From social media “influencers” to corporations, it seems like everyone wishes to do good. And although these good acts do materialise, with more to gain from such involvement, “doing good” has been reduced to a numbers game for companies (ST, Feb. 2): the amount of donations, the number of followers or subscribers who have been reached, or the number of projects a firm has been involved in. For instance it was quoted that blog advertising firm Nuffnang “supported 10 charitable campaigns last year, up from three in 2013”, when the company could have elaborated on the actual impact of its 10 undertakings.
One “influencer” in the article – which focused on social media celebrities who use their popularity to raise awareness or donations for charitable causes – also said “you never know the positive difference that can be made from even just one person reading a blog post”.
Indeed, we do not. And that is a problem.
The hyperbole aside, it is a longstanding problem presented in a new form. Traditional celebrities have been criticised for engagement in philanthropic projects which may benefit the celebrity more than the organisation. Even if this comes to pass, celebrity endorsement of a charity is no guarantee of its long-term contribution. More often than not, without a comprehension of beneficiaries, these well-intentioned endeavours could lead to unfortunate characterisation. When co-founder of social media marketing firm Gushcloud proclaimed that “if you are going to influence people, why not, for once, use that influence to help the needy”, it is presumed that charity is necessarily about giving to or helping those “in need”.
For charity or philanthropy to be effective it has to be sustainable, and their initiatives evaluated objectively. Staying with one charity for an extended period of time, as well as offering direct, voluntary services at the organisations, could be potential solutions. Organisations have worked to improve their mechanisms for performance measurement and management, using data or indicators to assess the efficacy of their programmes. If companies are to be taken seriously for the “positive difference” they claim to have made, their justifications cannot be premised upon a convenient numbers game.