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This is a cross-post from the always thoughtful and eloquent Ian Thorpe, who notes that fundraising is a means to help non-profit organizations fulfill their wider mission; it should not be mistaken as the end goal of non-profit organizations. Consistency in how we achieve our missions across all of our operations becomes ever more important in this age of growing transparency. Read the original post here.

by Ian Thorpe

I’ve been reflecting on a couple of interesting discussions lately on aid communication and fundraising.  In the first, Kurante organized a Google Hangout on “Poverty Porn” i.e. the use of negative, shocking images in aid campaigns (the recording and the twitter storify of the discussion can be found on Tom Murphy’s blog here). During the discussion @meowtree  shared a link to this rather discouraging blog post by a fundraising guru here that suggests that those who criticize the use of negative images are undermining the organizations they work for and should be fired!

A second twitter discussion concerned a new “buy one, give one” programme and whether or not it is harmful or helpful and on what basis this type of programme might be judged.

What comes out of both of these is the potential conflict between what makes good aid versus what makes good fundraising. It’s quite possible to raise money, a lot of money, if one is willing to do whatever it takes, use any kind of images and words and tactics in order to open their wallets. Marketers and fundraisers, to give them their due, make extensive use research and evidence in their work, perhaps more so than programme people, and much research backs up the claim that negative imagery is often more successful than positive imagery in evoking a response and getting out checkbooks.

If you were a private company then “maximizing shareholder value” by going where the money is might well be a great strategy. But aid agencies and civil society organizations are generally in place to serve a mission. The mission of the organization is a huge asset both in motivating staff and in generating support – but it’s also an important constraint in that in places limits around what you will be prepared to do to raise funds or attention. Essentially, if you exist to pursue a mission then all your activities need to be consistent with it. Generally an aid mission is not simply to raise as much money as possible, it’s to achieve a purpose such as reducing poverty or protecting children from harm. And it’s often more complicated to pursue this goal to maximize the amount of positive impact on your beneficiaries – you also need to do this in a principled way informed by your organization’s values such as in respecting the human dignity of the people of the people you aim to help and not exploiting them (even if with the aim of helping them).

I recall a conversation from when I worked on communication in UNICEF with our fundraisers about a similar topic (from more than 10 years ago so I’m not spilling any secrets). At that stage the organization was looking to move more into “upstream policy work” and on scaling back on “service delivery”, especially in middle-income countries. Programmatically this made a lot of sense, but the fundraisers were naturally concerned about the impact on their ability to talk about this shift in fundraising campaigns. It’s much easier to fundraise using images of nicely branded supplies coming in on trucks being handed out by aid workers to poor people than it is to “show” work on, or the results of influencing government policy, improving data collection and building capacity of civil servants.  But at the end of the discussion we were ready to say that while it might be harder to raise money for upstream work, and we might be able to raise less money as a result – if this is the work that needs to be done, then the task was to fund better ways of fundraising about this work, rather than changing the nature of the work to make it easier to raise funds.

Of course aid organizations rely on external funding (whether government, corporate or individual) and they need professional fundraisers to be able to get the resources they need to do their work. Professional fundraisers and communicators know better than programme staff, from their experience and research, how to put together effective fundraising communications in terms of who to approach, what approaches to use and what information is needed from programme staff to support it. That can include coming up with novel approaches to raising funds for something that is already a priority, even if these appear gimmicky to aid workers on the ground (such as sending a quarter coin to people to get them to send in donations or getting them to buy something to give something).

But it’s important to ensure that the fundraising is in service of the organization’s goals rather than the reverse. It can be easy to be tempted to do something because it’s popular with donors even if it isn’t fully consistent with your mission and values, and hard to forswear potential opportunities when aid funding is tight. In particular it can be tempting to agree to programmes which are appealing to donors but for which there isn’t a demand, or worse that do unintended harm. But if the organization exists to serve a mission – then it’s important to keep that front and centre in decision-making on what opportunities to pursue or what tactics to use to pursue them – in fundraising just as much as in programmes.

In fact in an age of increasing aid transparency it becomes ever more important to focus on your mission and values since it’s much more obvious if your communications, partnerships and programmes are not consistent with each other or with your mission, and your reputation will suffer as a result –as will the cause you are pursuing.

Greater transparency is also an opportunity to bring donors and beneficiaries closer together so that donors can see and hear the results of aid work directly from those being helped rather than via a “story” whether positive or negative constructed by the aid agency for the benefit of donors. Similarly donors can also hear more from those they are helping about what they want and need, seeing them more as individuals with dignity, aspirations and agency to improve their lives aided by donors rather than as passive objects of pity and charity. This way instead of going where donors give most now, you can change the discussion to educate and encourage them to give money to where it is really needed, and to understand better what their support really does and can do.

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  1. Share
    Looking forward to group conf call with CORE today ref: Photos, ethics, values and INGO/NGO work.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 06:55:44
  2. This morning I participated in a massive conference call about photography in aid and development, and the ethics and values that surround photos taken and used by NGOs. The call was organized by CORE Group (@coregroupdc). Now maybe I’m exaggerating here, but the call organizer, Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, read off a list of participants that went on forever. I’m estimating that there were something like 40 or 50 people listening in from as many organizations. This topic has always been important for a strong segment of NGO staff and it seems to be gaining steam again.

