What Can You Do For We?

Sponsor child Peter from Zambia gives us a gift

Sponsor child Peter from Zambia gives us a gift

The Recession and Social Responsibility

 

Yesterday on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Martin Kaste reported on “Selling Americans on the Virtuous Recession.” It’s a fascinating story on how Madison Avenue is helping companies capitalize on “Recession Marketing” in order to appeal to buyers during a downturn in consumer spending. In other words, according to Mary Beth West of Kraft Foods, as reported by Kaste, “How do you think about redefining what your brand stands for in a world of tight economy?”

I highly recommend listening to and reading Kaste’s story. After that, read the rest of this blog entry.

As a marketer, I don’t find it surprising at all that companies are trying to package their products in recession-friendly phraseology, imagery and euphamisms. But as a socially responsible human being, this marketing trend begs a bigger question:

Am I focused on “me” or “we” in a down economy?

Most Americans are thinking about the recession in terms of how it hits their personal pocketbooks, how it’s going to impact them. And you can’t quite blame them for that. But the collective thinking in our society is miserably narcissistic: we care about ourselves and our country, and lose sight that even in the hardest of times, we are so much more prosperous than the majority of our global neighbors.

As you are reading this, there are more than 2.45 million people driven from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan living in temporary camps. In Afghanistan, drought and political unrest has resulted in nearly 200,000 displaced people. 53% of the population lives below the poverty line. And in our own country, 37 million people live in poverty in the U.S. – a number equal to the entire population of Canada.

This is just the tip of the human poverty iceberg. You can read more at World Vision, a worldwide relief organization that I am proud to be associated with.

So what does this have to do with the recession? Simple. Americans must see the bigger picture – I would argue the real picture–and realize that it is up to them to look past what Madison Avenue is pitching and see the “we” in tough economic times rather than just the “me.”

In his inauguration address, President Barack Obama said “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world.”

I don’t think he said “the world” as an afterthought.

Will we step up to the task? Over recent decades, U.S. giving has risen except when the economy takes a nose dive. Contributions typically fall by 2 percent to 5 percent, when adjusted for inflation, during a recession, according to Patrick Rooney, research director for the study by the LBG Research Institute.

But charitable giving is complex. The Center on Philanthropy reports that “Nearly 94 percent of nonprofit fundraisers surveyed said the economy is currently having a negative (65.3 percent) or very negative (28.5 percent) effect on fundraising.”

The real question isn’t what corporations are giving, or what other donors are giving. The real question is:

What are you giving to help those who are facing economic hardship far worse than you?

Richard Marker, a principal at Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy Advisors in New York and a Senior Fellow and Associate Professor at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, recently stated in a live discussion with philanthropic organizations on the topic:

“It is my view that how we respond, especially at challenging times such as these, tells us a great deal about the very character of our society - and that the volunteer/philanthropy world has a great deal to contribute to enhancing that character.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Trish

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