Should Charity Be Profitable?

Amercian Broadcasting CompanyA news story this week asked “Is ABC Going to Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line into exploitation in an attempt to boost ratings.

It’s a very fine line and a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because it applies to authors, charity, and book sales. Many authors have donated the profit, or part of the profit, of a new book to charity, typically a charity or medical cause that corresponds with a theme in the story. And in doing so, they boost their sales and visibility.

On the surface, this seems noble, and we did it on the Crime Fiction Collective blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. We all donated all of our profits during a certain time period to a Joplin family, who was very grateful for the help. I even think it was my idea.

But the more I ponder this trend, the more I believe that for myself, charity needs to be separate from commerce. Any donation I make should be done out of compassion and goodwill alone—without profiting from it directly through increased sales.

But why not accomplish both things at once, when it seems so expedient? I’m not sure I can articulate why I’ve come to feel this way. Except that rooting for your book to sell is a completely different emotion and experience than sending money to help others in need—perhaps even a contradictory one.

I understand why authors do this. Their hearts are in the right place. And the readers who buy those books are even more commendable. They’re figure they’re going to spend money on books anyway, so why not make a donation to charity at the same time?

Many businesses also run these campaigns. A pizza parlor down the street often donates part of its one-day profits to a charity, school, or foundation. Everybody wins.

And I understand what ABC is trying to accomplish: educate viewers, raise money for medical research, and boost its ratings. But has it gone too far? Probably. Charities are by definition nonprofit, and raising money for, or donating to, a cause without directly profiting from the effort seems more noble. Yet goodwill results naturally from generosity, so indirect benefits are inevitable, but they’re not the same as direct profit.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for authors to connect their books to a charity. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing myself. But I’m probably in the minority here. What do you think?

1 Comment
  1. Hi LJ,
    I was perusing your blog and again was impressed by the parallelism in our careers. In particular, I’ve been debating this issue for some time.
    I’ve been a member of The Nature Conservancy for a long time and once thought how cool it would be to donate part of my eBook royalties to them (Amazon’s very generous with their 70%). I rejected the idea for many of the reasons you’ve listed.
    On the other hand, back in the prehistory before eBooks, I often donated hard bounds and trade paperbacks I’ve reviewed to public libraries and schools. In the eBook world, this doesn’t work so well. Consequently, I decided recently that, instead of just gifting to a reviewer the eBook I want reviewed, I’d offer to do that plus also gift to a shut-in or disabled person or charity of the reviewer’s choice.
    The guilt doesn’t seem to be as strong with this new policy…both books are gifts, so I’m not making money, at least not directly (presumably a good review might interest people more in the book). What do you think?

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