Last Friday, China Care, a student-run organization that fundraises for lifesaving surgeries for orphans in China, hosted its fifth annual Benefit Night. The event was held to raise money to fund brain surgery for Huan, an orphan with epilepsy. The benefit night featured competitive performances by student organizations such as Hum A Cappella and Punjabbawockeez, food sponsored by local Austin businesses, including Amy’s Ice Creams, T-shirts and a raffle. While the event attracted an audience of about 300 people and helped raise a lot of money, some attendees worried that the entertainment aspect overshadowed the promotion of the actual cause.
Accounting senior Justin Chao performed at the event with AACMappella . He and a few of his friends felt there was a lot of emphasis on the performances and competition, and he wished there had been more talk about Huan’s story throughout the evening. He said the discussion with his friends “really prompted [him] to think about the kind of attitude” he has when he gives and when he performs.
“On the stage, it’s easy to forget why you are there in the first place,” Chao said. “Am I here to perform and show off my own talents? Am I here for me? Or am I here for a cause greater than me?”
While entertainment may help attract an audience large enough to reach an organization’s fundraising goals in the short term, without a stronger emphasis on that organization’s overall mission, charity events may not necessarily inspire audiences to commit to causes in the long term. This is crucial, as there is such a high concentration of philanthropic organizations on campus. We should take advantage of this opportunity to spread the word, learn and care about the diverse range of causes we are exposed to on a regular basis. When we host events to achieve these goals, we should make sure we don’t lose focus on the cause to the means supporting it.
Perhaps the recent successes of charitable enterprises are affecting how we model our own on-campus charity events. Buy a pair of Toms, and you’ll give a pair of shoes to someone in need. Buy a carton of Boxed Water Is Better, and 10 percent of the profit will go to world water relief foundations. Purchase a book from Chegg, and the company will plant a tree. While companies like these may be achieving some level of social good, it’s hard not to question the intentions and effectiveness of such initiatives. Feel-good marketing may be creating a culture in which we expect something in return for giving. As we promote our own philanthropic projects on campus, we should be conscious of this trend and do our best to avoid a quid-pro-quo mindset when it comes to charity.
Entertainment and merchandise can be helpful in increasing the size of an audience, but it may not guarantee an increase in the number of committed supporters. While they have the attention of a crowd, philanthropic organizations on campus should take advantage of the opportunity to talk to their captive audiences about the stories behind their causes, whether that’s through showing a video with a firsthand account, starting a discussion or talking about other ways to get involved.
Almeda is a marketing senior from Seattle.
Editor's Note: An earlier verison of this article incorrectly identified the a cappella group with which Justin Chao performed. Chao actually performed with AACMappella.