When Did Being Nice Get So Complicated?
BY Jeff Haden
Giving back to the community is harder than it looks. What would you do in a situation like this?
Sometimes trying to do something nice doesn’t work out so well.
I’m a ghostwriter but I’m also a wedding photographer (because everyone should be at least two things.)
Over the past seven years we’ve photographed a number of weddings involving military personnel. Some of those weddings were scheduled well in advance, but many were pulled together within days as some couples scrambled to get married before an unexpected deployment. (A photo from a wedding that took place within three days of a deployment should appear in the dictionary beside the word “bittersweet.”)
Since the average serviceperson is relatively young and not well paid, many are on tight budgets. A few years ago some who called were unable to afford our least expensive package. We did what we could—and a few times more than we should—but we couldn’t help everyone.
So we decided to offer a free wedding photography package to a couple that couldn’t otherwise afford a wedding photographer. We thought it would be a nice way to help out a service member and his or her family and to show appreciation for what they do.
Making that decision was the only thing that went well.
I called the Community Relations office at Fort Belvoir, VA. I explained what we hoped to do and asked for help connecting with someone deserving.
Community Relations transferred me to the Chaplain’s Office. They transferred me somewhere else. After a spirited but ultimately unsatisfying game of voice mail tag and talking to three or four other people it was decided that Community Relations was, in fact, best positioned to handle my request.
Unfortunately Community Relations disagreed and transferred me to Media Relations. I thought that was odd, and so did the folks in Media Relations, so since my inquiry was wedding-related they transferred me to the Chaplain’s office before I had time to yell, “No, wait!”
Finally I reached a person in Community Relations who tried to help, but we immediately ran into a snag. "How would we (the military) select the right person and ensure the process seemed fair?" she asked. I suggested a lottery system where we selected one person at random. Easy.
Or not. She was also concerned about the logistics. So I said if they publicized our offer we would randomly select one of the resulting submissions.
That didn't work either. Finally she decided the best way to handle it was for me to run an advertisement in their base newspaper. Then the military would not play any role at all.
That sounded okay until I learned running the ad would cost hundreds of dollars. I wasn’t thrilled by the thought of paying to advertise I wanted to give something away, but I was still game until I found out I also had to commit to running multiple ads.
Eventually I decided it didn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars just to earn the privilege to give away services worth thousands of dollars.
While deployments have decreased sharply over the last year, U.S. soldiers still serve in Afghanistan, as well as at posts around the world. We’d still like to do something for a deserving serviceperson and their spouse-to-be.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden