Issue 41 / 26 October 2015

OCTOBER has been a flood of pink again this year, thanks to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with the colour adorning everything from vitamins to car accessories.
Next month, our Facebook feeds will sprout unfortunate facial hair as men show their support for Movember, the annual fundraising effort for men’s health.
Last year, the “ice bucket challenge” took over social media as thousands (or was it millions?) of people around the world showed off photos of themselves drenched in freezing water.
That particular circus was to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, though you wouldn’t have to be too cynical to suspect many participants were more focused on generating Facebook likes than on supporting research into a disease they’d probably never heard of.
Slate technology writer Will Oremus proposed an alternative “no ice bucket” challenge, which worked like this:
1. Do not fetch a bucket, fill it with ice, or dump it on your head
2. Do not film yourself or post anything on social media
3. Just donate the damn money
He has a point. Why do we need these kinds of gimmicks to encourage us to open our wallets and do they run the risk of skewing our generosity away from the causes that need it most?
It’s a tough world out there for charities, which are coming up with ever more slick marketing strategies to distinguish themselves from their competitors so they can attract corporate and individual support. 
The National Breast Cancer Foundation, which is behind October’s annual blush, trumpets the commercial benefits of pinking up on its website.
“Cause related marketing (CRM) allows companies to uniquely position their products in the market to achieve product differentiation and increased sales”, the website says.
A CRM campaign with the foundation is “a valuable marketing opportunity to develop a unique selling proposition”, it says.
Not everybody is comfortable with this kind of commodification of a disease.
US group Breast Cancer Action is behind the “Think before you pink” project, which calls for more transparency and accountability from companies participating in breast cancer fundraising.
The group has also raised concerns about the focus on mammography in many breast cancer fundraising campaigns, often without adequate acknowledgment of the potential risks of widespread screening.
Scottish GP Dr Margaret McCartney has raised similar concerns about Movember, saying it over-emphasises the benefits of prostate cancer screening, without thoroughly explaining the potential downsides.
Movember’s focus on male cancers is also a distraction from “the far more pressing [male health] concerns of mental illness, alcohol and substance misuse, smoking, and obesity”, she writes.
The bottom line is that charities are going to keep rolling out the attention-grabbing campaigns as long as we, the potential donors, keep responding to them.
Giving is good, but it would be even better if we chose where to direct our generosity based on evidence of need and benefit rather than being seduced by gimmicks.
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer.

One thought on “Jane McCredie: Charity challenge

  1. stephen sonneveld says:

    Marketing with gimmicks unfortunately may be the only way to gain public attention.

    It does no harm and does increase awareness as shown by the Think Pink and Movember slogans.

    My concern these days is that many of us no longer carry money – rather we use a card to pay when shopping etc. Charities no longer accept cash as a donation but require your credit card details instead. Many of us are reluctant to give these details out and hence the charity gets nothing. I have restricted donation to a number of reqular charities yearly with a set amount. Others canvassing for money are denied.  I wonder if others take issue with releasing card details to the charity collectors/doorknockers ?



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