No [self determined] Good Deed Goes Unpunished


During the fundraising for the New World Symphony in Miami, there was a donation for $90 million. The scale of the donation is not the most interesting aspect, the fact that the donation is from “anonymous” is. A business making a donation of this size would want the associated publicity. But why would an individual not?

As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished”; referring to the challenge, and often failure, of seeing reward for doing something positive. It is much harder to “punish” someone named “anonymous”.

With the increased focus on equality, and the rise of transparency, what was once a good deed may no longer be. Changing times call for a change in goodness.

How could it be wrong to try to help the homeless?

BBH Labs tried to help the homeless at the SXSW event in 2012 with a program called “Homeless Hotspots”. They paid select homeless $20 a day [some say more, some less] to serve as Wi-Fi hotspots.

They received unfavorable press and questions about the morality of the program. The publicity aspect certainly took from the “pureness” of the good deed. Nonetheless, conversation was generated and awareness rose.

It was suggested that had the organizers hired college students like at a tradeshow, there would have been no controversy. However, it is likely these college students would have been paid minimum wage, provided meal breaks, and had their earning reported.

But as a charitable innovation initiative (as the organizers called it) the intent was to “support the homeless population”, not college students. This intent seems to have become well buried. The objective seems lost in the execution; the promotion of the social and economic conditions submissive to the technical one.

It is often quoted in the mobile industry that there were more mobile phones than toothbrushes in the world. Wouldn’t the best way then, to have a positive impact on the world, be to provide more toothbrushes?

Instead of being a Human Hotspot, What would a $5,000 to $10,000 3-month internship have meant to these individuals? With only 13 participants listed on the web site, the costs would have been less than the annual [possibly quarterly] salary of one creative director.

The opportunity to gain more than just a few dollars during SXSW might have supported the homeless population in a different way. The individuals benefit by being exposed to careers and opportunities in the advertising industry, and BBH gains the opportunity to add new talent, voices, and insight on a segment of [admittedly not currently very active] consumers. Who could have a problem with an internship?

It turns out, some interns do.

A staple for career development, apprenticeships and internships are found in many professions from blue to white collar. Interns and apprentices can be found on construction sites and in the White House, law firms and ad agencies, large and small companies.

In some industries, an apprenticeship or internship is a required career step; just ask Mickey Mouse and the Sorcerer. Serious, high schools to doctorate programs encourage and assist in placing interns annually.

Yet with the changes in social and economic norms, the days of  low or unpaid internships may be ending. Once a rite of passage, some internships maybe reaching beyond mutual benefit and towards unfair labor practices.

Equality, like much in life, needs to work for all parties involved – whether the homeless, interns, or large organizations. Maybe the saying should be altered to say:

No [self determined] good deed goes unpunished” 



Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.

Full disclosure:

  • I make most of my personal donations under anonymous or my cats’ names;
  • I am not the donor to the New World Symphony mentioned above;
  • I had several unpaid internships while in high school and college, and paid internships in college.


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