Is self promotion a bad thing?

A week ago the Humanist Action Group did a holiday food drive that I was involved in. Once we had made up the food packs we delivered them to local hostels, dropped them off and went home.

There were no banners, no photo shoots outside the hostels, no informational leaflets carefully concealed inside the packs so that receipts would know which deity had suppository inspired someone to think that helping out your fellow man would be a good thing to do. We just wanted to do a good thing, for goodness’ sake.

Later, a friend of mine brought the issue up.

“A part of me wonders if you can really afford to miss that kind of publicity. You could have been there, during the day, spoke to the manager, got a photo,” he suggested. “Part of me likes the way you guys just do it and disappear back into the night, taking nothing but a warm feeling that will shield you from the next dozens times you refuse to give £2 a month to save a child’s life because you know it’s actually going to pay the salary of the professional fundraiser currently talking to you. But you’re missing such a good opportunity for PR.”

I thought about this for a while. And I think he’s right.

Consider this. The problem with milking such PR opportunities is that it detracts from the moral goodness of the whole situation. It looks like you’re only doing it so you can show everyone you’ve done some good and can feel really good about yourself (of course, if you do good, you should feel good about yourself – that’s how charity works, if people didn’t feel good about themselves for volunteering, nobody would – it’s what we and every other charity depends on!).

Or, for a perhaps clearer analogy, consider corporate giving. Big corporations give, often huge amounts of money away to charity. Ignoring that a lot of this is just a tax dodge there is one big reason why corporations do this – to get their photo taken helping out some kind of good cause, so everyone thinks they are a nice company, so people buy from them and they make more money in the long run. It’s selfishly motivated, they’re only doing it so they can earn more money in the long term.

But lets look again at organisations like the Humanist Action Group. What benefit would we derive from milking publicity out of such situations? Well, profit obviously wouldn’t be one of them. We’re a registered charity and therefore obviously non-profit, we have no shareholders to pay and money is definitely a one way stream away from the trustees pockets than towards them!

So what would we get out of the publicity? Well, we would get publicity in itself. But actually, this isn’t just a good PR shot to help cover up some shady business dealings as it may be for corporations – this is actually our business, we’re getting publicity doing what we do – helping people.

And what would be the consequence of doing this? More people would know about our work, more people would support us, we would generate more volunteers and more revenue – and end up with more resources to help more people!

It turns into a perceptual cycle in which the more good publicity we get from doing good things, the more support we will receive and as it’s a closed system (money doesn’t come out to fund things like shareholders, it’s all invested back into the charity) it just means we can help more people, and get more publicity and help even more people, and so on.

When a charity milks something for publicity, it isn’t helping its own ego (it’s not an evil corporation), it’s not helping it’s shareholders, it’s only helping one cause – the cause it’s trying to help in the first place.

That isn’t to say that from now on it’s all about grabbing as much positive PR as possible at every opportunity. But maybe being open to the idea of making a bit more of a deal about the amazing stuff I see our volunteers doing, wouldn’t be such an evil after all.



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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 26th, 2010 at 7:41 pm and is filed under Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.