When your fundraising story and photo don’t match

by guest blogger George Crankovic. He blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

It happens a lot: photos and headlines in fundraising appeals working at cross purposes, as in this example:

Geo ose jpeg

Curious, isn’t it? Here we have a headline that conveys a problem for donors to solve: “Poverty. Hunger. You can help a struggling family.”

But the photo shows a family that doesn’t look poor or hungry. In fact, they look like they’re doing just fine.

That’s a disconnect. On the response device, the same thing:

Geo remit jpg

The headline says, “My Gift to Save Lives,” and the call to action is,” I want to help families fight poverty and hunger…” Then there’s the mom and dad, smiling, apparently without a care in the world.

Why does this happen? A few possible explanations:

  • The copywriter and graphic designer were just out of sync that day. Maybe.
  • Those were the only photos available. Uh … maybe.
  • The nonprofit’s branding is built around positivity, which naturally makes any depiction of need off-brand. Possible.
  • The charity is so terrified of being accused of “poverty porn” that they don’t dare picture or describe people who are actually in need, never mind that the nonprofit’s work is all about helping people in need. This could be it.

Is the specter of an accusation of poverty porn so frightening that nonprofits will do almost anything to avoid it? Even use photos and headlines that are at odds with each other?

But the fear of poverty porn causes nonprofits not to portray the very reality they’re trying to convince donors of. It’s a weird situation for nonprofits. You can’t show or describe poverty, yet you still need people to give.

And there’s the rub. If donors can’t see and feel the poverty that people in developing countries experience — if we give donors no way empathize with people in poverty — why should donors care about it? And why should they give to lessen it?

The fact is, you’re not exploiting people in poverty by telling their stories (provided the storytelling is accurate). Nor are you “othering” them. You’re conveying the reality of their lives to donors. Donors who are adults … who know that poverty exists in the world and that it’s bad … and who would probably like an opportunity to alleviate it.

No, the problem isn’t poverty porn. The problem is packaging and sugar-coating reality for donors. Instead, we should be communicating authentically with them, trusting them, telling them the truth, and empowering them to take action. Let’s connect with donors on that level, and then watch them step up willingly and enthusiastically to do good.


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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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