For anyone who doesn’t know, my day job is working for a fundraising company. One of those ones who do all those fundraisers your kids participate in for school, selling mediocre products for an absurd mark-up to raise money for the band trip, not the cool fundraising companies that raise money to work on cancer research and the like. And if you’ve ever participated in, or had kids participate in, these fundraisers you’ll remember that there is a ‘prize’ program for the kids based on how many products they sell. Most kids sell one to three products. Which means your average kid is going to get something that looks like that picture up above: a shitty pen, and a shitty inflatable football. I’ve spent the last two days packing these orders for students who won prizes, in addition to my normal duties, and making those orders is easily the most depressing thing I’ve done at a job for a long time.
It isn’t because I’ve had some sort of amazing life revelation and- gasp!- now I realize what a dead-end job I’m in (known that for a while) it was more of a global revelation. We’re actually spending money to make this shit, so we can motivate little children to sell more shit to people who probably don’t really want or need what we’re selling, all so their team can go to a tournament, or the band can go to a competition, or the school can provide extra curricular activities for another year. I’m not going to try and argue that all of these activities should be funded publicly or anything like that, but it does seem a little strange that year after year after year we manage to get all of these things funded, but only through the purchase of shitty food products, wrapping paper, or whatever other garbage the students are selling this year. It’s obvious people have enough money to support these groups in their fundraising efforts, because why run the fundraiser in the first place if people didn’t? So why do we keep running fundraisers for mediocre products, when it’d just be easier to donate all the money to the team and be done with it?
Because people need something in return for their ‘investment’. Donating for the simple joy of helping a team go to their softball tournament isn’t enough for most people, we need to feel like we got some sort of return on our ‘investment’. (Believe me, I’ve been in fundraising long enough to know that people think of it as a purchase, an investment, or maybe both but never a donation for the group they’re supporting.) Even if it is a product that we don’t like, won’t eat, or won’t use, we’d still rather get that thing from our fundraising efforts than just send money into the void with no tangible return. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is most of the time, it’s more satisfying to spend two dollars on a candy bar I know I can get for a dollar, because that extra dollar goes to the school. So why not just buy a dollar candy bar and give a dollar to the school? Aside from actually being more difficult than buying the fundraising candy, it’s because mentally I feel like I’ve purchased a candy bar and then I donated a dollar to the school, not that I purchased a candy bar which also happened to give a dollar of its proceeds to the school.
It’s sobering when you think about it. We’re so conditioned to get things in return for any money that we spend that we actually think we’re getting a worse deal if we donate directly to the cause than if we ultimately give the same (though more often than not less) but get a trinket, candy bar, or doo-dad in return. The spirit of giving isn’t dead in the world, not by a long shot, it’s just buried in a massive pile of cheap imported products and below average sugar laden food products.