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

What would you think of a fundraiser who said this:

Shame on you, donors! We’re glad you give us money, but we’re deeply disappointed with your motivations for giving. It stems from your ignorance and flawed character. Your motivations are frankly disgusting. Please — get your act together.

I’d say that fundraiser needs to find work in another profession. Fast!

But that’s just what someone is saying when they claim that donors are responding to “poverty porn.”

Poverty porn has to be one of the most insidiously arrogant concepts in the history of fundraising. Think about it: They’ve labeled fundraising that shows that negative impact of poverty as a type of pornography — morally repugnant imagery that titillates and preys on the people’s weaknesses.

Let’s make this clear: Those who call fundraising “poverty porn” are telling us that our donors are titillated and excited by images of suffering — and we are pandering to their emotional pathology.

If that were true, it would be reprehensible indeed.

But it’s not even close to the truth. If you know any donors, you know that they hate those tough images of poverty. But rather than whine about it, they do what they can to change the picture through charitable giving. It is a completely wholesome, empowered, and healthy response. Not a twisted, repulsive reaction like some kind of pornography addiction.

The “poverty porn” line of thinking shows a breathtaking disrespect for real-life donors.

Worse yet is the “solution”: To avoid creating poverty porn, we should do ineffective fundraising. Fundraising that doesn’t work because it doesn’t let donors know there’s a problem they could help solve.

The argument tends to be about “dignity” of those we hope to help: Somehow, the images we show in fundraising can undermine the dignity of people.

If you’ve ever met poor and suffering people — especially those in the developing world — dignity often is their most notable feature: deep personal dignity that simply overshadows their poverty. Your little fundraising message can’t put the smallest dint in their dignity. You couldn’t touch their dignity if you devoted your entire life to trying to do so.

Their dignity is not fragile. It doesn’t need heroic Westerners to protect it.

But their suffering is real, and it does need to be addressed, and effective fundraising can be part of the solution.

While ineffective fundraising that spends all its energy protecting dignity and avoiding the painful truths is just a big waste of money and effort.

If you’re serious about raising funds, you aren’t going to waste your time trying to change the way donors think. They don’t need your change. There’s no reason they need to be more like you. They’re just fine. And you don’t need to protect anyone’s dignity but your own (and probably not that either).

Poverty porn is not a real thing. But poverty is. Let’s spend our energy fighting the real problem, not the fake one.

(This post first appeared on December 30, 2013.)

Ready to move past the poverty porn controversy and start raising funds more effectively? Take my online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s a four-part complete masterclass in the surprising things that work in fundraising. Details here.


Comments

2 responses to ““Poverty porn” vs. fundraising: Let’s get serious”

  1. Matt Monberg Avatar
    Matt Monberg

    Thanks for republishing this article!

  2. Matt Monberg Avatar
    Matt Monberg

    Thanks for republishing this article!

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog