Role of Celebrities and Poster Kids in NGO Fund Raising

While researching the term "poster child" for Fair Trade Recycling's report on Ghana (agonizingly close to completion... footnotes, footnotes!) I ran across some interesting articles on the March of Dimes - the anti polio campaign of the 1940s and 50s.

Wikipedia's article on the March of Dimes had a series of photos on the role of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the founding of a "National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (1938)". The campaign's use of photos of children in wheelchairs was effectively a merger of photojournalism and a public health campaign.  In the beginning, American children were asked to each donate a ten cents, and the "March of Dimes" campaign was so successful (if not in raising money from children, for leveraging federal and charitable donations) that it became a model for the charity or non-profit sector.

Bringing poignant images to stir emotional, nurturing responses from donors earned a label of "poster child campaign".  The term didn't really have any negative connotation until the 1960s.  As I recall from my MBA courses in non-profit management at Boston University (but don't have time to track down), it was a study on "diminishing returns" of a Unicef campaign that resulted in treating photo fundraising more cautiously.  We were taught, as MBA students, that there's a moral dilemma in using photos to raise funds for one non-profit cause if the campaign taxes the empathy of donors.

Celebrities and sad-eyed-children-photography make a powerful weapon.  But it isn't science.  And the worst kind of collateral damage is being waged via environmental malpractice.  Today's blog is about how I don't become cynical, even in the face of rigged bids and shaming attacks on my character.  My heroes stay fresher longer.

The March of Dimes seems to have had a huge role in the successful eradication of polio.  FDR wound up with his profile on the US Mint's ten cent piece.  His wife Eleanor is now a leading candidate for an image to replace Andrew "F* the Supreme Court and Cherokees" Jackson.

This appears to represent the best of the Charitable Industrial Complex.  But now we have an absolute amateur set of environmental organizations using pictures of brown kids at dumps to make us feel guilty for replacing our laptops and cell phones, whipping up a very profitable campaign that solicits from both environmental and child welfare interests.   The campaign has had a domino effect on publicly funded enforcement (Interpol's "Project Eden", UNEP publications beating the drum for arrests)  draft "guidelines" to send beat cops in the UK to arrest black TV repairmen.

I had dinner one on one with my 15 year old son last night, and chose to talk about Woody Guthrie, who was also from this period.  My kid of course knows "This Land is Your Land" song from school, but didn't really know about the dust bowl or the attempts to strengthen unions.  He knows "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the history of racial injustice, doesn't know as much about organizing the dirt poor.

I told him that Guthrie basically walked the walk as well as talk the talk, and deliberately wrote very simple songs to be easily played and remembered by illiterate, uneducated, working class laborers.  Pete Seeger was a link my son knows, as I play Pete Seeger a bit on my playlist we listen to.  And I sung a Weavers tune to my kids (Kisses Sweeter Than Wine) to put them to sleep at night.

To wrap up, I told him that Guthrie wound up respected by other artists, and while he wasn't enriching himself or getting respect from the Anti-Communist red scare rich, and was taking a beating on the front lines, and even friends (like Pete Seeger) were being blacklisted, that artists and singer-songwriters developed a lot of respect for the guy.   I told him he passed away in the 60s after a painful bout of Huntington's disease, but that young (at the time) artists (like Bob Dylan) kept his memory alive.

Guthrie may have been whitewashed, I really don't know the history that well.  I'm not really into charity as a solution, and I associate Guthrie with hard work.  I'm not really into government as a solution, either... it's easy to design legislation to "solve" an e-waste problem in Vermont and have it become a tool by large companies to mercilessly beat smaller companies with the help of stooges at the Agency of Natural Resources.

It's fascinating how I find myself in the role of underdog smack between NGOs using poster child imagery and big waste hauling and big shred and planned obsolescence.   The state of Vermont quite openly pays my much wealthier competitor more than they pay me, and sends enforcement letters to my OEM clients implying that my company isn't all it should be, and then blatantly lies to them and says, point blank, that our competitor was both R2 and E-Steward certified (based on ONE of their downstreams, after 2 handlers, being certified).

I'm trying to give hope to my kid that sometimes when you keep your integrity and record your honest thoughts, that someone, maybe after you are dead and gone, will recognize it.  Your revenge will be a last name that your grandkids are proud of, and possibly shame to your opponents names (think Senator Joe McCarthy vs. Guthrie).

It's a lot more comfortable to be in the position of wealthy Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and live a posh life of wealth while helping charities like the March of Dimes, and hobnobbing with Lucille Ball and other celebrities.  But part of being a religious, if not organized religious, person is to be an agent of conscience and person of valour who does the right thing, keeps an open mind, and creates a larger awareness, a larger value, that embraces both hard work and nurture.

I picked TV repairmen in developing countries.  I can't sing.  But I can write and draw a bit.

And I think my kids know they have an interesting life, and meet interesting people, from around the world, and have friends in many countries, because we didn't adapt a racist NGO's boycott campaign which puts repairpeople in jail based on outright lies told about dumping ewaste on the poor.  It is certain, to me, that someone's going to get a grandkids mouthful of shame.

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