In February, I wrote a blog on NekNominate and how charities should capitalise on social media crazes. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out, but the basic premise was that when a trend takes off and captures people’s imagination, charities should put their own spin on it to further their work. This is particularly important on social media, where fads can spread like wildfire.
Fast forward a few months and Cancer Research UK have just benefitted to the tune of £8m (and counting) from the ‘no make-up selfie’, something they didn’t even start. Yet aside from a large cheque, the NMS has also brought with it a whole range of criticisms. There are some credible arguments against it, but I for one am hugely in favour. Here’s why…
The main reason I support this ‘trendjacking’ is clear; the sheer amount of money raised. Even for a charity that raked in over £536m last year, £8m is a significant wedge. No one seems completely sure how NMS started, but it certainly wasn’t CRUK’s idea. Barely a week later, their sheer initiative and opportunism in attaching themselves to it has netted a huge sum to put towards their research.
It must have been one of the cheapest fundraising campaigns in history and I’m certain even they would admit it was pretty simple as well. I’m sure no one begrudges the amount of money raised. There are those, however, who have criticised NMS for a variety of reasons.
A major concern for some people is that photographing yourself without make-up does not raise awareness for cancer. This is not unreasonable and I freely acknowledge that they’re right - it has nothing to do with cancer. Yet I would offer the same comment on someone running a marathon, operating a tombola or climbing a mountain. Directly, these activities have nothing to do with any of the causes people are doing them for.
Take Macmillan Cancer Support’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning – it raised £20m last year. But if it says anywhere on their publicity that people should get together and talk about cancer, or that it should raise awareness in any way, I can’t see it. It’s just supposed to be a bit of fun and a chance to get together while raising some money.
And the point is, these events do raise money. If we took away every fundraising idea that didn’t directly link to the cause or raise awareness of it, charities would be out checking phone boxes for spare change.
People have also said that the no makeup selfie isn’t inclusive. Again, I don’t see this as a problem. Many men have taken part, as anyone who has seen the shot of Ricky Gervais in the bath will testify. Even if it was purely restricted to women, it’s unfair to criticise a fundraising initiative for being exclusive when up to half the world’s population are eligible. I don’t see the same criticism levied at Movember, although that is surely exclusively male.
Just because an initiative only applies to one gender doesn’t make it wrong. The wonderful thing about fundraising it that it’s a team of people stacking up donations for the benefit of others. I really don’t think it matters who’s on the team.
I’ve also heard that people say they feel pressured into donating and taking part, or at least living up to the hype and being ‘part of the fun’. I’d see this as a question more for the individual than charities. Did you get asked to NekNominate and down a drink? Have you ever walked past a collection bucket, a homeless person or a Big Issue seller without tipping up some change?
The pressure to comply is no stronger here than those, possibly less so because you’re sat at a computer. This is essentially just another fundraiser for charities and it’s no different to their others, except they’re not spending your donations on it and it was actually your friends that asked you to give.
It’s important to keep in mind that the NMS wasn’t a meticulously thought-out plan that started in the CRUK boardroom. They saw an opportunity and raised £8m in a week - mild discomfort is a small price to pay. For me, it doesn’t matter that NMS doesn’t solve a problem, raise awareness or make people feel better about cancer. It was never meant to address all of those things and I’m sure it doesn’t make any of them any worse. Besides, if Cancer Research UK wants to do those things, they now have an extra £8m to do so.
At the risk of sounding simplistic, I feel that coming at this issue with all manner of criticisms is taking it rather too seriously. Like dressing up for the day or shooting a naked calendar, it’s a bit of fun and should be treated for what it is.
And even if it does upset anyone, we’ll soon make-up.
Bijal and Dorothea have written a blog on their concerns about the NMS. You can read it here.