A nice, non-controversial photo of a pole bean seedling to distract you
This post might garner me some enemies...but oh, well, here goes. I've never been one to shy away from controversy in blogland. I might as well not start now. Don't worry, be happy -- right?
Maybe I'm too jaded. A little distance is behind us on the last round of this, although I'm sure more examples of it are probably in the works. Maybe they're happening even as I type, because I don't go into Ravelry much, where the really fertile ground for this activity seems to be. There is the oil spill, after all (you heard about that one, right?), and floods, and earthquakes and volcanoes and famine occurring somewhere in the world, and the hurricane season is upon us. Every natural or man-made disaster seems to spawn another iteration of this, what I consider a disturbing trend in the knitters' online world.
So the topic of the day is a certain kind of fundraising activity, to wit:
"I am a knitwear designer (or a yarn-dyer or a writer or...who knows). I have designed this pattern for a shawl or socks (or whatever). You buy the pattern, and I will donate 50% (or you name the amount) of the proceeds to (you name the cause)."
Time goes by.
The designer then tweets or posts on Facebook and/or on Ravelry, "I have now donated $10,000 to the cause, thanks to you! Knitters rock!"
The designer is made out to be a hero. Yippee! Much applause and acclaim! You are WONDERFUL! You're SO GENEROUS!
A little more time goes by.
"I have now donated $45,000 to the cause. You guys (the hundreds or thousands of pattern buyers) RAWK!"
OMG, the designer is an EVEN BIGGER HERO. She's going to single-handedly save the world for her big-hearted donation to this emotional cause. Forty-five freakin' thousand dollars! What a woman!
The designer has donated $45,000, which is 50% of the pattern proceeds. This means, under the best circumstance (which leaves out the possibility that it's all a big scam -- shhhhh, how dare I suggest such a thing? -- and leaves in the scenario that she actually does make the donation to where she says she is making it) that she has pocketed $45,000, as well, on her end of the balance sheet. I am sure most people are honest, and many of these people we know are upstanding members of our community and they can be trusted. I guess.
Except for the ones who we thought were upstanding members of the community, have taken money for orders or for knitting retreats, and have then gone on to fake their own deaths and stuff. Man, the non-online-knitters (also known as "the muggles" or some such) who are reading this are probably wondering what I have just sniffed. But yes, the truth is stranger than fiction, and really, could I make this up? It's true. Go ahead, sisteren and brethren, tell my non-knitting readers -- I have quite a few of those -- I am not making this up.
Anyway, back to the rant at hand: Smart! Way to go! Excellent. Great business decision and way to be innovative, seize the opportunity, and build up business! I certainly do not begrudge anyone their capitalist methods and their right to use their smarts and their craft to make a living. Not in the least. As a matter of fact, I even try to do it from time to time myself (make a living with my skills and talents, that is).
Except, this is where it seems a little bit stinky to me: The designer (or yarn-dyer or what have you) has also (presumably) made the big donation to the registered charity, which means she will be able to take a tax deduction for the whopping $45,000 donation as allowable by law, assuming she does what she says she's going to do. And all the people who paid for the pattern because they thought they were doing something great for a cause don't get to make any such deduction, because they bought a pattern instead of just freakin' sending in their $10 to the charity.
Of course, to be fair, it was the pattern that generated the interest, and without it, maybe everyone wouldn't have paid the $7 or $10 or whatever it is they paid for the pattern to the real cause, so maybe it's not so bad. Is it any different than, say, a bake sale or a car wash? I say it is.
I assert that it is maybe just a little bit off, especially if the designer has characterized this endeavor as, "I've designed this pattern for Hurricane Flugel relief."
Hmmm. Nope, I don't really think so. You've designed the pattern to seize the opportunity, to fill up your bank account, to get some accolades, and to make a nice hefty tax-deductible contribution to an emotion-stirring cause. It's all good. Or is it just slightly tarnished?
I'm thinking that if you designed the pattern FOR the cause, you would donate ALL the proceeds to the cause. Or at least take a reasonable profit for your efforts and then after a certain reasonable cap -- say $25,000 -- you might donate all the rest. Or something.
And so at the end of our fairytale, the designer is a huge hero to the knitters, and also a whole lot richer than she would have been had the natural or non-natural disaster not hit. Because how many people would have bought the sock pattern or the shawl pattern if they didn't buy it just because they thought they were helping out The Cause?
I don't know. Is it really just me, or does it leave just a slight bitter aftertaste?
It reminds me of a moment, as the court reporter in a huge lawsuit against Red Cross New England, when I learned that the blood I donated on an every-57-day schedule, which I thought was going directly to help someone who needed my blood, was instead sold by the Red Cross to hospitals and other places that needed blood. An alarmingly small portion of the proceeds goes to the causes that they so generously support, and a very HUGE portion goes to the local and regional directors of Red Cross, whose quarterly income is about four or five or ten times what the average person in Vermont makes. And when those sandwich boards are outside that exclaim, "DESPERATE NEED for blood! Donate today! DANGEROUSLY LOW SUPPLY!" they really mean, "The regional director who gets humongous bonuses for her fundraising efforts really wants to take a trip to Italy and her kids need braces, and plus, her pool needs to be cleaned! Get your ass in here and give blood, you sucker!"
Worse than all of this, the Red Cross wanted to stop a for-profit bloodbank from doing business in the area. And it just so happens that the for-profit agency was the one that the hospitals preferred to deal with, because they were NICER, and plus, their prices were lower AND their blood was tested for more things to make it a safer supply, in addition to the fact that their blood was more readily available when it was needed, and they didn't present the hospitals with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
It was like a little girl prematurely learning there is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. HUGE wakeup moment.
Of course, this scenario is different, because the designers in question are being up-front (we hope) about what they are doing, whereas the Red Cross in that situation, not so much.
Now, here's what made me a whole lot reticent to post this: I do some fundraising here, and so I live in a bit of a glass house. I shouldn't be throwing stones, I suppose. I have never, ever collected the money or the items directly and then sent them so that I could get the full credit for it instead of the donors, and I have never, ever taken a cent in my fundraising efforts, and I'm nowhere in the pipeline. The fundraising that I do requests the items and the money to be sent directly to the charity, and encourages donors to take their own tax deductions if appropriate. My conscience is squeaky clean on this one.
Maybe I'm really stupid and shooting myself in the foot for bringing this up, but it's something that has bothered me (and I know a couple of others, at least) for a while now. I know we can't be the only ones, but then why do the masses of thousands rush to throw their money at these things?
Shouldn't we be a bit more cautious as donors, and thoughtful and honest in our fundraising efforts, or is this really an OK practice?
Is it just carpe diem and I should shut up already?