The Art of Marketing Social Justice

Networked globe. Photo courtesy Toria/shutterstock.com

The television flashes images of a skeletal little girl whose ribs seem to be popping out of her ballooning stomach as she sits in a pile of mud and stares at the camera with large pleading eyes. A “1-800” number flashes on the bottom of the screen. A celebrity does a Public Service Announcement for building wells in Africa. YouTube has sharp pre-packaged videos pulling at our heartstrings, and even months after being released, the KONY 2012 viral video continues to float around the internet.

For Westernized cultures saturated with various forms of media and technologically driven information, social justice is becoming increasingly "packaged," carefully marketed, and commercially manufactured to be a product that incorporates the mission it represents.

Whether social justice organizations should be doing this is debatable. Like everyone else, they’re trying to survive in a capitalistic system that ruthlessly competes for our every dollar. The only problem is that we aren’t the ultimate consumers. For social justice non-profit groups, the sick, poor, starving, abused, and desolate are the true consumers; we’re just the financial and volunteer base needed to keep the system working. To do this, organizations are discovering that a corporate business model is sometimes the only way to survive — and sometimes thrive — within the cutthroat world of advertising and solicitation.

A Charitable Disconnect?

Something’s wrong here: The United States is the most charitable nation in the world, and yet nearly half of Americans are classified as poor/low income, with 16 percent now living below the poverty line.

This week, the Charities Aid Foundation released the 2011 World Giving Index, a comprehensive study that ranks countries by their generosity. The study, gleaned from 150,000 interviews with participants in 153 nations, focused on three categories:  monetary donations, time spent volunteering, and willingness to help a stranger.

This year, the United States topped the list, up from fifth place in 2010.

While the amount of money Americans give to charity has not increased markedly, the study found a 4 percent increase in volunteering time, and an 8 percent increase in helping a stranger. (While this may not seem like drastic change, one percent means thousands of people.)