One thing I love about schools: They regularly set up opportunities for students to practice generosity and community partnering.
Back-to-school shops with gently used uniforms.
Holiday toy drives.
Coat drives in the winter.
Serving a Thanksgiving dinner to people in need.
Prom “boutiques” with donated dresses.
All of these take significant time, effort, and resources to organize, and the school communities that pull these off are angels in my book.
There’s just one problem. This problem doesn’t happen every time or at every school, to be sure. But when it does, I see red.
Every so often, I catch schools or clubs posting photos on social media of the students and families benefiting from these services.
Why it’s a problem
Look, as I explained, it’s not the drives themselves and the spirit of generosity fueling them. I have no doubt the donations and the organizing all come from a good place.
But the times I’ve commented on social media asking schools or individuals to reconsider posting photos of students receiving donations, I’m often met with defense.
We got their permission.
We blurred their faces or You can’t see their faces.
Always someone who has a problem with a good deed.
Hi, yes. It’s me. I have the problem.
For many students and families, there’s an understandable degree of embarrassment in picking out secondhand clothes or for someone else paying for your kids’ holiday gifts. Spreading these pictures online is putting students in the vulnerable position of being recognized by their peers, even if measures are taken for anonymity. Think about it: If your family, workplace, neighborhood, or other group who knows you were shown a picture of you with your face blurred, you’d have scores of people knowing exactly who is in that picture.
Ask yourself why you feel you need to include pictures of students or families receiving donations. For likes? Because you won’t evoke as much emotion without them? To increase participation in next year’s coat drive? All of those reasons are exploitative. You can spread awareness and share the success of an initiative without the cost of an individual’s dignity.
Think about the purpose of the drive. Is it to benefit people who need a little extra help? Or to be able to talk about your good deed in the way you want?
It probably violates your school’s social media guidelines.
Most districts have language around what types of photos can be shared of their students, even if they’ve opted in to picture sharing on their technology agreement. And if a picture is used without their consent? That easily exposes the district to liability and lawsuits.
Also, I want you to picture this. You’re in middle school, and you need a new coat—yours is frayed, worn thin, and busting at the seams—but your mom has said she won’t be able to buy one for a few months. You go to the school’s coat drive, and you’re already feeling so awkward and anxious about picking out a secondhand coat. A parent volunteer approaches you and says, “Smile!” as they snap a picture of you browsing the coat pile. “We can put this on social media, right?” they ask. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely feel pressured to say yes because I was getting something for free.
OK. You’ve decided to no longer share pictures of students or their families receiving donations. But you still want to share your group’s work and inspire people to come help. So, what now?
Better ideas for photos
Look for opportunities with lots of different colors or textures. A shot looking down a clothing rack of fluffy tulle and shiny pastel satin in the prom dress drive would be gorgeous and attention-grabbing. Or for a Thanksgiving food drive, how about a mountain of chopped sweet potatoes during prepping? Get creative!
Photos of the volunteers
Ideally take photos of volunteers during setup or tear-down so you’re not having to interfere in what I think is a sacred act of communal sharing.
Creative and fun arrangements
Snap a picture of toys cleverly arranged in a twinkling Christmas tree, or do a stop-motion video to look like coats and clothes are dancing on their own. (If you don’t know how to do this, there’s a teenager in your life who does, I promise you.)
Before and after
Get a picture showing the collective donations all together—whether it’s food, clothes, gifts, or other items. Then, show what’s left afterward to demonstrate how many items went to people who need them.
Finally, I think it’s noteworthy that the sources we look to for wisdom—from all major faiths to some of our wisest thinkers in history—generally discourage looking for outward validation for our good deeds. This quote from Marcus Aurelius, one of the more respected Roman emperors, sums it up pretty perfectly, I think:
“When you have done a good deed that another has had the benefit of, why do you need a third reward—as fools do—praise for having done well or looking for a favor in return?”
What are your thoughts on this topic? Let us know in the comments.
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