by Catherine McBreen
Donations to Japan have been slower than to other tragic events in the past. The press attributes many reasons to it:
-People haven’t experienced the outcome of the tragedy yet with the
nuclear meltdown issue still somewhat in flux…
-No big name movie stars publicizing the crisis (this has changed
somewhat over the weekend)
-Perception that the Japanese haven’t really asked for aid.
I do admit that this cause, as badly as one feels for the Japanese people, isn’t one that I immediately started dialing numbers on my cellphone to support. And as guilty as I feel….I guess one of my first thoughts was…that’s why we buy insurance. I’m sure the Japanese people, who are often considered smarter than we are, have insurance. But then, I immediately felt guilty.
Secondly, I think there is a little bit of the …gee, they compete against us economically. Maybe we can pick up some slack here? And finally the absolutely worst thought was…weren’t they the bad guys in WWII? Didn’t really go through my mind…but it did my father’s.
But then the mature adult inside of me got past that. I made my donation, as I hope all of you will do.
Maybe we should think of it differently. The Japanese are people we should admire immensely. They are able to take care of themselves. They are the type of society we emulate….no mentality of “give me, give me”. There was no looting after the tsunami. Shame on us when we consider what happened with Katrina. Let’s be honest, is it fair that we feel more sympathy to Haiti when in reality they hadn’t built up the infrastructure they needed to support not only their homes but their society and economy? It’s a really tricky moral dilemma.
I also agree with the press that donor fatigue may exist. We now all know the routine. The tragedy occurs. The press begins showing us stories of families that have lost everything. Sick children, elderly people lying on gymnasium floors or worse…..Then the high profile celebrities get involved and we all are inundated with the easiest way to give. And it is all good…very very good. But we now have an expectation of the drill..and when it doesn’t quite live up to expectations we may not know how to respond.
Individuals actually donate a fair amount of assets each year. For example, Spectrem data shows that the average household with $1-5 million donates up to $2500 each year with about 16% giving over $10,000 each year. Thirty five percent of households with less than $1,000,000 but more than $100,000 give from $1,000 to $5,000 each year with 12% giving more than $5,000 annually. Households with more than $25 million generally give about $25,000 annually (28%) with 20% giving $10,000 to $25,000. Twenty two percent give over $100,000 each year.
It used to be that giving to charities was a quiet private type of affair. Many famous people, and not famous but wealthy, individuals gave donations to many charities from supporting social service organizations to the arts to colleges. Today charitable giving seems to be a “cool” thing to do. Every Hollywood star attaches their name to a charity. Is that a good thing or bad?
To the extent the charity benefits, it is a good thing. It seems, however, more meaningful when a star becomes truly involved in the charity. The challenge could eventually be that charities supported by a “star” no longer receive the quiet donations that have supported these charities for years.
And so back to Japan. The stars were slow to jump on the bandwagon..but they are truly doing so today thanks to Sandra Bullock, Lady Gaga and others. As we reflect upon our own feelings regarding charitable giving, let’s be sure to understand the real needs and not just jump on the bandwagon. Let’s hope that the aid that was given to Haiti results in a long term positive impact on the company. At the same time we can probably feel confident that aid given to Japan will quickly be used to provide food and provisions to those hurt in the tsunami.