Friday, September 28, 2012

Should Charity Be Profitable?

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

A news story this week asked “Is ABC Going too Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line to 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 here on this blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. Those of us with published books donated all our profits during a certain time period—and others made cash donations—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.

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. One example of this done well is Tim Hallinan's SHAKEN: Stories for Japan, a fundraiser for the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan last year. (Full disclosure: I contributed a short story.) Tim used his own money and resources to pull the book together; stories and artwork were all donated. He also had to do a lot of legwork to get the Amazon monies directly sent to our nonprofit so he didn't have to deal with the money going to him and paying taxes, etc. I think when it's handled this way, with all proceeds going to the charity and not just a percentage, "charity" books can work.

  2. I've struggled with this, too, LJ. I'd never want to use a charity to encourage further sales of my books, so I've only donated books to various causes rather than give a percentage of profit to a charity. I think I'd have to donate all proceeds rather than just some to feel comfortable with the concept.

  3. Naomi, you're right. That effort was excellent and done exactly right, with the sole purpose of raising money for a specific charity. Thanks for participating!

  4. Interesting food for thought...and a double-edged sword in many respects

    But I'm not sure I know the right answer. Too Far can be such a slippery slope in so many respects, and it often depends on the vantage point from where one is looking at it.

    Having said that, I think the public can easily sense Over The Top when they see it. I also think they realize it's a promotion, but they forgive that since someone less fortunate will receive the benefits. The promoters, at least when it comes to raising money for those in need, are using their high profile to help bring attention to an issue that needs to be addressed. So Maybe it's a case of give and take?

  5. My husband ran a non-profit agency for more than forty years before he retired. I asked him what he thought from the perspective of a non-profit.

    He told me he agrees with L.J. He would much prefer that people do their thing, then donate from their profits.


  6. I just remembered I participated in Killer Recipes, a collection of recipes by crime fiction authors. But in that case, the book was created with the sole purpose of raising money for cancer research, and I submitted a recipe for the cause, without any expectation of benefit.

    So it's not really a fine line, but more like a continuum. And I could change my mind about this again. I just know that I have mixed feelings and thought it was worth discussing.

  7. The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs not only hit close to home, but I had family members evacuated. I announced that I would be donating a percentage of my royalties for RED TIDE through the end of the month. I ended up donating all of them… because I felt it was the right thing to do.

  8. When I ventured into careative writing, there was never a thought of it being a personal, money-making venture. Being confortably retired, Writing was the only goal. It became a "now-what" moment when it became clear that there would be a book.
    The choice from the first was that all proceeds from book sales would go to the local Food Bank's backpack program that provides weekend meals to school children. Copies of the books have also been given to the Foodbank to use as those in charge feel free.
    Never for a moment, had the idea arisen that all this was doing to promote either myself or the book. The foodbank have realized far more money from the book than I could have ever given from my personal funds.


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