Dear Designer

Dear Designer: If You Want to Make the World a Better Place, Start With Your Day Job

Giving back is admirable, but it can’t undo the damage your employer is doing

Mike Monteiro
Published in
7 min readAug 21, 2019


Illustration: Joe O’Donnell

Dear Mike,

I work at a large social media company that does some shady shit. The team I’m on doesn’t do the actual shady shit. We’re shit-adjacent. I’m actually proud of what my team does. And I like working there. So every once in a while I’ll donate part of my paycheck to a good cause, or a candidate who wants to regulate some of the shady shit that we do. Does that make up for the shady shit?

Dear Designer,

Great question. The answer is no, it does not make up for the shady shit.

First off, let me applaud you for the decent things you do, because they are in fact decent. It’s a damn nice thing to donate your money, or your time, to an organization or a cause that needs it. And I certainly don’t want to talk you out of that. Please continue, and urge others to do the same.

But that’s not what you asked me. You asked me if it made up for the shady shit. Which means you’re looking for an ethical offset. In other words, Does the good I do over here make up for the bad I do over there? The idea of ethical offsets has been around for a long time, even when they weren’t called that.

Let’s get religious. For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church recognized something called “indulgences” as an actual part of how they did business. (It wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council of 1959 that they suggested reforming this. They also did away with saying the Mass in Latin and meatless Fridays at the Second Vatican Council, commonly referred to as Vatican II, like a Super Bowl. It was a good meeting. There are notes.)

According to the Vatican, an indulgence was a way to reduce the amount of punishment one had to undergo for sins. The original idea was that if you did a nice thing, the pope would issue you an indulgence which you would somehow present when you got to heaven. As a character reference. And the people at the door would weigh it against the shitty things you did. It was a reward. In reality, indulgences became a commodity that were…



Mike Monteiro
Writer for

English is my second language. You were my first.