People behind companies like PRODUCT (RED) and FEED believe that human nature is to want to shop, not to donate. So if we want to get the most amount of money from people, we must go to the source of what they do the most often – shop.

What this piece illustrates, and I agree with, is that this argument and point of view cheapens the importance of philanthropy. The third sector, just like the for-profit sector or the government sector, has a place in our society and has its own successes and challenges. Just because it doesn’t look like the traditional big business money exchange doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important role in the lives of many. I can’t help but wonder if these people have ever made a large gift to a nonprofit or even understand what fundraising means. By making these sort of bold statements, they are undermining the value that philanthropy has – not just for the nonprofit or the people served by the nonprofit, but also for the donors themselves.

“Philanthropy should imply a categorically different relationship with money than the one we have a consumers: something we embark on because we want to participate in a larger goal of improving the world and linking our values, histories, and resources with the needs of other people.” 

The feeling a donor gets when they give a donation is a completely different one than when a consumer buys a good. The donor gets to be part of the greater good and she gets to know she is making a difference in the lives of others who need her. That kind of feeling can’t be replicated by buying a shirt. That kind of feeling is because of the ripple effect that her money will make, ultimately changing the world.

-N.C.

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