Does Kohl’s really care?Written by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not a huge fan of charities giving away gifts in exchange for contributions. Sending me a nickel to guilt me into sending back $20 or offering me a travel mug for my $10 per month pledge just takes the charitable part out of it for me. I admit that such tactics do work on me occasionally, though, and considering how their popularity has lingered, they obviously work well on the general giving population.
Kohl’s has been running a $10 million Giveback contest in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of its Kohl’s Cares community giving program. It will give away $500,000 to each of the top twenty vote-getting public, charter or private schools. At a time when lower property values can mean less revenue for public and charter schools, and the general recession can mean less families having the money to pay private school tuition, an extra $500,000 in the coffer would elicit a huge sigh of relief for schools in need.
Yet, the Kohl’s contest doesn’t necessarily give the large cash prizes to the neediest twenty schools; it gives it to the twenty schools with the most votes cast using a Facebook application. While not exactly an infallible democratic process, the way the contest works is a great way for Kohl’s to gain Facebook fans. In order to vote, you are first required to “Like” Kohl’s Facebook page and then allow the Kohl’s Cares Facebook application to access your Facebook information.
Being allowed to give a maximum of five votes out of a twenty vote allowance to any one school, I cast five of mine for the tornado-ravaged Lake High School, a school no doubt in need. Other schools in the running for the Kohl’s prize also suffered recent cataclysmic events, including Wadena-Deer Creek High School of Wadena, Minnesota, which was also hit by a tornado, and Merritt Trace Elementary School of San Jose, California, which was recently torched by an arsonist. Though all three schools have the need for a quick influx of cash, Lake High School is the only one close to having enough votes to nervously marinate among the top twenty vote-getters.
Our deserving local favorite has had to struggle to hold ground in the contest, but of greater disappointment is the way some of the other top contenders have managed to move into and retain the top spots. Some schools have gone beyond just launching all-out social media campaigns and have moved into an area painted a questionable shade of gray – establishing their own contests in order to garner more votes for their organizations. Rounding up friends to vote in the Kohl’s Cares giveaway can earn you big prizes, like IPods, IPads, a helicopter ride, $1000 cash and other prizes. However, these prizes do not come from Kohl’s; they come from the schools seeking to win Kohl‘s contest.
I think of need as a void begging to be filled in the most basic of ways. It is difficult to place in that category an institution that can afford to giveaway expensive electronic devices and other prizes for the chance of winning a more substantial prize for itself. Such tactics start to feel like more of an odd form of gambling (e.g., anteing an IPad for the chance at $500,000) than a simple expression of need.
I do not envy Kohl’s when the final votes roll in, as controversy is sure to ensue. Are material and monetary awards for funneling votes in a certain direction a form of contest manipulation? Is it fair that the most organized, well-connected and most resourceful schools win charitable contributions when the schools without such means are likely in greater need of a boost? Is winning a popularity contest even a form of charity?
I also do not feel bad for Kohl’s. Contests like the Kohl’s Cares Giveback, Chase Community Giving and Pepsi Refresh Project are no doubt as much about marketing company brands as they are about giving back to the community. Considering the fact that Chase recently ended up giving its top prize, $250,000, to an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance (yes, that Harry Potter), which bases its work off of a fictional student activist group called Dumbledore’s Army and relies heavily on Harry Potter references, forgive me if I jump to conclude that such a contest was more about luring to Chase’s Facebook page the 2.5 million users who voted than making sure the worthiest recipient was found.
Thinking back on first hearing of the Lake High School destruction and loss of life in the wee hours of June 6th, the possibility of losing out on $500,000 to a school that still has a building and IPads to spare, or to a real-life incarnation of Hogwart’s for that matter, somewhat deflates the whole concept of a charitable contribution. In fact, I have to admit that a good old-fashioned PBS tote bag sounds pretty good right about now.
Shannon and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at email@example.com.