I’m sure many of you have seen the 1 Million Shirts campaign. I’m sure you’ve also seen the bashing that’s been happening all over twitter and the blogosphere. If not, here’s a quick summary: Two guys want to collect 1 million shirts to send to Africa for needy kids. Aid organizations and individuals have begun a campaign against this idea, slamming it as the worst thing you could do. Blog entries are questioning the real motivation of these guys, saying the idea is not well thought out, and that it will do more harm than good. The typical response is “Give money, not shirts”.
I have real problems with this. It really bothers me. Check out this blog post: http://aidwatchers.com/2010/04/nobody-wants-your-old-t-shirts/. I get it, I really do. But is that the best way to approach it? I really don’t think so. First off, let’s give the guys the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re genuinely trying to help. Let’s assume there’s no ulterior motive. So then let’s try to help them out. Maybe there is a good way to help with the shirts. Not everyone has money they can give.
Here’s a real life example. And maybe this is why this bothers me so much. I just happen to know a family going through a very rough time. The couple is in their 30’s and have two young children. The father has terminal cancer and hasn’t been able to work for quite a while. So, money is tight, to say the least. The wife wants to do a shoe drive and send the shoes she collects to Uganda. According to the post above, this is stupid and she should just send money, or ask people for donations and send that. You really think as many people would give her money as they would give her shoes? And for her, organizing the shoe drive is something she can do to make herself feel good. So yeah, maybe it’s selfish, but she deserves it. She said she wants to help other people because so many people she has never met have stepped up and helped her family. So tell me that’s a horrible idea.
Texas is Africa does a GREAT job of responding: http://texasinafrica.blogspot.com/2010/04/some-alternative-ideas-to-donating-t.html
What I like about the response is that, first off, it’s respectful. Second of all, there are plenty of alternative ideas. Ranging from the typical “give money” to more entrepreneurial concepts. This is the right way to talk to people. This is the right way to get people to listen.
In my example above, we directed the woman to work with a charity that already does shoe drives and handles getting the shoes distributed. So she’s going to organize the drive, collect the shoes, and get them to the charity. All because someone responded to her as Texas in Africa did. Not with a simple, “that’s the worst thing you can do”.