Last Saturday night, NBC aired a JPMorgan Chase-financed television show described as a cross between an award show and a corporate advertisement. Filled with celebrity appearances, musical numbers, and many reminders that the show was “presented by Chase”, the two-hour show/commercial hybrid touted Chase’s Community Giving program. The program allows users to vote on Facebook for local charities to win donations from Chase. According to Chase, the program was created because “Chase wanted to give the community the opportunity to decide which charities should share a portion of $5 million in donations.”
But as some of you might remember, the year that the program began, SSDP learned that the program didn’t quite work that way. As soon as the contest was announced, SSDP staff and students devoted themselves heavily to promoting the contest, driving traffic to the program’s Facebook page and helping to gain exposure for Chase. Their hard work paid off; with awards to be given to the top 100 vote-getters, SSDP seemed to be in a good position at 14th place just a few days before the contest was to end.
But that’s when Chase’s behavior changed. Three days before the contest ended, Chase stopped giving participants access to voting information; when the names of the winners were released, they did not include several of the organizations that had been leading in the vote tallies, including SSDP. When the New York Times exposed Chase’s behavior, its rep declined to give the vote counts or even say whether SSDP had been disqualified or why.
It would be one thing if Chase disqualified SSDP from the start. Its rules state that the bank can disqualify participants for any reason. But it’s another thing entirely to allow small nonprofits like SSDP to commit rare and valuable time and resources to promoting Chase and then refuse to even disclose whether or why SSDP was disqualified. With the New York Times article and many others, SSDP called attention to Chase’s behavior and called for a boycott. Several thousand people pledged that they were boycotting Chase and closing accounts there.
If Chase wants to hand-pick a list of approved charitable organizations to donate their corporate dollars, by all means it should do so. But I hope the bank doesn’t think it will win PR points with young audiences by disguising such targeted giving as a crowd-sourcing philanthropy project with the winners chosen by the community. Young people aren’t fooled that easily.
The program distributed $2 million by Chase, whose CEO’s compensation rose by $19.5 million in 2010. Its ratings were considered dismal even for a Saturday night; roughly half the number of viewers tuned in as for the rerun of “Law and Order” which ran immediately afterward.