Greek philanthropy methods miss the mark on charity

By Dan Mollison

A few weeks ago on Feb. 20, Zach Good, a columnist for Pennsylvania State’s Daily Collegian, was quickly and quietly dropped from his paper for making some controversial posts on Facebook.

Good’s firing is yet another demonstration of how our generation’s continuing embrace of the online world can affect and even thwart our real lives. The controversy that Good’s comments have received heat for is a source of frustration that rages both in and outside the Greek community: the nature of Greek philanthropy.

Good has taken a lot of heat for criticizing Greek charity work. His controversial Facebook posts were directed toward a widely publicized event at Penn State called THON, in which members of fraternities and sororities raise charity contributions by hosting a 48-hour dance marathon. The THON effort at Penn State raised 5.2 million dollars this year for cancer research, and for criticizing the nature of this event has landed Good a comparison to the KKK.

I can relate with the heat Good has received. In response to my March 9 column entitled, “‘Sickened and disgusted’ by IFC inaction on serious issues” in which I critiqued the Greek approach to philanthropy, I received an e-mail from a frustrated fraternity man asking me, “Was there no room in the article to praise positive aspects of Greek life? Why critique philanthropy, one of its most positive attributes?”

Critics like Good and I can’t deny the positive impact that events like THON have on our society. In fact, Good acknowledges on his Web site ( that “any time an institution such as Penn State can rally thousands-nay, millions – in the fight against a disease is truly a success for mankind.”

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Then why are non-Greeks like Good and myself critical of events like THON? Because we believe that charity events that are based more on socializing and self-promotion than on an earnest desire to help others miss the mark regarding what charity is supposed to be about.

Good writes on his Web site that charity should be “an act performed involuntarily, the reward of such benevolence being the inward satisfaction one feels as a result of improving the life of another. Charity is not a chore, but rather a labor of love.” In respect to THON, Good reveals that “the conditions under which THON began more than 30 years ago completely spits on this theory.

According to the THON website (, “In an attempt to rebuild its image, the Interfraternity Council started Dance Marathon in 1973.” Referring specifically to the phrase “In an attempt to rebuild its image,” Good argues that this statement “overtly proves that THON was something contrived for selfish reasons, not because a few visionaries purely wanted to give back to the community.”

As a former fraternity member, I can relate with Good’s frustration. During my two years as a brother, I cared deeply about my organization and its well-being.

But as time wore on and as I began giving back to the campus community in my own ways, I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that my fraternity was more interested in setting up social philanthropy events intended to improve our image among other Greek organizations (mainly sororities) than in creating events that would use our group’s incredible collective power to truly help the needy.

While Greek charity efforts may be flawed, it does no good to completely denounce them. As Good points out, THON’s $5.2 million contribution to cancer research is a cause for celebration, not complaint. But it is important to recognize that there is a difference between social philanthropy and charitable efforts that stem from a true desire to help others. To directly serve another requires far more thought, care, and empathy than fundraising for self-promotion, and it deserves far more respect.

Greek organizations have long desired to receive more recognition for their philanthropy efforts. When the Greek community goes beyond staging social philanthropy events and shaking cans on the Quad and instead demonstrates a real passion to have a direct hand in creating change, then they will receive the recognition they seek.