My thoughts on how charities need to drop the guilt is getting tons of views. But the question remains: how does a charity drop the guilt? Can they do it overnight? Cold turkey?
I guess you can call it a 5 Step Program for NGOs using guilt:
Step One: Engagement via Guilt
Especially near Christmas, you need only turn on the television to see which charities are flooding the airwaves with “poverty porn”.
You can read about my thoughts on this here. But, basically, the defining feature of this type of messaging is that it dehumanizes those in need into objects of pity.
Step Two: Engagement via Celebrity Spokespeople
I’m not talking just about Bono – but I suppose that’s who everyone thinks about when talking about celebrities and charity. Although I’m not the biggest fan of celebrity-centric messaging, I still think this is better than “poverty porn”.
After all, when a celebrity is involved, the focus turns towards the celebrity. Whether the celebrity likes it or not, it becomes about them. This has the benefit of pushing aside (or at least subduing) the use of “poverty porn”.
Step Three: Engagement via “Average Joes”
Anyone whose been following my work for a while knows that this is exactly what I’ve been pushing towards for a long time now. But even as recent as a year or two ago, I was still getting lectured by those insisting only celebrities (following carefully scripted talking points) are suitable for being a spokesperson.
Since then, you need only look at Water.org taking Hank Green to Haiti, World Vision taking YouTubers to Zambia and India, or Save the Children UK taking Mommy Vloggers & Bloggers to Africa to see the success, authentic engagement, awareness, and even additional funds raised – all in a way that avoids guilt.
Step Four: Engagement via Bridge-Makers
To an online observer, the difference between Step 3 and Step 4 is indistinguishable. However, whereas the primary function of a spokesperson (be it a celebrity or “average joe”) is to promote an NGO, the primary function of a bridge-maker is to be a digital and cultural intermediary to give those in need a direct voice to the global community.
The goal is to give those in need a stronger say to better shape how aid is delivered in their communities. Through this process not only does an NGO get some publicity, but it can also can help to overcome local distrust of NGOs. Sadly, there is no set quantitative formula as to how to do this – it’s qualitatively specific to context and culture.
What I can say is that, from my work as a bridge-maker in Bangladesh, there is a preference for aid to come from an individual instead of an institution, for a direct connection between donor and recipient, for trackable donations, and for overhead to be exogenous from donations “for the poor”.
This may not be a step that every NGO can take. An NGO needs to be confident enough that those they serve, if given a direct and unfiltered voice to the global community, won’t have bad things to say about their organization. It’s also not for NGOs that are unwilling to qualitatively tweak or modify how they implement projects in order to accommodate this global conversation.
Step Five: Engagement via Those in Need
Eventually, as the digital divide is being bridged, the poor will be able to speak for themselves to the world with little or no assistance.
Ideally, this means that both control of an NGO’s messaging and implementation of aid projects divests from the NGO directly into the hands of those in need.
When this happens, NGOs will not only have dropped the guilt – they’ll have replaced it with empowerment instead.