    After I started tweeting about it, a couple of people asked if I’d be writing a blog post. So here it is. I’ve ‘Storified’ it since I was tweeting instead of taking notes, and because there was a nice side conversation happening with folks on Twitter too. (See the Storify here – it looks a little bit nicer there than it does here.)
  3. Share
    “Humanitarian photography is a hot button issue.Touches on dignity, how we do our jobs, & our ideas about ourselves, others & our work.”
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:08:52
  4. The call organizers had earlier conducted a survey about NGO images, policies, consent, and operational processes around photographers and photography and shared it with participants ahead of the call. The organizers also suggested a couple of links to check out beforehand, including an Aid Watch post (“Adorable child in NGO fund-raising photo sues for royalties“) and a link to a photo  that appeared in the New York Times. These two links and other similar “poverty porn images” had sparked the discussions that led to the decision to organize today’s call. [update: here is the original discussion thread on Linked In]
  5. Share
    Jeez – like 50 orgs on this CORE call re: photography, ethics and values. Discussing: @aidwatch post ht.ly/a3gYA & more
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:06:19
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    I’m reminded that these discussions happen all the time among INGOs, even when they are not documented on Twitter or a blog.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:10:46
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    Second photo touching off this conversation is NYT image from last year re Somalia famine. ht.ly/a3i0s #povertyporn
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:13:32
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    Also reminded that blogs can and do touch off broader and wider discussions that often we never know are happening….
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:14:45
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    @meowtree I think too many people online forget that about a lot of issues. Not all discussions are necessarily open for outside viewing.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:16:09
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    @meowtree Shoot, I forgot about the call! Are you going to write a post about it?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:28:06
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    @meowtree Would have loved to be there but couldn’t… Will you report?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:36:40
  12. Laura Pohl (@lauraepohl) from Bread for the World gave a short introduction to the topic along with some points to think about.
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    What considerations do NGOs (and journos/freelancers) need to go through before publishing a photo? Appropriate use? Consent? What else?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:16:15
  14. After this introduction, Jim Stipe from Catholic Relief Services gave a quick summary of the survey highlights, and we had a group discussion around some of the key issues detected in the survey and additional ones sourced from the participants on the call. 
  15. Heartening to know most INGOs have photo policies saying images must show dignity, & image usage is restricted/protected to some staff.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:21:54
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    Hearing: INGOs don’t seem to have policies stating photo must match/relate to/be part of story or have policies re: copyright of photos.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:23:38
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    Hearing: often pgm staff are taking photos, but many INGOs don’t train staff on policies or good techs for photos or on photo ethics.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:25:47
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    Hearing: What about consent for photos? We need to discuss this much more. It’s key to a good photo policy.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:26:57
  19. Share
    @meowtree Unable to keep up today, busy. But have you asked @irinnews input? I use their photo service. Will catch up soon. Thanks for topic
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:28:38
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    My question: what is ‘informed consent’? what are different ways to get it? how to ensure ppl rlly understand use of their image and story?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:37:41
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    @meowtree you can’t ensure that ppl understand use of their image unless they know context in which it will be used & understand its nuances
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:12
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    Re: informed consent – how not to intimidate ppl with consent forms? Also – shd we be applying US consent laws to local settings? or not?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:39:02
  23. Share
    @meowtree @jcdonner thanks brilliant, parallel questions for researchers being encouraged in IDRC SIRCAII programme, spread it
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:34
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    Also: how does consent differ when children/under 18s are involved? what about difference btwn traditional and social media use of images?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:32
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    @meowtree What I learned from ethnography: entirely contextual and subjective. Even when you’ve succeeded, you’ve failed. But you must try
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:41:52
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    @meowtree When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:42:32
  27. Share
    Someone asks: What about before and after pictures in the case of malnutrition? is it better to show the “after” picture to show progress?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:42:41
  28. Share
    Another Q: what about when working with images of people in conflict settings? where use of their images may endanger them?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:43:25
  29. Share
    Comment: Takes a lot more ppl, resources and planning than we think to do this right. We seldom put enough emphasis on ethical image/video.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:44:51
  30. Share
    @meowtree In the West we focus on “informed consent” re: the individual–but in other cultures, the community consent is more important
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:28
  31. Share
    .@meowtree good discussion of photos in #ict4d vs journalism here is.gd/G4oGsC
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:20:44
  32. Share
    Comment: Need to work with US media also to help have more ethical use of images.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:46:26
  33. Share
    Re. #povertyporn conversation @meowtree is tweeting: all humanitarian/devt agencies should have comms ombudspersons to defend those depicted
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:47:19
  34. Share
    @meowtree I’ve always found Photovoice UK’s ethical guidelines useful in regard to some the issues at your discussion photovoice.org/images/uplo…
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:47:47
