American Express developed an interesting promotional tool that combines good press and good works with a dash of American Idol-style competition thrown in for good measure. The Members Project has been a winnowing contest where AmEx cardholders (or "members") have selected five charitable causes from a large number of entries. The single charitable project that then receives the most votes among the five will receive as much as $5 million from American Express to continue its work. Some people are now complaining that Procter & Gamble, which currently hold a sizable lead as the voting window is near its close, has hijacked the competition to make itself look good at the expense of smaller non-profits to whom $5 million would make a huge difference.
The second-place project is DonorsChoose.org, set up by a social studies teacher in the Bronx. Operating out of a loft on 36th St., DonorsChoose matches teacher's individual requests for school supplies with individuals donations. The New York Times described it as a sort of online dating service between donors and recipients. Currently holding a formidable lead, however, is a project to provide potable water for third world children. If that project wins, the prize money would go to fund an ongoing project with Unicef and P&G to supply water purifiers at cost. P&G doesn't stand to profit from the enterprise, but it does generate goodwill for the corporation. Critics don't understand why a company with tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues is muscling in on the AmEx contest that aims to benefit non-profit organizations with a minute fraction of the resources at their disposal as P&G. The Assimilated Negro has a thorough list of links to sites covering the controversy.