Philanthropy and Charitable Giving

Cancer Charities Need Dose of Organizational Chemotherapy (Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report, August 2007).

The American Institute of Philanthropy strongly encourages its members to know about the groups that they donate to, particularly when it comes to cancer charities. Just because a charity has the word “cancer,” “leukemia,” or “research” in its name does not mean that it is directing a substantial amount of its money to finding a cure for cancer, alleviating suffering or offering prevention education. While there are many outstanding cancer charities, there are also many F rated groups that bank on the donating public’s ignorance of how their funds are being spent. [article]

Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help by Mara Einstein (University of California Press, 2012).

Pink ribbons, red dresses, and greenwashing—American corporations are scrambling to tug at consumer heartstrings through cause marketing, corporate responsibility, and ethical branding, tactics that can increase sales by as much as 74%. Harmless? Marketing insider Mara Einstein demonstrates in this penetrating analysis why the answer is a resounding “No!” She outlines how cause marketing desensitizes the public by putting a pleasant face on complex problems. She takes us through the unseen ways in which large sums of consumer dollars go into corporate coffers rather than helping the less fortunate. She also discusses companies that truly do make the world a better place, and those that just pretend to.

Jobs for the Cure: Does Your Donation Go to Cancer Research or Salaries and Overhead? by Ellen Leopold (Truthout, June 12, 2012).

Why is it so hard to accept the idea that cancer philanthropy is as rife with contradiction and partisan conflicts as any other enterprise with large amounts of money at its disposal? Why do we insist on giving them a pass? Have they cast a spell on us? All charities that address disease tap into a vein of magical thinking, exploiting the atavistic hope that donations might win favor with a higher power, ward off the evil eye, buy us – or a loved one – time. Politics can have no place in a world where the relationship between giver and receiver is presumed to be personal and where the stakes are so high. No disease is more likely to provoke this response than cancer. [article]

Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Samantha King (University of Minnesota, 2006).

Sociologists Samantha King challenges the commercialization of the breast cancer movement in this analysis of how breast cancer has been transformed from a stigmatized disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship. She traces how pink ribbons became associated with breast cancer charities, the relationships between the annual massing for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and other high-profile events with huge corporate sponsorships, and the history and impact of cause-related marketing. King’s insight into the politics of philanthropy and exploitation of good will sheds light on the limits of consumption-based advocacy.

Propaganda in the Helping Professions by Eileen Gambrill (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Propaganda in the helping professions has grown in recent decades, with implications for clients and their families, as well as the professionals who try to help them. There is a fog generated by corporate interests and organizations attempting to sell their services and products to desperate or poorly educated consumers. This book is a guide to lifting the confusion. From Roman bird-beak masks to drugs designed to combat overurination, readers are taken on a tour across the centuries of egregious practices of professionals and quacks including present-day medicalization. The author shows readers how to think critically about both research and advertising to deliver effective services to clients and not be bamboozled by bogus claims about alleged problems, risks, and remedies.

Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion, and Public Awareness by Sarah EH Moore (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Since its emergence in 1991, the awareness ribbon has achieved the kind of cultural status usually reserved for big brand icons and religious symbols; yet its meaningfulness as a symbol is often questioned by activists and media commentators. Showing awareness is not as straightforward as it might seem. The ribbon is a kitsch fashion accessory as well as an emblem that expresses empathy; it is a symbol that represents awareness yet requires no knowledge of the cause it represents; it appears to signal concern for others but in fact prioritizes self-expression. This book analyzes how “awareness” ribbons of all kinds have achieved the cultural status; yet the commercialization of the causes empties them of meaning.

What’s Love Got To Do With It? A Critical Look at American Charity by David Wagner (The New Press, 2001).

An insightful debunking of the way charitable giving disguises American neglect of the public welfare. Award-winning Professor of Social Work and Sociology David Wagner points out that while the United States prides itself on being one of the most generous nations, it provides its citizens with the lowest public benefits of any Western society and has rates of poverty and inequality among the highest in the industrialized world. These two facts, Wagner argues, are not unrelated: independent philanthropy actually provides a cover for the harshness of America’s free-market capitalism.

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