  35. Share
    [ 1] MT @meowtree Comment: Takes a lot more ppl, resources, planning than we think… We seldom put enough emphasis on ethical image/video
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:48:29
  36. Share
    Interesting commentary on INGO photo policies & the ethics of humanitarian photography by @meowtree.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:48:35
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    @meowtree @giantpandinha I really like the ombudspersons idea but they would need to be local?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:49:28
  38. Share
    @miskellaneous @meowtree Anybody with an empathetic impulse would be a good start. But yes, eventually, why not local?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:50:32
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    @meowtree photos and ethics such a big topic. I find the whole issue of people coming back from mission trips and volunteering with these
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:49:52
  40. Share
    @meowtree photos equally disturbing. Take a snap of a poor kid and then put on facebook – where’s the dignity and ethics in that? Volunteer
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:50:36
  41. Share
    @meowtree eduction is equally important, but so hard!! At the very least, if you wouldnt want a similar image of your mum/child/bro etc to
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:51:35
  42. Share
    @meowtree be shown are the world or usesd in the same way, then think twice. (this concept doesnt go down well when I mention it to people).
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:52:16
  43. Share
    .@meowtree One challenge – a Western audience that is eager to consume #povertyporn. Many INGOs seek to reach out to that audience.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:51:08
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    Comment: tension btwn fundraising people, program people. What is the concept of what the org is doing? Charity? solidarity?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:55:08
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    @meowtree @miskellaneous I find the “golden rule” goes a long way. Would I want my child, my niece/nephew depicted this way? Ever?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:54:02
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    @giantpandinha @meowtree yes it’s my golden rule too though there are somethings it misses like cultural understandings of modesty
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:57:06
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    @miskellaneous @meowtree I remember a moment with my agency’s graphic designers when we cropped a woman’s belly peaking out from her t-shirt
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:58:00
  48. Share
    @miskellaneous @meowtree Again, the golden rule worked there. (But you are right @miskellaneous, might not work in every situation.)
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:59:46
  49. Share
    Comment: can we look at studies on the use of photos and impact on donors & learn. Also look at ethics vs what works w fundraising?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:07:06
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    Comment (mine) and what about participatory media? How often do we promote people’s own photos/videos of themselves/their communities?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:07:55
To finalize the call, we heard a summary from Jim of some of the areas that the group could consider forming smaller groups to dig into and work on further, including: 
  • Issues around consent, alternative ways to obtain consent, release forms, and how to get truly informed consent.
  • Ethics of both taking photos and ethics of using photos – these are related yet separate issues.
  • What makes for a good NGO photo? What’s a good vs bad photo? What works and what doesn’t?
  • How do you grow your options for getting more high quality photos? How to train your staff on good photography? How to find and work with good freelance photographers? How to plan out a shoot and put the right amount of time into it? How to ensure photos are taken ethically?
  • Creating a photo policy, what does a good photo policy look like? what should it contain?
  • How to tell better stories? You can document your programs with photos and you can tell visual stories – these are 2 different things….
  • Getting good photo captions. If you don’t have good captions, photos are less useful.
  • Other places to source photos; eg., if you don’t have the photos you need, where can you go to get them?
  • Photo journalism vs NGO photography – similar yet different, different approaches and goals. Let’s discuss this.
  • Vocabulary for talking about photos in order to articulate to staff why one photo better than another. Turning gut sense into language and tools.
  • Looking at studies on the use of photos and their impact on donors, what can we learn from that? How to reconcile the different set of ethics that we may find in terms of ‘what works’ for fundraising and what is ethical?
  • What about participatory media and people portraying themselves and their own images
  • An Ombudsperson within INGOs who can defend the rights of those being photographed
  • The question of how people perceive you when you go from doing program work to becoming a photographer in the same afternoon. 
  • The related question about what happens when your organization makes you do both things? Who owns the photos? Do you get paid if your organization uses them? What if you are using your own equipment? How is your organization using you if that’s not your job in the first place? What are you expected to do and how much of this should you actually be doing?
  • Budgeting. We need to begin inserting budget into the conversation. How much can we pay photographers, or do we invest in training our own staff?
  1. Share
    Well pointed out by @miskellaneous: our “golden rule” re. depiction of “the Other” sometimes “misses cultural understandings of modesty”.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:08:55
  2. Share
    However, I still believe some “golden rule” is better than none, and the bottom line should be: err on the side of caution.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:10:15
  3. Share
    Comment: What about when you’re asked to be both a “program” person and also take comms/PR photos? How does community view you?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:08:59
  4. Share
    Comment: what are the rules when your focus is pgm, but ‘photographer’ is added to your task list before you go out to ‘the field’?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:10:10
  5. Share
    @meowtree @julienne_l I work with youth and struggle with this a lot. How do you keep integrity and get ppl to pay attention? #povertyporn
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:04:39
  6. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions as this is an issue that constantly jumps out at me. It’s fantastic to know that there is such a strong contingent of NGO staff who are keen to address the issues around how we take and how we use photographs of the people that we work with.
  7. Share
    That’s it for tweets from @coregroupdc conversation on #povertyporn, photos, ethics and values. More later – discussions will continue.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:11:55

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