Do Good or Feel Good: The Philanthropist’s Motive

Do Good or Feel Good: The Philanthropist’s Motive

     Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s unprecedented gift of $100 million to the Newark school system was met by many with surprise and skepticism. A charitable donation of this magnitude was a first for Zuckerberg, reportedly worth $2 billion, and was somewhat bewildering because Zuckerberg had no prior connection to Newark. Since meeting Newark Mayor Cory Booker at a conference, Zuckerberg has maintained an open dialogue with the mayor culminating in his monumental gift on September 22, 2010. Critics viewed his timing as calculated after he publicly announced the news on Oprah, the same day the new movie The Social Network premiered which chronicles Facebook’s creation and casts Zuckerberg in an unsavory light.

     Since the earliest days of American philanthropy wealthy do-gooders have been criticized for having ulterior motives. John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s practice of giving dimes to strangers was thought by many to be a public relations move to restore his image surrounding anti-trust legislation that harmed Standard Oil and the Rockefeller family’s public persona. Similarly, his son John D. Rockefeller, Jr., placed much more emphasis on his philanthropic contributions and The Rockefeller Foundation following the 1913 Ludlow Massacre which negatively implicated Standard Oil. On a lesser level, but in the same vein, one could argue that all philanthropic or charitable behavior is driven by self-interest. In most cases the soup kitchen volunteer, the church tither, and the hospital candy striper, receive equivalent if not greater pleasure than their beneficiary by their altruistic actions. Therefore, shouldn’t we, in our mutual goal for the betterment of society focus on Zuckerberg’s contributions rather than question his motives?

     With the creation of Facebook, Zuckerberg has forever altered the way we interact. Global lines of communication have never been so open and information has never flowed so freely. The ability of start-up non-profit organizations to rapidly spread their mission has never been so easy. Today’s low budget non-profits bypass the creation of pricey websites and email service provider newsletters in favor of establishing a free Facebook page to raise awareness of their organization and solicit funds. Record-breaking donations following major disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods are accumulated quickly by Facebook users posting links allowing users to seamlessly contribute funds to these causes.

     In my own hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, the retail company Kohl’s used Facebook as a marketing tool with a philanthropic component. Users were directed to become Facebook fans of Kohl’s on their page and then vote for a school of their choosing. The top twenty schools received a $500,000 grant from the Kohl’s Foundation. Many citizens of my town voted via Facebook, the only method, and the financially struggling Spartanburg Charter School came in twentieth place and received the grant from Kohl’s. A half-million dollars was awarded to a little-known school completely by users logging onto Facebook, “liking” Kohl’s, and clicking “vote.” Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging have impacted non-profits’ ability to raise funds in ways not even fathomable a few short years ago.

     Critics will never cease to question the motives of the Rockefellers and Zuckerbergs of the world. However, in a time where our schools, our hospitals, and our fellow humans need a helping hand more than ever, it is important to look beyond Hollywood allegations, corporate feuds, and innate jealousy, and instead see how these individuals are positively impacting the world in which we live. Without Zuckerberg and his “social network,” the schoolchildren of Newark and my own hometown of Spartanburg would not be entering a future with so many endless possibilities.



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