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It’s funny how giving gets controversial. Superficially the idea of donating money from a purchase to a charity seems pretty innocuous. And providing money or treatments for Africans suffering from AIDS truly saves lives. 

Advertising Age took exception with the actual giving as compared to the overall marketing effort required to make RED a recognizable brand. Lots of ink has been spilled about Bono being the beneficiary of much of the publicity as opposed to companies simply giving the $100 million that has been spent in marketing RED directly to those in need. Instead Africans received some $18 million according to Advertising Age.

And yes, we as individuals should give to those less fortunate and not rely exclusively on corporate-sponsored giving to substitute for our personal efforts. Granted, that’s an important point. But, I would not expect retailers like GAP to simply give money away. I’m sure their shareholders believe that getting a financial return on their investment is most important. Corporations are entities that people create for the purpose of making money. I asked African businessman, G. Kofi Annan for his view, and he offered, "If the charitable effort doesn't make business sense, then it's dead in the water from a corporation's perspective. That’s just the way capitalism works and RED is attempting to create a happy median." He supports the effort.

People who lend money to a corporation or invest in the equity of a corporation expect that if the business is successful that their funds will be returned in one form or another. Then if capital is returned, perhaps then that individual can give some money to charity. Corporations, even successful ones, are not charities.

Celebrities catch flack for doing good or being Britney. I applaud the work of Bono and Bobby Shriver (who co-created RED). Corporations don’t have to give – it’s hard enough to get many of them to pay workers, provide health care and be cognizant of the environment. So getting them to give to Africa has value. Does it promote Bono, yeah, but if RED provides millions of dollars for AIDS drugs that’s a price those of us sitting well away from the suffering in Africa can bear.

John N. Pasmore • New York, NY •