Our next guest post is by Belinda Sirha. Belinda is a cranky graduate student in public policy currently residing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In her former life, as a cranky non-profit communication specialist, she worked on several national PSA campaigns to end violence against women. She is also a former Kenya based Peace Corps volunteer.
Yesterday morning I woke up and realized, much to my delight, that it was Monday, October 24th. This meant that not only would homegirl be getting paid, but she’d be able to buy groceries as well. It also meant that there was only one more week left in October—one more agonizing week of pink tchotchkes, pink-clad celebrities, and overly sexualized gimmicks on Facebook. Yes, my friends, Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2011 is coming to an end.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it’s also Rett Syndrome Awareness Month, National Pork Month, National Book Month, National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Filipino American History Month, LGBT History Month, Nonprofit Career Month, National Bullying Prevention Month, National Fire Prevention Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Italian-American Heritage Month, Vegetarian Awareness Month, National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, National Pizza Month, and National Dental Hygiene Month. I mean, how could you not know that October was National Dental Hygiene Month? Halloween, candy, cavities? Come on, now.
Sadly, the sheer number of causes, and the discontinuity between them, trivialize the meaning and the impact of an awareness month. And maybe that’s of little importance at first glance—after all there are so many causes to be aware of, and only so many branded charity items to buy. But awareness months play an important role in social movements. Awareness months provide a time and date around which educators and communicators can organize; they become an opportunity to mobilize supporters and recruit volunteers; an annual opportunity to remind donors of their financial commitments. These months offer a chance for coordinated and cohesive efforts among many individuals and organizations working to raise public awareness — but that’s easily forgotten when everyone from Glamour Magazine to the NFL is touting pink like it’s going out of style — and like it’s nothing more that, a style.
So, what to do? Here we are with this divide between the commercialization of a cause and the grass roots origins of a movement, each equally important, and ultimately, dependent on the other. You can’t finance those three-day walks without those infamous pink buckets of fried chicken—you dig? Organizations are forced to slap their logo on plastic products made in China because we (you, me, and that subway lady currently coughing everywhere without covering her mouth) aren’t donating directly or with an understanding of specific organizations’ missions. It has become more about publicly flaunting our purchase of something that supports a cause, to be seen as someone who is aware more than actually becoming aware. But it’s still money, so it’s all good, right? It’s not. This method of cause marketing breeds ignorance, as it almost always is lacking substantive educational content. What did you learn about the importance of monthly breast exams from that T-Shirt you bought at LOFT? The message is lost in the medium.
We’re moving into the holiday season, and soon enough, you’ll be seeing those annual appeals for support in your mailbox. This year, think twice before chucking those mailers into the recycling bin. Dig down into your pockets, dig out a fiver, and make a donation. One-hundred-percent of that five dollars will go to a cause, presumably a cause you care about – not to overhead or manufacturing of a bracelet, t-shirt, or cap. Having a hard time figuring out where to share your pennies? Check out Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator evaluates and ranks organizations based upon their financial health, accountability, and transparency – important elements of which responsible donors should be aware. Educating yourself about not only the general topic of the cause — but about what specific organizations do (workshops, curriculums, sponsorships, classes, advocacy, basic research) that is unique from others — also allows you as a donor to find meaning in your gift, a reason for continued support, and perhaps the motivation to teach others. So, go forth, and donate wisely and informatively.