Irrelevant images kill fundraising

Compare these two web ads for Haiti relief:


Wvhaiti


Unhaiti

The first one, for World Vision makes a clear connection between the words and the image.


The second one, for United States Fund for UNICEF is startlingly incongruous. We see a mother and child. We assume they’re Haitian, but they could be Canadian, for all we know. There’s no hint that these two need help, are in danger, hungry, sick, or anything in particular.


Kind of odd, given that a major city lies in ruins, something like 250,000 people are crushed, more than a million are homeless, and many more are struggling with hunger and disease.


Now why would UNICEF choose to use an irrelevant image?


I have no inside knowledge of the situation, so I could be completely wrong about this, but I’ll venture a guess: It’s branding — that old nemesis of effective fundraising. Branding just tends to do that. I can almost see it in my mind: The guidelines for UNICEF stress the dignity and self-sufficiency of those they serve. It would be exploitative to show them in their need.


It feels better — a lot better — to be able to say we protect the dignity of the people we serve. And images of people in pain, in need, surrounded by destruction or squalor — those just make us uncomfortable.


But what if the cost of our feeling better about our messaging is significantly less revenue to serve?


To me, choosing feel-good fundraising over effective fundraising is immoral. The trade-off is way too steep; lives are at stake.


The only reason people respond to the UNICEF ad is because they’re seeing the real pictures elsewhere.


If your organization is trapped by brand standards that force you to be irrelevant and ineffective, you should put a lot of energy toward changing that. It simply isn’t tenable in a hurting world to let a discredited marketing theory keep you from raising the funds you need.


Comments

14 responses to “Irrelevant images kill fundraising”

  1. Jeff, so on target, again! A picture is only worth 1,000 (make that 2,000) when it’s relevant. Otherwise, it’s in the red.

  2. Jeff, so on target, again! A picture is only worth 1,000 (make that 2,000) when it’s relevant. Otherwise, it’s in the red.

  3. Agree power of relevant images, but don’t think they are mutually exclusive from an empowered and dignified image. Is it ok when the subject is many thousands of miles away but not ok when we are talking about folk on our own shores? The UK charities I have worked for providing services in the UK have, i believe rightly, taken serious notice of the views of the communities they serve when developing their style guidelines. Good fundrisiing comms will find the right balance and should, I believe always seek to do so.

  4. Agree power of relevant images, but don’t think they are mutually exclusive from an empowered and dignified image. Is it ok when the subject is many thousands of miles away but not ok when we are talking about folk on our own shores? The UK charities I have worked for providing services in the UK have, i believe rightly, taken serious notice of the views of the communities they serve when developing their style guidelines. Good fundrisiing comms will find the right balance and should, I believe always seek to do so.

  5. Sorry, but this is my first time I’m not agree with you Jeff. Unfortunately I don’t have a good english to backup my opinion now, but when we talk about of ethical we can not to be ambiguous …
    As fundraiser, we need to appeal to the creativity and not to the impact of the shape.
    Maybe, UNICEF image is not a good piece of emergency appeal, but that not justify the usage of anything.

  6. Sorry, but this is my first time I’m not agree with you Jeff. Unfortunately I don’t have a good english to backup my opinion now, but when we talk about of ethical we can not to be ambiguous …
    As fundraiser, we need to appeal to the creativity and not to the impact of the shape.
    Maybe, UNICEF image is not a good piece of emergency appeal, but that not justify the usage of anything.

  7. I agree with Gonzalo and Christina on this. It’s not about branding – it’s about respect. How would you feel if it were you with the begging bowl, or looking dischevelled and homeless on the street, or miserable “because” you used a wheelchair. We’ll go round in circles if we pepetuate charity = cap in hand. The voices that may need our support have to be the voices we amplify – and we can and should do this without objectifitying them and using lazy shortcuts; but through letting them tell their story.
    The public aren’t stupid, they will get that dignity is important – and they should want to give by seeing the results *of* their money; the “dire” situations can depicted through more intelligent storytelling.

  8. I agree with Gonzalo and Christina on this. It’s not about branding – it’s about respect. How would you feel if it were you with the begging bowl, or looking dischevelled and homeless on the street, or miserable “because” you used a wheelchair. We’ll go round in circles if we pepetuate charity = cap in hand. The voices that may need our support have to be the voices we amplify – and we can and should do this without objectifitying them and using lazy shortcuts; but through letting them tell their story.
    The public aren’t stupid, they will get that dignity is important – and they should want to give by seeing the results *of* their money; the “dire” situations can depicted through more intelligent storytelling.

  9. WI Fundraiser Avatar
    WI Fundraiser

    I usually agree with Jeff’s comments, but I think he’s way off on this one. First, WHAT THE HECK ARE WATER PACKETS? If I don’t have a clear idea what they’re fundraising for, why would I want to support their cause? Okay, I’m guessing water packets make bad water safe to drink, but not being certain what they are or why they’re so important, I’m hardly moved to act. On the other hand, the woman’s face in the UNICEF ad is COMPELLING. She seems to be challenging me, asking, “Are you just going to sit there, or are you going to help?” I can’t even see the face of the child in the other ad. I’m not sure there’s a clear winner here, but I do feel more drawn to the UNICEF ad.

  10. WI Fundraiser Avatar
    WI Fundraiser

    I usually agree with Jeff’s comments, but I think he’s way off on this one. First, WHAT THE HECK ARE WATER PACKETS? If I don’t have a clear idea what they’re fundraising for, why would I want to support their cause? Okay, I’m guessing water packets make bad water safe to drink, but not being certain what they are or why they’re so important, I’m hardly moved to act. On the other hand, the woman’s face in the UNICEF ad is COMPELLING. She seems to be challenging me, asking, “Are you just going to sit there, or are you going to help?” I can’t even see the face of the child in the other ad. I’m not sure there’s a clear winner here, but I do feel more drawn to the UNICEF ad.

  11. I have to agree with Christina.
    The UNICEF appeal could be a lot better and a lot more relevant – but thats not mutually exclusive from a dignified image. Just showing an image of them actually ‘delivering life saving supplies to affected children’ would be much better – that doesn’t mean you have to show them injured, starving or suffering.. but show something related, show the success that people will be funding.

  12. I have to agree with Christina.
    The UNICEF appeal could be a lot better and a lot more relevant – but thats not mutually exclusive from a dignified image. Just showing an image of them actually ‘delivering life saving supplies to affected children’ would be much better – that doesn’t mean you have to show them injured, starving or suffering.. but show something related, show the success that people will be funding.

  13. I think you do have to be sensitive to exploitation, especially when you’re portraying what for your dominant race/culture is the other.
    Furthermore, one runs the risk of creating a sort of psychological callus when you resort to using highly emotional imagery.
    A recently released study found that it’s easy for donors to feel overwhelmed by a problem if presented with images that portray situations as so big and terrible that they appear to be impossible to change.
    In these cases there’s an inverse correlation between the drama and scope of what’s conveyed in the image and the size of the individuals donation.

  14. I think you do have to be sensitive to exploitation, especially when you’re portraying what for your dominant race/culture is the other.
    Furthermore, one runs the risk of creating a sort of psychological callus when you resort to using highly emotional imagery.
    A recently released study found that it’s easy for donors to feel overwhelmed by a problem if presented with images that portray situations as so big and terrible that they appear to be impossible to change.
    In these cases there’s an inverse correlation between the drama and scope of what’s conveyed in the image and the size of the individuals donation.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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