Another episode of Glee, and another slew of commercials/PSAs that fool me into paying attention, only to realize the crew is just acting out a(nother) piece for something called The Member’s Project, which apparently, is bankrolled by American Express. The commercial urges us to go online and take a quiz to see if we are a (Mr.) Shue (ie an idealistic do-gooder) or a Sue (Sylvester) (ie a heartless wretch).
Not quite sure if I’m annoyed or intrigued, and immediately skeptical of any big-brand company (especially one in the credit/banking industry) urging others to “do good,” I check out this Member’s Project thing. And in the process I rediscover the Patagonia/Members Project add (featuring company founder Yvon Chouinard) which aired last spring during the Oscars, and caught my attention for similar skeptical vs. hopeful reactions to its viewing.
Members Project is an American Express initiative designed to urge folks to more easily act in a charitable manner, whether through volunteering, or funding, or just learning more about various organizations. This year they’ve tag-teamed with TakePart, “an independent online community that connects its members directly to the issues that inspire them to engage, contribute and take action,” who claim to be “here to facilitate collaboration, promote causes and pool resources to create real change in real communities.”
Just the fact that these quotes read like a slew of gobbledygook only raises my skepticism.
But there are a couple of intriguing elements of this TakePart American Express Member’s Project arrangement. By volunteering (with a partnered organization), you can earn credit card reward points (up to 10,000 for 20 hours of service per year), redeemable with your American Express card. (20 hours for a year isn’t very much, but the tangibility of assigning a market value on volunteer hours, albeit a very little amount of hours, strikes me as encouraging. That it is a step toward a broader economic vision that encompasses more aspects of our lives than just work and consumerism.) Also, members (of Members Project, not necessarily American Express customers) can vote for their “favorite” organizations, and the 5 with the highest vote totals will be rewarded $200,000 (as a grant from American Express). The vote happens every 3 months. (Here are the winners so far.) So the project is looking for sustained interest in philanthropic causes, and is using a democratic-based system to determine where funding goes. Also some really good concepts.
Though again, skepticism reigns in regards to a large corporation encouraging others to be charitable. (For instance, the partnered organizations are getting a marketed advantage over all the other great organizations that aren’t a part of this initiative.) And yet, it is so very refreshing to see a modern media message in the middle of prime time mainstream television that at least (if nothing else) mentions charity, community involvement, social change.
There’s no doubt that more attention needs to be paid to community involvement, charitable giving and philanthropic enterprise. Members Project is doing that. So maybe I should try to shelve my skepticism, for now at least?
Sue vs. Shue vs. (rightly) skeptical?