Blurring Every Possible Line

Yesterday, I received the following email:

How far would you go to help end youth homelessness? We have some ideas for you.  I am reaching out to you because we are really impressed with the London Homelessness Outreach Network. My name is Lydia and I am writing from CampusPerks (campusperks.ca) where we are working with Virgin Mobile to Do Whatever It Takes to end youth homelessness in Canada.

 Do Whatever It Takes is an opportunity for students to create an online pledge (aka. a “whatever”), promising to do a crazy, whacky or interesting stunt once your fundraising goal has been met. Maybe they will:

  •         Wear a spandex suit on a romantic date
  •         Walk backwards for a day
  •         Shave off your eyebrows

The options are endless! All donations will go right to Virgin Unite’s and Virgin Mobile’s RE*Generation initiative to help provide crucial services and resources to help homeless and at-risk youth. Check out our website herefor more details.

 You can help us spread the word and get involved. If you could forward this to any students you know are passionate about this issue, we would really appreciate it! You can also send me their contact info and I will get in touch with them.

 Shoot me back an email for more info!

Lydia

My initial response was to simply request that they stop spamming me.  However, I wondered how serious they were about this project, and decided to look it up.  So, I found my way to this site: http://www.virginunite.com/campaign/Rest-of-World/REGeneration-Canada/.  Well, if I wasn’t skeptical enough before, it was quite clear that this was all part of a project launch for a new phone.  The various components of the ‘program’ blurred every line between marketing and fundraising possible.

Of course, the tricky part of this is that a few non-profits (only American ones listed) rely on the Virgin Foundation for some of their funding, and we don’t want that cut.  But do we really want our funding for youth homelessness attached to marketing of cell phones?  Also, the site speaks to raising awareness about youth homelessness, but there are no links to education about youth homelessness.  Conversely, there are dozens of links to Virgin products and ways to ‘like’ and ‘share’ things that lead people to products.

I sent this in reply:

Dear Lydia,

 This has to be one of the most reprehensible uses of charity as a thinly veiled marketing ploy I have ever seen.  There is no part of this campaign that raises awareness regarding the myriad of causes and concerns around youth homelessness.  Instead, there is much awareness raised around the Samsung Galaxy 3.  This is a shameful project, and I feel sorry for the youth projects/shelters who will have to compete for the $200,000 from the foundation.  It’s a terrible system we have created where non-profits struggle for every cent, regardless of how ill-gotten it is.

 Sincerely,

 Abe Oudshoorn, RN, PhD

2 thoughts on “Blurring Every Possible Line

  1. Much respect for calling them on it. But your point re: desperate charities still needing to compete for the cash is the kicker.

  2. Absolutely Dean, which I why I think it’s all the more important to call the funder on it, as the non-profits barely have choice. If we leave it up to them to refuse grants, we are putting them in a terrible position.

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