Recently Todd Cohen of Philanthropy Journal took to task American Idol for perceived shortcomings in its planned awareness and fundraising initiative, “Idol Gives Back,” scheduled for April 24-25.

Idol says it wants to focus the attention of its 26-28 million weekly viewers on the impact of extreme poverty on children and young people in Africa and America. It has enlisted sponsors like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Ford as contributors to the effort.

Not good enough for Todd.

As he sees it, there's too much detail lacking in the plans as revealed so far. E.g., exactly how much will these companies actually contribute (apparently, their gifts will be matches of viewer donations), how much will Idol and broadcaster Fox be contributing, and how much is the entire effort projected to yield. And his efforts to get more details have not satisfied him. (Idol/Fox more or less says: We'll tell you when it's over.)

So Todd concludes: “There you have it: Maximizing hype, minimizing substance.”

But then says:

“American Idol … surely will generate huge bucks and a lot of attention for the cause of helping impoverished children. As multi-media entertainment guru Martha Stewart would say, that's a good thing.”


Todd does make a series of suggestions about how Idol could do even more. That's cool.

But why expect American Idol to morph into the next UNICEF? We should accept and respect them for what they are … a terrifically successful entertainment franchise with a bit of conscience (and maybe some enlightened self-interest).

As more and more companies delve into cause marketing, some will be clumsy, some will be self-serving, some will make brilliant contributions … in terms of both fundraising and awareness building.

The more companies that bring their resources to the party the better. Nonprofits should be affirmatively pursuing and shaping cause marketing relationships, not carping at the companies who are so inclined.

If nonprofits are smart about it, over time, the standards will improve. Effectiveness will increase. It will become harder, even impossible, for companies to fake it. And social benefits will accrue.

So let's not be prematurely chilling. Without clear evidence to the contrary, let's assume their impulses are honorable. And let's not punish them for trying.


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