My wife came home last week, all in a huff.
She had been listening to NPR. Like all indulgences, I urge moderation when listening to NPR.
We have more charitable organizations reaching into more corners of the world than ever. People are touching more lives in more ways than ever. You might even call it a charity boom, like the dot-com boom a decade ago. But we all witnessed the major meltdown of the Kony campaign. It makes me wonder if the charity boom is headed for a major crash.
Read on, and decide for yourself.
I personally like TOMS. I have a pair of their shoes. My wife got me a pair of their new glasses for my recent birthday. I like them because they look like JFK’s Ray-Bans, and their purchase pays for someone else’s glasses or eye surgery. I saw TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie at Catalyst last year. He was inspiring.
I have two beefs with TOMS. Their sizes run too large. Both my wife and I had to return our first pair. My wife is contemplating her second return in a row. Shoe sizes are pretty standard, TOMS.
Second, and this sounds so super cliche, but they are becoming mainstream, but not in a good way. A couple of years ago, if you wanted a pair of TOMS, you had to put up with wearing a pair of rather unfashionable, fairly uncomfortable shoes. Today, their repertoire of shoes and their catalog look more like J.Crew. There’s no way that a third-world woman is going to be given a pair of leopard print or sequined wedge shoes. If you care enough to buy a pair of TOMS, you should have to buy the original, ugly version.
The NPR report took neither of these concerns to task. Their concerns were more about TOMS being an evil corporation.
There were two main concerns brought up by NPR. First, that they supposedly give shoes to people who already have shoes. So TOMS uses Christians to promote their products, because Christians are easily manipulated, (a fact that Disney has known for decades), and then doesn’t really give shoes to people who need them.
The second concern was that giving out free shoes puts local shoemakers out of business, which sounds like complete tripe to me. Geez, you try to do something good, and you just get a target on your back. Meanwhile, all these bleeding hearts preach compassion, but all they can do is snipe at the person who’s actually trying.
Is Tom a Christian?
But wait a minute…Is TOMS really an evil corporation?
Maybe not evil. But it’s not a Christian organization. It’s a for-profit. If Blake himself is a Christian, you’d have to dig deep to find much evidence. His blog (which hasn’t been updated in over a year) makes no mention of Christianity in the topic bar. He mentions Buddhism once. He reportedly attends Mosaic, the multicultural church in L.A. But everywhere he goes, Mycoskie is an evangelist for TOMS, not Jesus. When he was attacked by gay advocates for participating in a Focus on the Family event, he claimed ignorance on Focus’ position on gay marriage. Maybe it’s because he lives on a boat, but how many people in this country do not know Focus opposes gay marriage?
If you do your research, you’ll find more questions have started to bubble ups. TOMS are manufactured in China. After the debacle with Apple and Foxconn, all bets are off. And is it really “one for one?” A pair of consumer TOMS costs just a few bucks to make. A pair of “give away” TOMS costs even less in material and labor.
The fact is, we don’t know a whole lot about TOMS, except the story that the company publicizes. So maybe we Christians, who so eagerly embraced TOMS really have been tricked again.
The biggest lesson from Kony 2012 was that people don’t give much of a damn about good intentions. Have all the good intentions you want, people will still rip you apart.
And now that people have seen how quickly a major charity can rise with a viral campaign, and then fall under savage internet criticism and the mental breakdown of its leader, the target on TOMS and Charity:Water and the rest just got a bit bigger.
What do you think? Are we going to see a wave of charities and philanthropists crash under new scrutiny? Should I put my TOMS back in the closet for now? Or should we give the shaggy haired hippie the benefit of the doubt, and keep advertising our compassion on our feet?