Companies Turn to Customers for Charitable ‘Advice’

In an effort to burnish their image with consumers, several Fortune 500 companies have launched online giving contests and invited customers to help them determine which nonprofits should receive their charitable dollars, the Bergen Record reports.

Companies that have rolled out such campaigns include Target, Pepsi, Northwestern Mutual, and Sam’s Club, which recently wrapped up its Giving Made Simple campaign in which Sam’s Club members and employees were given an opportunity to help decide how $4 million should be allocated among eight charities.

The Obama administration has taken note of the phenomenon. With help from the Case Foundation, the administration held a conference last month to discuss ways for businesses, foundations, and charities to use prizes and challenge competitions to spur new ideas and innovation in the nonprofit world.

While proponents of online campaigns argue that they teach nonprofits how to promote themselves on new platforms — and, in the process, learn how to appeal to a younger, more technologically savvy demographic — at least one critic takes issue with the idea of turning charitable giving into a popularity contest. “I don’t think giving should be another ‘Dancing with the Stars,'” said Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow with the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “Good organizations are going to get left out because people are going to vote for the popular ones. It doesn’t get at the substance of who in the community really needs what.”

Lipman, Harvy. “Asking the Public Which Charities Should Get Funds.” Bergen Record 5/10/10