Expanding definition of “poverty porn” means more ineffective fundraising

Now I’ve heard everything. An article in Nonprofit Quarterly has expanded the definition of the P-words — Poverty Porn.

According to Truth or Charity? The Lure of Poverty Porn for Nonprofits, poverty porn is “using false or exaggerated images in donor appeals as a fundraising tactic.”

The article cites the same study about images of homelessness that I posted about last week. That study found that most people think the typical homeless person is an older man who sleeps outside. That’s the image that typically works best in fundraising, which is no surprise, as it goes straight to the issue of the donor’s giving, rather than first needing to persuade donors that typical homeless people may not look the way you think.

Do you see what’s happening here? “Poverty porn” used to mean images that starkly show the impact of poverty on people in a way that really troubles some people. Now poverty porn includes two more things:


  1. Images that are real, but not the most typical.
  2. Lies.

By sweeping lies (which no fundraiser should ever do) and donor-aware selection of imagery (which every fundraiser should at least consider doing), they’ve made every argument against “poverty porn” into a slam-dunk.

Truth is, poverty porn is a pretty contemptible concept. It allows fundraisers (or, often, armchair fundraisers who aren’t actually responsible for raising funds) to blame ineffective fundraising results on donors’ character flaws.

Serious fundraisers don’t play games like that. They tell the truths that reach donors. When they fail, they take the blame themselves and adjust.

Fundraising is a real-world activity. We can’t impose our tastes or politically correct theories on donors. They control the conversation, not us. Success comes from playing by their rules. Insisting that they must play by our rules always fails.

See also “Poverty porn” vs. fundraising: Let’s get serious.


Comments

4 responses to “Expanding definition of “poverty porn” means more ineffective fundraising”

  1. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    We should take this to Broadway, Jeff. “Poverty Porn: The Musical.” My working definition of “poverty porn” is: imagery that uses distress to stimulate a viewer, sexually. (I looked it up in the dictionary.) As soon as they chose the word “porn” as the characterization, you knew they couldn’t think straight. Uncle James’ Rule #4 for a Long Life: Don’t Argue With Seeming Idiots Bent on Making Some Irrelevant Point.

  2. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    We should take this to Broadway, Jeff. “Poverty Porn: The Musical.” My working definition of “poverty porn” is: imagery that uses distress to stimulate a viewer, sexually. (I looked it up in the dictionary.) As soon as they chose the word “porn” as the characterization, you knew they couldn’t think straight. Uncle James’ Rule #4 for a Long Life: Don’t Argue With Seeming Idiots Bent on Making Some Irrelevant Point.

  3. It’s no surprise that I arrive here to rant about the total absurdity of this whole thing and see I’m preceded by Tom Ahern. In the same camp again, we are. On the upside, we can now get on with using what we know works: honest, emotive images that resonate with donors. It reminds, me in a way, of that post you once wrote on leprosy vs. Hansen’s disease.

  4. It’s no surprise that I arrive here to rant about the total absurdity of this whole thing and see I’m preceded by Tom Ahern. In the same camp again, we are. On the upside, we can now get on with using what we know works: honest, emotive images that resonate with donors. It reminds, me in a way, of that post you once wrote on leprosy vs. Hansen’s disease.

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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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