Okay, this is my last post on aid blogging. On the heels of my Who’s Who post and the Aid Blogging Charts, I’m about to go from being known as an aid blogger to that guy who blogs about aid bloggers. Ick. But I found this post today and at first it left me stupefied, then it got me thinking. Here I am all smiley today to have surpassed 1,000 page views in a single day for the first time ever (HT Duncan Green). Then I find this post about bad charity giving published just two days ago that has already been viewed nearly 800,000 times!!!
The author, Mark Hill, is not on any of your blogrolls, and probably won’t be any time soon. He writes for CRACKED.com. Some of his other posts include: ‘The 7 Ballsiest Pranks You won’t Believe Actually Worked’ (viewed 2,640,722 times), ‘The 7 Most Irritating Characters From Otherwise Great Movies (viewed 2,113,788 times), and ’16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares’ (viewed 1,438,858 times). (No I will not hyperlink those.) By the way, warning: his prose is riddled with profanity that is NSFW.
Remember my chart on influence? Well, this guy would be snug up on top of the far left axis (even more snug than Ashton Kurcher) and way off the top of the chart. He’s clearly got an enormous audience of aid non-experts. How much influence that translates into, I’m not sure, especially given that this seems to be his only post on the subject. What is both good and surprising is that his post is actually pretty well researched by today’s standards (i.e. Googling and regurgitating what other people have written online) and not far off the mark to things we might say (with fewer four letter words). He links his reasoning to legitimate people that we know: Tim Odgen, Saundra Schimmelpfennig (yes, of Good Intentions are Not Enough), Brett Keller, Engineers Without Borders, The Guardian, The Economist, Forbes, Aid Watch, even a couple of academic journals.
Here is his list of five popular forms of charity that aren’t helping:
- Awareness Campaigns: Most Are a Waste of Time
- Donating Clothing
- Choosing Your Charity Based on Its Overhead
- Earmarking Your Donations
- Volunteering After Disasters
See, not too bad. In fact, Mark Hill is sort of like a brassy potty-mouthed version of Saudra Schimelpfennig, whom he links to at least four times. Well, at least in this post he is; I can’t imagine Saundra writing anything remotely akin to ‘6 Pet Products That Prove Rich People Have Gone Insane’.
In a way, this could be a mini case study from The Tipping Point. What Mark Hill has essentially done is used Cracked.com as a virtual Connector and acted like a Salesmen to expose his audience of list-loving, humor-seeking ‘Cracked Friends’ to the information generated by Mavens like Tim and Saundra. The result may be the best kind of influence an aid blogging ‘information specialist’ could ever hope for.
Figure 1. Edging Toward A Tipping Point?
You see, the danger of being an aid blogger is that half the time you’re just preaching to the choir. Most people, for whatever reason (we’ll just leave that open) simply don’t subscribe to blogs like Good Intentions are Not Enough. But, these same people may very well be the ones who hand over their used underwear to stupid campaigns for knickerless Africans, (btw, bravo to Zimbabwe’s finance minister for following Ghana’s lead today in banning imports of used underwear), or misuse Charity Navigator to rule out charities with anything less than 100% program/0% overhead ratios, or voluntarily airdrop themselves into disaster zones to ‘help however they can’.
Let’s play a little game: Which is greater, the number of wrongly-skilled volunteers on the ground within two months of the earthquake in Haiti or the number of people who read an article criticizing volunteering in disaster zones? Which is greater, the number of little dresses made from pillow cases sent to Africa (over a million) or the number of people who could make a reasoned argument why that isn’t super sweet? Which is greater, the number of slacktivists that changed their Facebook status, wore a bracelet, or used a protest Twitter hashtag AND NOTHING ELSE, or the number of people who actually donated a significant sum of cash or time to the same cause?
Figure 2. Making it Effective
So it is then that a non-specialist can write the most effective aid blog post ever. Key features: a snarky fowl-mouthed humor, a huge audience (that is not already singing in the choir), and a willingness to restate the thinking of actual experts.