I wrote about this for The Huffington Post
Again disclosure: Donors Choose are my peeps. And a lot of this info is coming directly from personal emails; so you can call me a DC propagandist. But again, this is not about DC vs. other incredibly worthy causes/charities/non-profits. It's about the spirit of giving, and fairness. Now that the full extent of the relationship between the Children's Safe Drinking Water project and corp goliath P&G is fully exposed, why are they still allowed to play? And if it's because there's no explicit rule against it, then why isn't AmEx making the rule? Is P&G gonna spend $5M suing AmEx over their right to compete for the $5M? If AmEx is not making a rule because it's about their members making a choice (sneaky bastards), then why isn't there complete transparency and disclosure about the company connections?
When you launch a product line at the same time as people are voting in this contest, and downplay the fact that the product is NOW IN STORES and the product description in your project summary IS THE SAME THING ... well, come on. I'm sure AmEx cardholders wouldn't vote for Cap'n Crunch as a project idea, but if it's described as "a corn and oat food product that's sure to bring children across the globe fortifying and enriching minerals and vitamins," well then they might get some votes. Children around the globe deserve food with vitamins, right?
I'm lampooning for [hopefully] comedic effect, but bottom line: Procter & Gamble is putting its marketing muscle behind the project submitted by its employee, and as a result, the other four (truly nonprofit) finalists have been effectively marginalized.
I'm sure the celebrities who endorsed this competition were thinking, "please join Amex in making a difference, please join US in making a change. let's give money to procter and gamble, a company responsible for half the products at your local supermarket or drugstore. oh, wait a minute. you don't want to give to a billion dollar company that spends millions on animal testing, or has been accused of water pollution (but they'll clean it for you at cost!)? that's ok, we'll hide the connection then. that should make it easier for you to look deep into your heart."
That's definitely what Ellen Degeneres, Alicia Keys, Scorcese et. al had to be thinking, right AmEx? Right??
And I don't understand the argument that suggests a company like P&G wouldn't go through all of this for what is, for them, a trifling $5M. I think the marketing and branding for a product that has yet to really reap commercial rewards is more than enough motivation. If they're positioned as the PUR water provider for the future ... well, I don't know, but I hear there's a market for clean water.
That's before getting apocalyptic and imagining the world where all the water is contaminated, and we pay P&G to keep us alive (thanks!). All on our American Express card, of course.
Anyridiculous, if you're using AmEx go to The Members Project and make sure your vote and voice is heard. I'm not sure if there's enough time to get the numbers (2nd place is over 8,000 votes behind as I write this) but if we lean on their conscience, maybe we'll right the wrong.
And here's a timeline of events that puts the case against the Clean Safe Drinking Water project in perspective (dates linked where appropriate, click images to enlarge):
The first NY Times article revealing what was afoot(albeit in an article that was positive toward P&G’s marketing tactics):
“Procter & Gamble is traveling incognito in the American Express Member’s Project... [P&G employee] Mr. Allgood entered the science and theory behind the Children’s Safe Drinking Water program. But he said that the Member Project’s rules precluded him from naming it, or mentioning Pur or Procter."
May 24, 2005
- UNICEF announces a partnership with Procter & Gamble to help provide safe drinking water to families in developing countries. One of the biggest tools in this effort is the P&G product “PUR,” a water-purifying powder.
August 2, 2005
- USA Today reports that “P&G… is keeping an eye on its bottom line while doing good. ‘It's a cause-related issue, but we'll also learn things about low-income consumers that are going to help P&G overall,’ says Greg Allgood, P&G's director for children's safe drinking water.”
June 17, 2007
- Procter & Gamble employee Gregory Allgood submits a project idea to the American Express Members Project entitled “Children’s Safe Drinking Water,” which is the name of a division of Procter & Gamble.
The project idea makes no mention of Procter & Gamble and for all intents & purposes appears to be a UNICEF project. The project centers on a powder that can purify dirty water, which, if one follows a succession of links, turns out to be the PUR product created by Procter & Gamble.
July 22, 2007
- The project idea finishes 3rd in the semi-finals round of voting.
NOTE: The semi-finals of the Members Project were closely contested, with the top finisher (DonorsChoose.org) receiving only 65 votes more than the second place finisher. By contrast, in the finals now underway, one project idea (which had finished in 3rd place in the semi-finals) received an overwhelming number of votes within the first 48 hours. (Anecdotally, the number of votes that hit the site in the first hours of the contest suggests the project was being voted on by P&G employees....hard to imagine another source of such massive AMEX cardholders ready to go at word 1)
July 23, 2007
An article appears in the International Herald Tribune describing P&G’s new venture to sell PUR water-purifying powder for-profit in the United States, after years of selling it at cost in third-world countries.
Quote: “On Tuesday, the company will be selling the purifiers in the United States at what it hopes will be a tidy profit.” That is the very same Tuesday which begins the Top 5 finals of voting in the American Express Members Project.
Tuesday July 24, 2007
- P&G launches the sale of the PUR water cleansing kits at retail stores across the US. New York Times prints an article about the product launch.
Quote: “Gregory S. Allgood, director of the Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, cites a less obvious reason behind Procter’s decision to stay in the background. ‘Our employees feel really good about our philanthropy program, and we don’t want to confuse the issue.’”
- In contrast to their project page on the Members Project website, the Procter & Gamble home page features the following text under the heading of News From P&G: “P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water makes the American Express Members Project Top 25.” After Members Project discussion board comments begin to reveal P&G’s role in the project, American Express asks P&G to remove the ownership reference from their homepage, and P&G changes the language to “P&G Employee's Idea ‘Children's Safe Drinking Water’ Is Selected As a Finalist in AMEX Members Project.”
July 25, 2007
- P&G Employee “samjneal” posts on Members Project message board: “I heard of the membersproject [sic] site from a P&G internal newsletter highlighting the entry of this project into the final five.”
July 26, 2007
- American Express claims there is no connection between this project and P&G, other than the fact that it was a P&G employee’s submission. People have asked American Express to identify the author as a P&G employee in his bio on the “Children’s Safe Drinking Water” project page; yet this page on the American Express Members Project web site is still conspicuously non-transparent.
July 28, 2007
- NY Times runs another article, more directly dealing with the issues of fairness.
“It feels like David and Goliath because not only is it a competition of ideas, but when you take into consideration that Unicef is a $300 million-plus entity combined with P.& G. — how do you compete with that?” asked Neal Lurie, the marketing director at the American Solar Energy Society."
- Days before contest ends, bloggers are starting to pick up on the story.
- In discussion boards, AmEx cardmembers are discovering the above facts and voicing frustration about the lack of transparency.
The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power