NSFW. I have a confession. I love the new FCKH8 video. The one that features little girls dressed as princesses dropping F-bombs, while they cite statistics about rape, misogyny and sexism. I have no problem with little girls talking about these issues or saying fuck while they do it, because seriously, fuck rape culture, fuck misogyny, fuck sexism in education and the workplace and fuck a society that values looks over substance. Fuck it in the neck, motherfucker. I think we should be more offended by sexual assault, inequality, rape culture and a society that values my fucking waist measurement more than my IQ, than we are about a bunch of pretty princesses saying the word fuck. Check it out:
However, I do have a huge fucking problem with using these little girls to sell t-shirts – a tactic also known as cause marketing. Cause marketing or consumer philanthropy refers to a type of marketing that involves a partnership between a for profit company and a nonprofit/several nonprofit entities or cause. Cause marketing campaigns generally pledge a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of a good or service to support a cause. Or in other words – for profit corporations use our desire to change the world to sell us everything from t-shirts to frozen meals, cereal and yogurt. Fuck that noise.
It’s one thing for nonprofits to engage in creative strategies to raise awareness and money to support their causes. I love pledge-a-picket campaigns, to raise funds to support abortion clinics and women’s access to abortion care, by pledging a dollar amount for each fuckhead protester who stands outside a clinic. I found this racy t-shirt campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America fucking delightful. Guess which shirt I voted for. Meow.
When you support a nonprofit, you can feel confident that your donation will be used for that nonprofit’s charitable purpose. How do you know? You can research that nonprofit using resources like Charity Navigator, and often, you can even restrict your gift to ensure that it supports a specific program versus the general operations of that nonprofit, if that is important to you. Nonprofit fundraisers generally follow a code of ethics and care about maintaining the public’s and their donors’ trust. When you give, you form a relationship with that organization, founded on a shared desire to make the world a better place and trust in their ability to carry out the work necessary to move the dial towards that goal.
In contrast, when you buy a frozen meal that promises to end hunger, a yogurt cup that promises to end breast cancer, or a t-shirt that promises to fight for fundamental rights for girls and women, you really don’t know where your money is going, or for what purpose. AND the corporations don’t have to tell you. That’s right. You don’t know if your “donation” will support the best programs, evidence- or research-based strategies or the most worthy organizations. Sometimes you don’t even know which organizations a campaign supports or how much a corporation gives to that organization.
And if you don’t care about that or for some reason, you trust that for-profit corporation to decide where your dollar goes? Research shows that when you engage in consumer philanthropy, you decrease your traditional giving to charitable causes, which can have a serious impact on nonprofits’ ability to help people and change the world. This disadvantages those causes that are less attractive or sexy. Unfortunately, our desire to “save the tatas” is greater than our desire to support less desirable, but worthy causes. And, even if breast cancer is the most important cause in your life, when you buy a pink item, you really don’t know how much actually goes to breast cancer charities and to which charities. Are they the most effective programs at reducing breast cancer mortality or increasing access to screening, diagnostic care or treatment or simply the ones with the best corporate relationships? Not only are we giving more to sexy causes, but we are giving less to nonprofits as a whole when we engage in this type of philanthropy, because we feel like we have already given at the check out aisle. Fuck.
What happens when a company that engages in cause marketing is actually part of the problem? When a company’s own practices or policies hurt our communities or don’t reflect their public image? The same company that sells LGBTQ and anti-racism and sexism themed shirts also promotes stereotypes, transphobia and claims that asexuality is not a thing. And FCKH8 is not the only guilty party. How about Kentucky Fried Chicken marketing pink buckets of fried chicken to support breast cancer research to primarily low-income, African American women?
When nonprofits have to rely on corporate funding to stay in business, do they narrow their focus to those programs and strategies that are deemed acceptable or palatable to those corporate funders and thus, limit their ability to affect social change? It makes me sad to think that we are dumbing down or sanitizing our efforts to make real progress in ending poverty and promoting human rights to please corporate overlords. How many large corporations have signed on to bills or ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage? How many support lower food prices? Or universal health care? They have lulled us into thinking they are good with effective marketing strategies. Fuckers.
Additionally, by making it easy to give, consumer philanthropy devalues the act of giving. It becomes almost unconscious and not at all engaged with the issues facing our community or real solutions to those problems. Over time, will we stop learning about the root causes of hunger and poverty or volunteering our time at pantries or shelters? Will we spend less time thinking about these issues, because we think they are being handled and thus negate the potential of these campaigns to raise awareness? Will we spend less time as a society investing in collective impact strategies and instead buy a pink or red or racy item and call it good? I don’t know. But, I do know that I choose not to support these efforts. My compassion is not for sale. Fuck that.
Featured image credit: Steph, all rights reserved, other images from NARAL Pro-choice America and FCKH8 Facebook pages.