So I’m going to say what I think and get something off my chest for my first blog of the year. You’re wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Yes you’ll get a better response but does the means justify the ends?
What am I ranting about?
Africa. It’s amazing. People living in poverty are incredible. But look at our fundraising wrappers and the way we market Africa. It is full of pity and guilt, sad music and serious voice overs. Yet everytime I visit Africa I come back inspired, and humbled, by what I see.
No doubt if you find the worse possible scenario and the direst situation you can say the message behind the needy marketing is true. But its portrayed as the norm not the exception. On the occasions I have visited countries in Africa I have come to appreciate how amazing people tackling and living in poverty are. Yet we, especially us fundraisers, portray Africa like a “bottomless pit”. Check out the Finding Frames research which concludes the UK public think that too. And what message is this approach re-enforcing? That Africa is just a hopeless case. All this amazing work taking place isn’t having any impact. The Finding Frames report concludes the UK public is “stuck in roughly the same place as they were in 1985” and levels of support for international aid and development has remained static.
“The most widespread model for public engagement has been labelled as the ‘Live Aid Legacy’, which casts the UK public in the role of ‘dominant giver’, and Southern publics in the role of ‘grateful receiver’. In this model, the causes of poverty are internal to poor countries, and nothing to do with global politics. All the UK public can do is give money, and invariably they believe that some, if not most of the money does not get through to those in need; hence Africa in particular is described as “a bottomless pit”. In the UK public’s mind Africa is stuck, but at the same time the UK public is stuck in this transaction frame for development”.
And how do Africans feel? When I was in Kenya & Tanzania recently I asked. Those aware of the marketing messages used feel its the wrong Africa that’s protrayed – one that’s totally dependent on handouts and aid – not the enterprising one working hard to lift itself out of poverty.
And I can see the panic amongst fundraisers. Response rates for donor recruitment is dropping so what do organisations do? They ramp up the volume on needy marketing even more! “But it get’s a better response” I hear fundraisers cry. Here is where I challenge even the business basis for such a short term approach.
Say you can run a hypothetical test to try out the two approaches and pack a room of 100 people. You market a hard hitting needy approach – you get two new donors (2% not bad in direct marketing terms). Then let’s say you try a more inspiring, more engaging, approach and your get one donor. So the inspiring approach gets 100% poorer results, so its worse right? Wrong on two accounts. First that one person is likely to be far more engaged. Not only will they give but they will tell others and advocate on your behalf. Believe me its like having an expanding fundraising team made up of passionate volunteers (the best advocates you could ask for). They become amplifiers.
Secondly in that room you turned off 30 people completely with the hard hitting approach. And the evidence suggests it’s a real turn off to attract a new generation of donors. I’ve increasingly come across this when meeting ‘young people’, that generation of 20-30 year olds who are the “least likely to give to charity”. I’ve been surprised at how aggresive and angry they are about the negative portral of people as objects of pity. They find it a big turn off. And why? Because they know better. They know Africa is not like that. They know they are being marketed to. You wonder why we are not engaging a new generation of donors – this is why. With the more inspiring and engaging way you will have made more of an impression. They might not give there and then using shock tactics but they will remember and think about your cause and when the time comes they will find you and give. And they will stick with you, AND tell others too.
See Africa Differently
No doubt turning up the volume will increase the immediate short term take up – but it doesn’t solve the problem and response rates will continue to decline with the ‘broadcast’ marketing approach (see blog post “It’s not about asking for money”).
I’m not saying don’t communicate the injustice or the hardship of poverty. It’s the portrayal of people I’m on about.
There are glimmers. Along with some pioneering causes that push the positive there are websites like See Africa Differently developed by Comic Relief aimed at the 18-35 year old audience that invites you to “Come on the journey with us and discover an Africa you may not have seen. Isn’t it time we started to See Africa Differently?”. I fear its a side project that ticks the box whilst the fundraising continues with its hard hitting approach.
And it’s not just the principle. Think about it – those guilt driven messages get a response because people want to get rid of a bad feeling full stop. But now more than ever you want people to go much further than just give. Now you need them to advocate on your behalf – it’s far stronger coming from them to get others to support your cause. People will share being inspired. They will keep any bad feelings you give them to themselves.
What do you want? Someone to give you money or someone to give and do far more.
So I am putting my hand up. I don’t believe in all this hard hitting – guilt driven – flies in the eyes – marketing. “Ah but people give to need I hear some cry”. Absolutely. But what sort of need? Fundraising must be about communicating a need but that doesn’t mean portraying people as needy. We all have to raise funds and we have to explain why we need someone’s donation. There is a better way.
I know there are plenty of fundraisers and direct marketers who think I’m wrong. Fine. Do what you do. It’s short term.
For others then please join me. There are plenty of people, particularly ‘young people’, seeking causes that inspire them that provides them a purpose. We need to engage them not turn them off. It’s harder work but in the long term it will make a bigger difference. It will raise more funds and truly engage more people both ‘here’ and in Africa.
On BBC radio I heard the singer and would be politician Youssou n’Dour say “Africa doesn’t need charity. It needs partnership. Win Win”. So my advice to you is think how can us fundraisers communicate this two way partnership. You will think differently. You will ask different questions and you will connect people. After all we all know people give to people.
There – I feel better already.