Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Charity Rant

Every weekend during the summer, there is at least one large fundraiser ride, run, telethon, or other event raising funds for this charity, or that hospital (the Ottawa marathon being an exception, as it has no charitable beneficiary). Every single one whores itself out to a barrage of corporate sponsors, and plasters its sponsors' names across the city.

These rides have turned into a ruse for Corporate [North] America to play nice guy and encourage average citizens to donate their own money to these dilapidated causes, because the Big Boys want to keep their dandy profits.

It occurred to me at this year's Tour Nortel ride. It probably came to me at the same ride in previous years, but this year I simply couldn't bear it. If I heard "McDonald's Dream Team" one more time, I'd simply lose it.

If you visit, you'll notice two things. First, "McDonald's" appears more times in the website's opening text than the names of any of the ride's beneficiaries (CHEO being the chief among them). Second, you'll note that the website is designed to showcase front-and-centre the many corporate sponsors of the ride.

For me, the epiphany was when I heard Max Keeping's voice call out the "Esso 12K cycle and In-line Skate". Excuse me, but what have Esso and McDonald's done for children's health? Much less, I'd posit to say, than they've done to it. All five of the rides have sponsors, and only one of them is not a large corporation. Active Ottawa Actif ran a very poorly designed campaign for the City of Ottawa's Public Health department.

Allow me an aside to share with you the gist of their campaign. In order to encourage kids to get the flu shot, they have devised a theme character: Gerry the Giraffe. However, as with any other marketing blunder, the majority of their effort is spent trying to woo kids to pay attention to their Giraffe--by handing out stickers that say "Gerry" and have the giraffe's picture on it. These stickers have no text that identifies the nature of Gerry's campaign, and the picture is merely that of a cartoon giraffe. Even if this campaign gets kids to recognize Jer--er, Gerry, it will have failed at encouraging kids to get inoculated. Of course, what child is going to go to their parent and say "Mom! Mom! I wanna get a flu shot, because Gerry told me to!"

At least the dalmation wore a firefighter's hat.

Anyway, getting back to how corporations are destroying the social system...

There are at least two reasons for Esso to sponsor this corporate challenge, aside from the obvious PR boost. First, most people who ride their bikes in the Tour Nortel drive them to the suburban Nortel campus in their cars and SUVs. They have to get their gas somewhere.

Since Esso charges the same as other fuel companies, but spends less than any other on reducing its products' toxicity, or on developing alternative fuels, or on protecting the inhabitants it displaces in developing countries, it has more money to burn on PR stunts like this ride.

It also has more money to burn on lawyers and lobbyists, who encourage governments not to raise corporate taxes to pay for our overworked health care system. What does this have to do with a fundraising ride? Because the over $600,000 raised by this year's ride is simply life-support for our local hospitals. Every year, the amount of money raised by private individuals in this ride and in the CHEO telethon, which is on this weekend, is higher than the previous year. This money is not used by hospitals for extracurricular things like research (which also lacks sufficient government support). Instead, institutional charity recipients depend on this as a source of regular income.

In the event of a recession, people would no longer be able to give so much money in telethons, and our hospitals and school boards (who are required by law to have balanced budgets) would suffer tremendously. Oil companies, fast food companies, and other Big Businesses, however, would still reap large profits.

If these charity fundraisers didn't exist, we'd be able to see exactly how badly our social institutions (health, educational, and community) are doing. Then we'd see that tax cuts (be they for the rich or for the middle class) are a luxury that we as a society simply cannot afford. Instead, not only do we have to put up with the press releases of how many pennies McDonald's customers donated to this-or-that cause, but we have to shoulder--through fundraisers--the increased costs of institutions that seek to heal the very problems that are caused by these tax-evading corporations.

On a more local level, the alumni association for my alma mater is very active, and is a large source of revenue for the school's projects. This is all fine and dandy for Lisgar, but what about the many schools that don't have the advantage of rich kids attending? Most of the people who graduate from Lisgar rise to the top of society and reinvest their wealth in the school's next generation. Students and parents are thus somewhat insulated from the effects of the funding crunch, and they--the ones who will go on to lead the country--may see no need to increase school funding.

If you have the money, it's not so bad. You can give a couple dozen bucks to the ride if you're feeling generous, and you can pay the $80 surcharge on your next hospital visit, or $50 for your kid's textbook.

However, if you can't afford this, the McDonald's Dream Team isn't going to comp your hopsital trip.

Now do you want fries with that?

- RG>

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dude, you are really grouchy.

Corporate logos are a small price to pay for the support they provide:
1) monetary
2) infrastructure
3) help/support from the firm's employees
4) "legitimization" for participants
5) encourages other companies to "get on board" (bandwagon effect)