10 shows about nonprofit and philanthropy that would be way better than “The Activist”

[Image description: A white long-haired puppy facing away from the camera, staring at a TV monitor in the distance. Image by sq lim on unsplash.com]

By now you’ve probably heard about the new show to debut on CBS called “The Activist,” in which six activists compete for funding and attention for their causes, success measured by social media engagement and the input of celebrity mentors Usher, Priyanka Chopra, and Julianne Hough.

Of course, everyone is rightly up in arms. There are so many things wrong with this concept. Forcing activists to compete against one another in a Hunger Games for the crumbs thrown out by the wealthy. Measuring success through social media engagement. Having celebrities who know little to nothing about these issues judging activists with years of experience. And doing it all as entertainment:

Maria, your TikTok video about rising poverty and deaths in the Global South caused by climate change was informative, but garnered the lowest number of likes. One viewer commented: ‘The video made me sad. I wanted to see something more fun and hopeful, with maybe some dancing while gesturing at statistics.’ Unfortunately, we have to eliminate you from the competition. But you won’t leave empty-handed. One of our sponsors has generously decided to donate 500 pairs of shoes to your organization to give to villagers fleeing their flood-ravaged homes!

#CancelTheActivist is the hashtag someone started. Let’s get mobilizing.

While we’re on the topic though, we do need more shows about our work. The stuff we do is vital, urgent, complex, and sometimes hilarious, and there are barely any shows about it. The public is completely ignorant about the many critical issues we’re working on, as well as how our sector operates. So I’ve thought of a few ideas for reality shows that I’d like to pitch to television networks. Let me know what you think, and other ideas you have:

  1. Roots and Reparations: Each episode features a rich person going on an emotional journey diving into their family history to find out where their family’s wealth came from. Is it from slavery? Stolen Indigenous land? Tax avoidance? A combination? The rich person gets a chance to talk to the people exploited by their ancestors and receives assistance making reparations.
  2. Taken for Granted: Funders compete, Shark Tank-style, to get nonprofits to accept their money. Each episode features several funders each going up to make a pitch about their application, disbursement, reporting process, endowment investment policies, and other factors, hoping someone on the panel of activists will take their money, if it’s not too burdensome or tainted.
  3. On Board Undercover: Nonprofit EDs/CEOs go on a “sabbatical” but in reality they get help from a makeup crew to transform into a different person and join their own board. There they find out what the board really thinks about the staff, all the while pushing the board to enact changes at the org such as paid family leave. Hilarity and bitterness ensue.
  4. Holy Hummus! A cooking competition show where contestants have to make dishes from leftover events food. Can the rubber chicken from the gala be turned into chicken parmesan, maybe served with a risotto made from the leftover white wine? What creative things will contestants do with trays of raw vegetables, picked clean except for cauliflower florets and radishes, and a full tub of ranch dipping sauce?  
  5. Nonprofit Office Makeover: During the pandemic, nonprofits are surprised with a full makeover of their work spaces. Duct-taped chairs are replaced. HVAC systems get fixed. Mice and rattlesnake problems are taken care of! Everyone gets a real standing desk instead of having to use milk crates and cardboard boxes! Staff, who did not want to come back from remote working, see their new office and get very emotional. Sponsored by IKEA and local pest control services.
  6. Who Thinks It’s Ethical to Be a Billionaire? Each episode features a billionaire who believes they’re being surprised with a trip into space, but in actuality they are blindfolded, taken to a room, and confronted by people they’ve underpaid, forced to pee in jars, or otherwise exploited in order to make their money. A tax expert is on hand to calculate how much money they should have paid in taxes.
  7. Grants 180: Foundation program officers and board trustees must go through the grant process they force on nonprofits, having to answer questions like “explain how you will measure the success of your program and give three examples of past program successes, in 500 characters.” After going through their process and experiencing guilt and remorse, they meet with a select group of grantees who had applied earlier but didn’t get the grant, for teary apologies.
  8. Show the Salary: In each episode, nonprofits as well as corporations that advertise for new jobs without disclosing salary on their job postings are confronted. It starts with a courteous email or tweet reminding people that not disclosing salary on job postings perpetuates racial and gender wage gaps. The show follows organizations to see if they make changes, on occasion sending in interviewers and television crews to knock on the doors of orgs that continue to engage in this shady practice. (H/T ShowTheSalary.com)
  9. CSR For Real: Colin Kaepernick explores corporate social responsibility done right and wrong. In each episode he interviews corporations that are sticking their neck out, such as Ben and Jerry’s, as well as the nonprofits they partner with. Simultaneously, nonprofit leaders are brought on as guests to tell corporations engaged in crappy CSR that sending 100 employees to a nonprofit for a day of service is annoying and useless and nonprofits should be paid to organize those shenanigans.
  10. Gold Diggers with Hearts of Gold: Follows the complex relationships between nonprofit professionals and rich people from other sectors. An activist married to a hedge fund manager. An operations manager moving in with an oil tycoon. A social worker dating…anyone from any other sector. Can the gold digger with the heart of gold help the rich person see the importance of paying more taxes and not hoarding money in Donor-Advised Funds? Or will they be corrupted by lavish luxuries like reliable dental insurance?

There you go. We are not short on ideas for shows, so I hope the producers of The Activist pay attention after canceling their abomination. Meanwhile, I am starting to work on a sketch comedy show about nonprofit and philanthropy, so hit me up if you know someone at Netflix or if you’re a funder who wants to fund it.

Go here to find and email your elected officials to encourage them to enact legislations preventing foundations and Donor-Advised Funds from hoarding so much money.

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