The Problem With Raising Awareness

The Problem With Raising Awareness—Lazar Finker

What are you passionate about? There’s a lot worth standing up for, and as an individual on the Internet, you may find yourself bombarded with messages claiming that a particular cause is important enough to warrant further action on your part. Sometimes, you won’t even get that. Plus, depending on what the message is, the way an audience is addressed may change; would you make an anti-smoking PSA the same way you’d make an anti-cancer PSA? You’d be hard pressed to find anybody that is pro-cancer, but for the target audience of a hypothetical anti-smoking ad, you may need to use some measure of persuasion. However, regardless of the cause, the recent trend is to strive to raise awareness regardless of cause or message. While raising awareness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this trend in activism is worth examining to analyze the good and bad that it is capable of doing.

It’s worth mentioning the sheer number of “awareness” campaigns that occur yearly in the United States. The American Journal of Public Health lists almost 200 health awareness days over the course of the year, not counting the time ostensibly set aside for promoting other causes. So, any citizen hoping to be more informed certainly has their work cut out for them.

Let me be clear that I’m not deriding awareness as a concept; it’s often a vital first step to making a change. Sometimes, it’s one of the few steps necessary; in the case of some diseases, education about signs and symptoms can lead to earlier treatment and save lives. Beyond this, some causes can escape the notice of individuals until awareness campaigns bring them to the forefront; for instance, the issue of racially-rooted police brutality would likely have flew under the radar of the public eye if not for the #blacklivesmatter movement. The trouble comes when organizations focus solely on the nebulous goal of awareness without a concrete goal or next step in mind. Charities dedicate large portions of their funding to “education,” something which has earned them the ire of groups that feel that they are addressing problems without providing solutions.

The start to leveraging awareness campaigns to do good in the world is the aforementioned call to action. Promoting discussion is a good start, but the social gestalt is likely to move on to the next issue without affecting meaningful change unless charities turn that interest into action. In order to do this, they must clearly define their desired outcomes for a campaign. For instance, if they are hoping to encourage people to get tested for or inoculate themselves against a disease, it would be wise to give them instructions on how to do so. If an organization is collecting donations, they should strive to be transparent about where the money’s going and the good it can do. Many nonprofit organizations try to quantify the benefit provided by a donation, citing specific progress made to spur on potential donors and make them feel that their money is well spent.

It also behooves any nonprofit to ensure that they’re reaching the correct audience. When an organization is passionate about a cause, it’s always tempting to adopt a shotgun approach to education, informing as many people as possible without regards to whether or not they’d be in a position to help. Additionally, nonprofits can fall into the trap of continually preaching to the choir, trying to raise awareness among individuals that are likely aware enough as it is. While there is value in leveraging an existing audience to take action, it takes careful planning to reach individuals that may not have had prior knowledge and persuade them of the value of a certain cause. The more segmented your audience, the more likely it is that they’ll be willing to act on your campaign. It’s a case of the bystander effect; the more a request for assistance is publicized, the less likely it is that any given person will answer it. Of course, if a campaign goes viral, so many will respond to it that this will seem a non-issue, but improper targeting can waste resources and even lead to backlash against a cause.

Additionally, when planning an awareness campaign, it’s important to create an engaging message that will last in the minds of an audience. This is a gross oversimplification; there’s no one-size-fits-all way for every nonprofit to effectively reach their audience. However, strong campaigns tend to share well-developed, overarching goals and act as a sort of vessel for a specific call to action.

This is perhaps the worst mistake that any nonprofit can make; assuming that a solution that works for one cause will also work for another. The days of fearmongering PSAs have largely passed, and what has developed is a mire of media competing to win the attention of a massive and often fickle audience. In this free-for-all of memes, fundraising drives, and “challenges,” the truly savvy nonprofit needs to recognize that the value of awareness only goes so far and that further steps must be taken to make a difference.

Growth Through Giving—A Look At Prominent Philanthropists

Growth Through Giving

Throughout history, there have always been patricians and plebeians, the fortunate and the unfortunate, the wealthy and the poor. Fortunately, in light of the radical monetary differences inherent in this fiscal stratification, there have also always been charitable, philanthropic, and altruistic efforts to balance the spectrum and help tip the scales toward equality. While not all may be so generous, there are many individuals at the pinnacle of net worth who are willing to lend a hand to those who need a hand; and they deserve to be acknowledged for their charity. Listed below are some of the wealthiest and most altruistic members of society who put the “human” back in “humanity”:

George Lucas:

The mastermind of the Star Wars franchise has developed not just a cult-like following through his vast imagination, but also a fortune to match it. In 2012, the Walt Disney Company offered Lucas the enormous sum of $4 billion for his stake in LucasFilm. He took it, but he isn’t keeping it.

Instead, the world-renowned filmmaker opted to sign the Giving Pledge, an initiative spearheaded by Bill Gates, that urges the wealthiest men and women in the world to donate the majority of their net worth to philanthropic organizations/efforts. While it is not yet known what specific charities will receive Lucas’ Giving Pledge generosity, it is clear they will be tacked onto an already extensive list of beneficiaries including, but not limited to, the George Lucas Educational Foundation and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

Indeed, Lucas’ primary interest is in education, having invested in project-based school systems that emphasize creative learning, and creating Edutopia, a website dedicated to reforming K-12 education.

“As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt — as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so,” said Lucas.

His charity places the Star Wars creator in the ranks of the few individuals in the world to donate over $1 billion to altruistic causes.

David Geffen

Possibly not as well-known as Lucas, unless you’re familiar with the classic rock industry, David Geffen is a talent agent responsible for an abundance of world-famous musicians and the names they made for themselves. The Eagles, John Lennon, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses all blossomed under Geffen’s guidance, leading and contributing to his incredible $6.9 billion net worth. Geffen has made a lifelong commitment to fiscal altruism as evidenced by his numerous sizable contributions to a multitude of charities. In 2002, his generosity included a $200 million donation to the UCLA School of Medicine, followed by a $100 million donation in 2012.

Geffen also blessed Avery Fisher Hall in NYC with a $100 million donation to put towards renovations. It should be noted that, at this point in time, a large portion of his fortune has not been donated, with possible plans for the money and his vast collection contemporary art currently unknown. In the meantime, Geffen continues to support a myriad of causes, such as health, education, LGBT equality, and, of course, the arts.

Paul Allen

Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates has Paul Allen. A co-founder of Microsoft alongside Gates, Allen has since gained an astounding $17.5 billion net worth. Yet, like Gates, he refuses to hoard his cash, giving an amazing $1.8 billion to philanthropic causes over the years. Two years ago, Allen was dubbed “Philanthropist of the Year” by Inside Philanthropy for his $100 million contribution to containing Ebola and frequently ranks in lists of top philanthropists. Beyond that, he has donated $2.6 million to ocean conservation, focusing on research to prevent the destruction of coral reefs.

With a focus on community and sustaining the environment, Allen is truly an exemplary model citizen who we should all strive to emulate.

As we build our careers, our professional networks, and our fiscal resources, we need to remember to give back to the communities that enabled our development. The above men did, and I hope to follow in their footsteps as much as possible.