It’s 2011 and we still live in a world where many charities think that the best way to raise funds to help those in need is by using guilt.
This needs to stop and here are three reasons why:
1) It insults aid workers
It may not take a lot of money to “save a life” or “make a difference”, but when a charity says that all it takes is “the cost of a cup of coffee”, you reduce the role of the aid worker to that of a Starbucks Barista.
The fact of the matter is aid work is complex. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 15 person organization or an organization with more money than a Fortune 500 Company. Things can go wrong – and I’ve seen it happen – even when everything is done right.
To quote John Green, “the truth defies simplicity”. And so if an organization boils the solution down to “just two quarters” or “just a cup of coffee a day” – they are being dishonest with you and what’s needed to truly make a difference.
2) It insults donors
Extreme poverty can be a depressing and guilt-inducing topic. But, by using intentionally guilt-inducing images, music, and presentation, charities are basically saying that people will only care about this issue if they are guilted.
This insults donors because it assumes donors can’t rationally understand and empathize with the situation. It suggests the only way to get a donation is to tap into the primal human emotion of shame and guilt. At worst, it exploits those who are particularly sensitive and emotionally vulnerable to being distressed by such imagery.
To paraphrase my friend and Rabbi, Avraham Berkowitz, kindness is about helping “them” whereas compassion is about recognizing there is no such thing as “them” and – instead – helping “us”. Charities need to tap into compassion – not kindness. It’s the difference between empathy vs sympathy.
3) It insults those in need
I can’t stress this enough. When a charity creates ads featuring sad crying and/or emaciated children, they are exploiting the poor. There is a reason many people call this “poverty porn”.
From my own personal experience, I’ve met Bangladeshi villagers who would rather not get any aid at all than receive one penny of aid that robs them of their dignity. I’ve met Bangladeshis who even refuse to be filmed if they suspect they will be used as an object of pity.
To quote Bauleni Banda, “NGOs come to the village here to take pictures of people. At church, at the market, on the road, at meetings. Only people who are dressed poorly”. When NGOs rob the poor of respect, the poor often lose respect for NGOs.
What You Can Do
Some charities (like the American branch of Save the Children) agree that “poverty porn” is bad. They simply don’t use that in their ads anymore. They aren’t alone and charities that take this stance need to be rewarded for taking this risk.
Similarly, charities that continue to use “poverty porn” need to learn that this doesn’t work and that they are losing donations. In fact, this will never stop – never – unless they realize they are losing money.
This Christmas donate wisely.