The Playgoer: Chase Community Giving, Bah Humbug

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Chase Community Giving, Bah Humbug

I notice many of our smaller (and even larger) NYC nonprofit theatres capitalizing on the Chase Community Giving campaign--which doles out grants based on volume of Facebook votes.

A Win/Win, right?  Not so fast, says Chicago Trib's Chris Jones:

With so many cash-strapped corporations not supporting the arts or culture at all, it seems a tad churlish to [go] after those that do, however they go about spending their money. And I also see the argument from the givers’ point of view. Why not earn a little publicity as you give out your cash by associating yourself with a grass-roots effort (and maybe gain some new customers in the process)? Why not use popularity as a measure of the best place to put your philanthropic dollars? Isn’t that better than making those donations to groups that can’t (or won’t) muster that kind of community support?

Perhaps. But here are my beefs.

There is a noble tradition in Chicago and other cities of the corporate giving officer (or some such title). These hard-working, arts-loving men and women—many of whom I see regularly at openings and who attend many shows are on their time—are charged with separating the wheat from the chaff and ensuring that the worthy get the corporate bucks. Granted, it’s a subjective business, but these are accomplished professionals who know which groups have the stable management, which groups do work that relates to its community, which groups deserve support. The Chicago theater as we know it would not exist without such investments.

I don’t mean to imply that traditional corporate support — the grant application reviewed by philanthropic professionals—is without self-interest. Of course not. Public corporations have a fiduciary duty to serve the interests of their shareholders. But enlightened corporations know that supporting the arts helps make cities like Chicago more attractive to current and potential employees by boosting the quality of life. Decent businesses like to be involved in the fabric of their community — and when goodwill flows back from their arts sponsorship, then that’s a win-win situation.

But turning over that time-honored granting process — or even part of that time-honored process — to the popular vote can undermine that relationship. For one thing, it turns theaters into on-line hucksters, which lacks dignity and turns off many real artists. For another, it makes their genuine supporters worry that their “vote’ might land them in some corporate database, whatever protections may be in place. And let’s face it, the kind of democracy practiced at the likes of Facebook and American Idol makes Cook County look like small-town Vermont. That “voting” process is anything but a reflection of true affection or “popularity,” as all those emails prove.
Good luck, Chris, in stirring up sympathy for corporate giving officers.  But I do see his point--providing that that such viral campaigns really do poach from the more standard corporate sponsorships.  (Do they? Will they?)

I also agree with him that we should be on our guard whenever a mega-brand like Chase starts throwing around the words "grass roots."  Right, guys.

Still, you theatre companies out there know better than me.  Is this working for you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My daughter is in Triboro Youth Theatre out of Attleboro, MA. TYT puts on about 6-8 shows a year for preschool- highschool. They have launched a good FB campaign over the last few days and are currently 129th.