The reality that undercuts the charge of “poverty porn”

by guest blogger George Crankovic, Senior Writer at TrueSense Marketing.

When we show disturbing photos and tell graphic stories about people suffering with poverty and disease in developing countries, the executive directors and boards of many charities often balk. They believe we’re exploiting people in our fundraising.

“Show all the good work that’s being done,” they say. “Show the ‘after’ not the ‘before.’ Be positive.”

Critics of fundraising often hold the same view. Calling it “poverty porn,” they say this kind of fundraising undermines the dignity of the very people we’re purporting to help.

Fundraisers push back, naturally. We say that showing donors the problems we hope they’ll help solve needn’t be exploitive at all. It’s simply presenting donors with a real problem to solve. It’s creating the necessary emotional connection between nonprofit and donor.

What’s more, on a practical level, we know that images and stories of sad, hurting people will garner more donations than images of happy, smiling people. This makes perfect sense, and it’s been proven again and again in direct head-to-head testing.

In all the back and forth, though, an important point gets overlooked.

Those who level the charge of poverty porn maintain that showing disturbing images and gut-wrenching stories in appeal after appeal creates a distorted view of reality for donors.

But the fact is, the exact opposite is the case. Showing images of happy, smiling people in a famine zone, for example, isn’t in any way the reality of the lives of the people facing life-threatening hunger and poverty. The stark, undeniable reality is that many people in poor countries are hurting. They suffer with disease and poverty on a massive scale that those of us in the West couldn’t begin to imagine.

If we believe our donors to be caring, intelligent people who can have a part in making the world a better place, it’s our responsibility to show them the actual reality of the lives of the people we want them to help. Not some sanitized, happy-talk version.


Comments

2 responses to “The reality that undercuts the charge of “poverty porn””

  1. Totally agree. I would extend this beyond just pictures. Are people underprivileged or underserved? Or are they poor? Do people have food security issues? Or do they go hungry. I recommend http://directtodonor.com/2016/03/11/its-time-to-stop-sugarcoating-our-issues/ as a supplement to this well-written piece.

  2. Totally agree. I would extend this beyond just pictures. Are people underprivileged or underserved? Or are they poor? Do people have food security issues? Or do they go hungry. I recommend http://directtodonor.com/2016/03/11/its-time-to-stop-sugarcoating-our-issues/ as a supplement to this well-written piece.

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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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