Is Asking for Donations Right or Wrong?
Reflections and Conversations around Finding Irish Frames
Guest blog by Caroline Murphy.
(Part 1 – Read part 2 here)
The recent Finding Irish Frames report, which I authored, looks at how Irish NGOs ‘frame’ communication with the general public. The analysis was built around the NGO Frames which were identified in the work of Darnton and Kirk’s (2011) ‘Finding Frames: New Ways to engage the UK Public in Global Poverty’.
The research investigated the dominant frames utilised by Irish NGOs, and inquired if there is any indication that these had relevance to Darnton and Kirk’s findings. Indeed, Finding Irish Frames drew parallels with the work of Darnton and Kirk. The “surface frames” that dominated the communication materials included; charity, help the poor, and poverty, which were all found to be situated within the moral order deep frame. The transaction frame was identified as the dominant call to action, with the solution to poverty being claimed to lie within the hands of the potential donor and the NGO.
The implications of all of these findings, and the extent to which these have parallels with Darnton and Kirk’s work is dealt with in depth on the full research report, which can be accessed here.
The intention of this blog, however, is to highlight my own reflections on the report as a development educator located in a development NGO, whilst also highlighting some key points raised to me about the findings of the report.
Is Asking for Donations Right or Wrong?
One key question I have been asked is “what is so wrong with asking people to give money?”
Basically, my response to this question is that the act of making a donation or giving money is, in itself, not a matter of being considered right or wrong. As an employee of an International NGO, I understand the need for public donations to sustain the important work carried out in developing countries. However, what might be considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is the message which is tied to the NGO ‘ask’ for public donations.
Messages that simply present a beneficiary as voiceless and waiting for the potential donor to lift her out of poverty through giving money, do very little to promote a sense of beneficiary and partner agency, whilst reducing development to the narrative of us and them, rich and poor.
Hence, such a narrative could have negative implications for the NGO sector and the people it claims to represent by creating the impression that the developing world lacks agency and is in a constant state of doom and gloom. This could also undermine wider support for development as it fails to highlight major progress in recent years as a result of aid and development initiatives.
In this sense, it seems vital that Irish NGOs consider if the very frames employed in their communications are fuelling a public perception that perpetuates development as a never ending cycle of giving within a two-world concept, where one side of the world cannot seem to work their way out of poverty despite all the donations.
However, despite the above argument, I have been told by colleagues in the sector that in order to ensure the public actually give, the message has to be simple and emotive, whilst situating the potential donor as solving the problem of the beneficiary by donating money. Shifting the focus away from this simplistic narrative will make the message “too messy” or “too complicated”. Moreover, “including too many different partner voices or perspectives in the message means the donor will find it hard to see where exactly their donation will go and how it will make a difference”. Basically, it seems that in order to bring in public donations, an argument exists for reinforcing the charity frame amongst the general public.
Charity, in this sense, is where an NGO is seen as the mechanism for privileged people to share their ‘good fortune’ or ‘wealth’ with the poor beneficiary. In short, the suggested solution to poverty lies in the transaction from the donor to the NGO, which subsequently directly benefits the depicted beneficiary.
Here, if anywhere, highlights how it is the message rather than the act of giving that can be considered problematic. Although this simplistic message might motivate the public to make a donation, it cannot be left unexplored how such messages are possibly contributing to low levels of public knowledge about development progress and the causes of poverty. This is something that both NGO fundraisers and development educators might consider more in depth. Basically, is it possible to find new ways to motivate the public to ‘give’ beyond an over simplified ‘charity’ message?
- “Added Values – promoting long term public engagement in global development” (2011)
- “Finding Irish Frames: exploring how Irish NGOs communicate with the public.”
- “How do we communicate Global Development?”
- Transforming our discourse on poverty and social justice (2012)
- “The future of NGO communications?”
- Telling the good news stories about development (2013)
- Using cartoons to communicate development