It’s Sunday morning, and you’re in the checkout lane at the grocery store. An employee informs you that it’s *insert noble cause* month. They cheerily ask if you would like to donate. Your palms sweat. You feel like all eyes are on you. Feeling pressured, you sheepishly agree to round up your purchase and donate to an obscure yet honorable cause.
We’ve all been there.
Awareness months are mainstays in American culture. People campaign for change, raise money for research and recruit supporters for a noble cause. However, this quest to expand others’ knowledge on little-known topics is often more symbolic than effective.
Despite their widespread nature, informative campaigns such as those peddled during their respective awareness months, rarely incite action from everyday people beyond simply calling attention to an issue. These campaigns are often pathos-filled, appealing to our softer sides to raise money in lieu of actually improving conditions.
Take childhood obesity in America for example. Awareness campaigns speak endlessly about how soda and sugary snacks lead to obesity in young people. They campaign for funds to address the issue, warning that lack of action could result in perpetual chronic illness. However, these campaigns often prioritize fundraising over implementation of effective policies.
Furthermore, awareness months encourage consumers to donate even if they are oblivious to where their contributions are going. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, the hallmark organization for breast cancer awareness, went under fire in recent years due to discrepancies in its financial reports wherein the CEO and founder received sizeable salaries. It has been estimated only 20 percent of the organization’s revenue actually goes to breast cancer research. Still, this month people will feel compelled to donate to organizations such as the foundation in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, unaware that their money is being used more to fund salaries than to support the cause they believe in.
Moreover, awareness months place the majority of the focus on campaigning during said month. This leads to organizations raising money for the campaign and foregoing worthwhile action for the rest of the year.
This isn’t to say all campaigns for change are ineffective. Former First Lady Michelle Obama implemented the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, giving students across the nation nutritious lunches which made a year-round impact on the diets of school-age children independently of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. While this government-funded program was obviously advantaged as it did not need to raise money to be effective, it sets an example for future campaigns. Shifting the focus of a project to a short amount of time is not as beneficial as having this same emphasis year-round.
Well-researched organizations are worth donating to if their mission is to direct interest toward action. However, awareness months do little to enact effective change beyond guilting people into donating. It is up to consumers to make wise decisions about which campaigns they support, rather than giving to whichever one pressures them most each month.
This piece was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The DN.