‘Today’s sales will be donated’: The unintentional opportunism of fundraising for a cause

A firefighter defends a property in Torrington. Source: AAP/Dan Peled.

Along with people across Australia and the world, I’m watching, horrified, while fires raze large chunks of wilderness and towns.

In the wake of disasters of this magnitude, people want to do something, and in our helplessness, one of the first places we turn is raising money and donating.

And how we raise money to donate brings into focus an unintentional underbelly of opportunism within the desire to do good. With only a few sleazy outlier examples — such as one story about a company selling rural fire service merchandise and pocketing the proceeds — I believe people are genuine in their efforts.

Fundraising approaches I’ve seen so far include millions of dollars raised by a social media star through an appeal to her followers and high-profile friends. Auctioning art with proceeds donated. Charity sporting events and concerts. Companies announcing donations of profits from sales, or of sales outright.

Most people can eke out a few dollars (or a lot of dollars) for the cause. And plenty of people are doing that.

So why don’t we all?

If you’re moved to donate, why not just give? Why make it a commercial trade?

A lot of businesses (particularly small businesses) want to help. Often their products or services aren’t relevant to efforts, so they flip to donating profits or sales. So far, so good. However, by announcing their intention, they inadvertently cross a line which can quickly feel opportunistic.

My local cafe had a sign by the counter that read: “All tips and proceeds today will go to the CFA.”

I’m sure there are similar signs scratched out on cardboard and propped up on counters across the country. But telling people who have already made a purchase is different from taking to social media and promoting that profits or sales for a specific period will be donated.

Here’s where the line between good intentions and inadvertent opportunism gets shaky. 

Because underneath the announcement is a subtext of “come buy one of our cool products, and we’ll be able to donate more money”. Win, win. We get a new customer or returning customer. You get to support the cause and a shiny new whatever.

But why do we need to get something in return for our goodwill? Isn’t the goodwill alone enough? If actions are the measure, the answer is often no.

The expectation of something in return is an insidious and pervasive mindset.

After hearing a song, I immediately thought a remake and release by some local talent would be a terrific way to raise funds. Then I started thinking about all those ways we’ve become trained to expect something in return for our goodwill. 

Donate money for Aids, get to attend an all-star concert. Donate money for poverty, get an exclusive edition product. Donate money to a child, get a story of how your money has minted a new beginning for the whole village. Donate for bushfire relief, get that thing you’ve been putting off buying, but if it will help the effort…

The age-old ‘do good and feel good’ has morphed into ‘do good and get more’.

We are heartbroken by the pictures of and stories about the bushfires. So whether you have a business or work for one, if you want to donate and can, do it. And maybe for once don’t think about any tangible return. Let your good act be the only trade. 

See you next time.

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